First, and I believe most importantly, a grass roots campaign for each state district/region is critical for state advocacy. What do our state legislators care about? Their constituents! Know what is going on in your own community and state districts then establish a coalition of important stakeholders (collaborative partnerships) to discuss issues and plan strategies for promoting library goals in your area.
Who are some of the important stakeholders? The list includes: public librarians, school librarians, academic librarians, professors who teach in library programs, museums who have library partnerships, and your state ALA affiliate as well as other professional associations such as a local education or parent associations. Your state ALS affilate can help to provide resources, training, and organize a collaborative joint effort for your entire library district. If your area does not currently have a collaborative, grass roots movement going on at this time, please take action now to begin this process because the economy shows no sign of getting better, and a group of “squeaky wheels” will get more attention than one lone voice.
Don’t forget to attend your state Library Association’s annual conference and/or ALA’s Annual in Chicago to see sessions such as “Coalition Building for All Libraries in a Tough Economy”.
ALA also provides an “Advocacy Toolkit” that can help you get started.
Once we have our partnerships and safety in numbers, we now have the “power of the people,” and it is time to visit our state legislature. Plan a Legislation Day to attend, observe, and communicate with both state Senators and Representatives.
Before the visit:
- Know your committee Chairs such as for the Ways and Means, Public Education, Higher Education Committees
- Prepare an itinerary of offices/legislators you want to visit
- Plan the essential “talking points” that must be communicated
- Prepare a one-page handout of those talking points you can leave with the legislator (or office assistant)
- In some states, there are procedures where constituents can call on legislators (even if they are in session) to discuss important issues. Know what those procedures are and talk to as many legislators as you have time for. These meetings are brief, so keep to the essential points.
During the visit:
- Be polite and respectful. Let them know you are concerned about their constituents back home–not that you are angry.
- Be brief and to the point. No one has time to waste, including you.
After the visit:
- Follow up with a “thank you” note including your name, contact information, and the issues you discussed with him or her.
Legislative Days are important because it places a “face” with an issue, and state legislators actually welcome contact from “back home.” Go as a group when possible because there is strength in numbers.
Grass roots communication systems are also helpful when advocating for libraries. Your grass roots collaborative can organize phone trees and email campaigns as a “call to action” to alert librarians and friends (other stakeholders) to impending bills and state discussions.
The collaborative committee should…
- Inform advocates about impending legislation
- Suggest talking points that must be communicated to legislators
- Explain time constraints so that communications can happen in a timely manner
- Describe format and protocol when addressing state legislators
Grass roots advocacy truly begins at home, gives us the power of many voices, and can boost our level of recognition among our politicians who may be misinformed or uninformed of the wonderful work we do. Be sure to cite evidence of the powerful part you all play in your community, schools, and professional association. Happy advocating!