photo by Stacey Brown

Tips for

 

effective activism

 

Tips for effective activism

Your speech or letter doesn't have to be smooth or fancy to stand out. What matters most is that you care and that you state your views clearly. Mail addresses and e-mail addresses for local newspapers and local and state officials appear on our Make contact page.

Speaking

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One of the most effective ways to tell decision makers what issues you care about is to speak at public meetings about those issues. Usually, you won't have much time to speak at a public meeting (between three and five minutes), so plan what you want to say beforehand, and be sure to sign up for a speaking slot when you arrive.

A few tips:

  1. State your name and what your position is on the issue.
  2. Next, say why you support or oppose a certain policy. Keep it short. The longer your speech is, the more of it people will forget. Choose one or two main points and support them well, so that, five speakers later, people will still remember your most important points.
  3. Repeat your position at the end of your speech, and tell officials what you want them to do, e.g., "That's why I support a smaller groundwater pumping station, and I hope you will, too."
  4. Above all, be polite and be honest. The less you exaggerate, the more people will credit what you say.

Letters to the editor

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Elected officials at the local, state, and national level use letters to the editor as a gauge of public opinion. More important, letters to the editor alert your community to important issues and inspire other people who care to speak out.

Writing a letter to the editor involves many of the same methods as public speaking:

  1. Keep it short. Many newspapers have a word limit of about one page (250 words) or less.
  2. State what issue you're writing about, what your position is, and why you believe what you do. Focus on one to three main points and support them well.
  3. Tell others in the community what they can do to help at the end of your letter. For example, include the name and address of a person they can write to to express their opinion, or explain how they can find out more.
  4. Include contact information (name, address, and phone number) with your letter-- it's required by most newspapers, but it also gives people an idea of where you come from.
  5. Be polite and be honest.

Communicating with elected officials

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Letters

A personal letter or card to a public or private officer gives him or her a concrete, lasting reminder that his or her actions genuinely affect people. A fax or e-mail will arrive more quickly and will do the same, but faxes and e-mails are less likely to be kept or pinned to a bulletin board.

  1. Say who you are, what you're writing about, and what your connection to the issue is--in other words, why you care and how you and your family and community are affected. That doesn't mean that you have to state your name (which will appear at the end of the letter). For example, you can write:
    • "I am a nurse practitioner who works in Lone Pine. My four-year-old son has asthma and suffers severely after large dust storms on the bed of the Owens Lake. Many of my patients who have asthma suffer as well."
    • "I run approximately 1,200 miles a year on the valley floor, and during the last six years I've noticed steadily disapppearing ground cover and increasing erosion just south of the Owens River close to Pleasant Valley Road and the Volcanic Tablelands."
  2. Again, keep it short--no more than a page. Shorter letters will be read sooner and remembered later. Second pages can be lost easily. And the shorter your letter is, the more your most important points will stand out.
  3. Tell your recipient what you want them to do and why.
  4. Be sure to include information about how you can be contacted.
  5. Always be polite and honest.

Phone calls

Phone calls are useful for quick reminders before an important vote. Before you call, assemble relevant information so that you can refer to it if you have to. Be polite, succinct, and clear about which way you would like the official to vote and why.

Meetings

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Meeting with executives or officers--whether they are elected, appointed, or hired--gives you the opportunity to educate your officials about an issue and to explain, in depth, why they ought to care. You can write and invite the official to a group meeting (be sure to check with your group first), to a smaller meeting with a few group members, or to a personal meeting.

In your written invitation, say why you'd like to meet (e.g., to provide information? to ask a Supervisor to vote for or against an existing Board resolution? to ask for a new resolution?), provide several possible dates and times to meet, be clear about what you'd like to discuss, and provide extra information about the issue. If you agree upon a meeting time, confirm the meeting with a phone call to the official's secretary a few days before the meeting. Remember that the official will be thinking not only about your issue, but also about multiple other pressing issues.

Bring a one page fact sheet or issue summary to the meeting that the official or executive can take home. At the meeting, be polite and be honest, both about the issue itself and about what you do and don't know. Explain how the issue affects the community. At the end of the meeting, ask about when you can call again to follow up. Sum up any decisions made, and make a list of information or anything else that you can provide to make the other person's job easier. Thank the official or executive in person. Thank them again, in writing, and include the information you offered to provide.

--Ceal Klingler