Finding Your Voice
Written By: Heather Lowe -
The term “legislative advocacy” can intimidate some people, but in truth, anyone has the power to effect change. Lasting change is often a result of grit and determination -- driven by our most powerful tool as individuals: our story. As experts in our own story, we have the opportunity to leverage what we’ve learned through personal experience to positively impact the lives of others. Through the Coalition for Homeless Children, and with the support of our Legislative Advisory Committee, we connect regularly with our local representatives and community leaders to advocate for families experiencing homelessness and issues related to early childhood education and economic mobility. Here are a few things that I’ve learned about how to make lasting change:
1. The first step in engaging your legislators is to answer the question, “What is the issue that I want to target?” Maybe you are a renter and you're paying excessive fees at your apartment complex that you feel are unreasonable and should be capped. Or perhaps you are a single mother that is unable to work because you're unable to access child care in the neighborhood where you live. Whatever the issue is, write it down and think about this before reaching out:
a. Why is this a problem?
b. How has it affected your family?
c. What would you like to see changed?
2. Never forget that you are the expert in your own story! You do not have to be an expert in policy-making. There have been many times when legislators have been compelled to create effective legislation based on a story that started with, “I live in your district and I need your help…” Personal stories from real people often have the power to grab the attention of policy makers and their staff in a way that is meaningful. It is all about human connection!
3. Speaking of human connection – I’ll share another secret. These people with great power and influence… are still people. And they employ many staff members who, in my experience, are really nice people! When you reach out to your representative’s office, your message goes to a member of the legislator’s staff whose job involves receiving input from constituents, organizing it, and passing it along. They want to know what is going on in their district and how they can help.
4. There are wonderful tools available online to help you connect with your representatives. One great website is “Who Represents Me?” and by entering your address, you can get a list of your elected officials at the federal and state level. City websites typically have the same information available for your city council members.
5. Once you discover who represents you, you can go directly to their website and find a variety of ways to reach out including by phone, mail, email, or a fillable form on their website.
The Texas Legislature is unique in that it only convenes once every two years. Our policy makers are in Austin right now, so it's a great time to reach out and connect with them about things that are important to you. If the process still seems intimidating, consider sharing your story and concerns with an advocacy group in your area of concern. We are actively looking for new people to join our Legislative Advisory Committee at CTL. If you have a story to share related to family homelessness, early childhood education, or a related topic, please reach out to Heather Lowe at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how you can get involved.