Use the following tips and resources to jump start or improve your legislative visits and civic engagement knowledge. You can also visit in LAMPa website pages on “How to Make a Visit”, “How to Write a Letter to the Editor“ and “How to Write a Letter“. As always, LAMPa staff are ready to help.
INDEX OF TOOLS:
• Why visit your legislators?
• Setting up a meeting
• Talking to legislators
• What your legislators need to know (and you can help with)
• After the meeting
WHY VISIT YOUR LEGISLATORS?
Every year issues come before the state legislature that are of concern to ELCA Lutherans and those whom we serve through our congregational ministries, synods, Social Ministry Organizations, Seminaries, Colleges and outdoor ministries.
• It’s important for lawmakers to meet with their constituents to hear about the issues that matter to them and to learn why they matter.
• As Lutherans, our understanding of Scripture and our theology provide a moral obligation to get involved with the public debate as a concrete expression of loving and serving our neighbor. The ELCA Constitution calls us to “advocate dignity and justice for all people, working for peace and reconciliation among nations, and standing with the poor and powerless and committing itself to their need…This church shall study social issues and trends, work to discover the causes of oppression and injustice, and develop programs of ministry and advocacy to further human dignity, freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”
• As Lutherans, our tremendous ministries of service and our experience of doing justice in our communities provide a unique voice and perspective in public issues.
• It’s important for legislators to learn about the ELCA presence in their communities and how it benefits all of their constituents and the common good.
• A meeting will always be more memorable than an email.
• Studies show that in-person visits from constituents have the most impact on legislators and their staff –more than emails, phone calls and letters!
• If you are hosting an event, are featured in a positive news story or run a program that has a benefit within the community, your legislators should hear about it, and when possible, be invited to attend.
SETTING UP A MEETING
• Meetings in the legislator’s district office are usually best, because legislators are typically less busy than when in Harrisburg.
• When requesting the meeting, explain that you are a constituent and that you would like to talk about issues that are important to you.
• Sometimes the legislator is not available, but a member of his or her staff will be. The staff member will pass along your comments to the legislator. Do not be disappointed if you meet with staff. Often they are well versed on issues and can be very influential to a legislator’s position.
TALKING TO LEGISLATORS
• Get to know your legislator – Look up the legislator website. Read the online biography page and find out about your legislator’s interests and hobbies. See if they have a Facbook page or follow them on Twitter. Sign up for their e-newsletter.
• Study your legislator’s voting records and statements, particularly on the issues for which you are advocating.
• Do you have any mutual friends or contacts? Find out what you have in common.
• If you are unsure or uneasy about a visit, contact LAMPa staff to ask for more information.
• Assume legislators/staff know little or nothing about what you do and the issue you’ve come to talk to them about, until you learn otherwise.
• Your job is to inform, educate and ASK for their support on an important issue. Their job is to REPRESENT you and your neighbors. Explain the issue in terms important to them:
Why is it in his or her interest to support our position?
What is the benefit to the community?
Is the idea/issue popular in their district? Be able to demonstrate this in some way.
Are you or your family, congregation or ministry helping their constituents in some way?
Always be up front in your communications. If you don’t know the answer to a question posed to you during a visit, say “I’ll find out.” It’s okay to tell them you will email or call with the information they are requesting.
WHAT YOUR LEGISLATORS MAY NOT KNOW
• Come with a few positive anecdotes about how your ministry or family helps and participates in the community.
• Your “ask” should be specific. For example, “Please support continued funding for these programs in this year’s budget at the same level as last year.”
• Explain the services provided by the ELCA in your region, and give a quick overview of other ministries such as Social Ministry Organizations or other institutions in the legislator’s district. Many people do not know the depth or reach of the ELCA presence or are not aware that many of the community organizations they are familiar with are church-related
• If you have this info, share how many people were helped in your area in the last year. oi.e. what important services are you providing for their constituents?
• Remember: Numbers and statistics are good, but adding a personal story makes the meeting memorable.
AFTER THE MEETING
• Remember to send any additional information the legislator or staff may have asked for in a timely manner
• Please remember to mail or email a thank you note to the legislator for meeting with you, and repeat your specific request in a kind manner.
• In the future, if you are hosting an event, are featured in a positive news story or run a program that has a benefit within the community, your legislators should hear about it. You can always contact your legislator again!
New Civic Engagement Primer and Study Guide Available – A guide, produced by the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, to help discuss faithful citizenship within your own congregations, regardless of whether your congregation leans to one end of the political spectrum or the other, or is a true mix of folks from across the spectrum. The Pennsylvania Council of Churches has long believed in our call as Christians to be faithful citizens, participating in the public square in ways that support God’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves (without defining neighbor as only those in our affinity group) and to treat others as we wish to be treated (known as “The Golden Rule”). The Council observed there appears to be much confusion concerning history, our government systems, and what we can do as faithful citizens and as congregations. This guide provides educational resources to remind us how our government works and how we can recognize a problem to be addressed, or legislation we would like to see passed, making our voices be heard. Knowledge of these systems and how to work within them is essential if we are to engage in ways that are constructive and successful.