Ten Easy To Do Political Campaign Activities

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Tony Driessen, WLA Lobbyist, DeWitt, Ross & Stevens, S.C., reminds us that an excellent way to build a positive relationship with the legislators from your area is to be active politically. The types of activities you can do on your own time and with personal resources include:

  • Have your family members, friends, relatives, business colleagues and neighbors sign the nomination papers that candidates need.  Typically only 20 signatures on each nomination paper is needed.  Plus you get to connect with your candidate when you call to request a set of the nomination papers, and again when you personally drop the papers off.
  • Offer to display a lawn sign at your home.  Candidates for the State Assembly and State Senate are delighted by requests for lawn signs.  You can then meet with your candidates again when you pick up the sign, or when he/she drops it off to your home.
  • Write a short letter to your local newspaper, praising the candidate for their excellent work on an issue or subject of interest or concern to you.  It doesn’t really matter what the issue is, as long as your comments are positive.  You can even share a copy of your letter, after you have sent it but before it is printed, with your legislator/candidate. That way they know you are active on their behalf, even if your letter is not published.
  • Attend a candidate forum in your area.  Introduce yourself (again) to the candidates and provide them with your business card.  If you are so inclined, pose a relevant question at the forum that they can respond to.
  • If your neighborhood has a social gathering or block party, invite your preferred candidate to attend.  Then be attentive and introduce the candidate to your friends and neighbors at the get-together for a stated period of time.
  • If you are a member of a community organization, invite the candidate to be your guest for the next meeting.  Then introduce them to others in attendance. 
  • Offer to do a “lit-drop” in your neighborhood for your candidate.  It involves distributing campaign literature, usually at your convenience.  Typically it takes less than an hour to do in your subdivision or neighborhood, and it is much appreciated.  You then get to meet with your candidate when you pick up the literature, and you can call them later to tell them you successfully completed the task.
  • Offer to stuff envelopes for mailings to voters.  You can either do this at the candidate’s campaign headquarters (often, that is their home) for a couple of hours, or you can pick up several boxes and do them at your home, in front of the TV.  Either way, you are being very helpful and are making important connections with your candidate.
  • Call the candidate and ask if you can cook hotdogs, brats or burgers at a campaign event.  Alternatively, see if they would like you to bake brownies, cupcakes or another treat for either a campaign event or for volunteers to eat during an active day.
  • Contact your candidate and offer to be a driver or campaign “go-fer” for an evening or a Saturday morning or afternoon.  You may be delivering campaign signs to homes, be picking up printing materials, going to the post-office or even driving the candidate to a speaking event.  This can provide you with valuable time to interact with the candidate!

One can be politically active without committing a lot of time (or money) to the effort.  Rather, a little bit of activity every-so-often is recognized and appreciated by candidates.  Make a commitment to yourself to do your small part to make participatory democracy serve the public interest!

Building a Common Agenda

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We can talk about why libraries are important amongst ourselves and try to persuade legislators and other decision-makers to see our point of view. Or, we can attempt to see things from their perspective, to understand the concerns and issues facing them as they work on behalf of multiple constituences. WLA's attempt to build a common agenda with state legislators started in early 2010. Here are materials you can use to build a common agenda with key decision-makers from your community or institution.

General Tips for Working with Legislators

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Your legislator's time is valuable, but he or she appreciates constituent contacts. Here are some ideas for how to most effectively develop on ongoing relationship with your legislator while advocating on behalf of libraries. By the way, these tips work for meeting with any elected official.

1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Know the issues and the particular interests of your legislator. Keep a background file on your legislators, including special interests and personal profiles. You won't agree on all of the issues all of the time, but a legislator needs to know what constituents are thinking.

2. KEEP IN TOUCH. Write, call, or visit your legislators and their staff members to introduce yourself. Let them know who you represent and volunteer to keep them informed about your issues, their impact on your community and on the legislator's district.

Add the legislator's name to your mailing list and ask to have your name added to the legislator's mailing list.

Make sure the legislator receives notice of and invitations to special events held at your library. This serves as a reminder of your library's role in the community. Remind your legislator that attending these functions is an excellent way to meet with constituents.

Invite legislators and perhaps their spouses to tour your library. Show them exactly what your library does and how it contributes to community well-being.

3. BE CONSISTENT AND RELIABLE. Remember that official policy is set by the WLA Board of Directors. Make clear any differences between your opinions and the position of the WLA. Remember that WLA must be viewed as a credible source of information in order to be successful on behalf of libraries.

It is also not effective to mix discussion of your personal issues with discussion of library issues, or you will dilute your message and confuse the legislator as to your priorities.

4. GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE. Give public recognition to deserving legislators through awards or at library functions to which your legislator has been invited. Always say "THANK YOU" for support of your issues. A personal thank you note is also very effective.

5. BE A PLAYER. Attend events, social and other types, at which legislators will be present -- not to lobby overtly, but to get acquainted and make them aware of you as an active member of the community. Even if you can afford to give only a small amount of money, attending fund raisers is an important part of our current political process.

If the legislator has been helpful to your library, get involved in his or her election campaign. People who give their time, and who can recruit others to campaign, are very important to a legislator.

6. TELL US ABOUT IT. Let WLA know about the concerns and interests your legislator has expressed, along with any commitment of support to library issues.

With thanks to Citizens for Missouri's Children

Advocacy Resources

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Learn how to be a better advocate and share these resources with others.


Meeting with Legislators

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Legislation can only reflect what the people want if you and others take the time and trouble to inform legislators about what you want. Surprisingly, few people contact their elected officials. It may be difficult to realize that a single visit in person, a phone call or letter can make an impact on a legislator's views toward a piece of legislation but it certainly can and does. Remember, YOU are the library expert and you have valuable information and perspectives to impart.

1. Make an APPOINTMENT. Legislators and their staff members are busy, so extend them the courtesy of calling in advance.

2. THINK about what you want to say before you arrive. Review specific bills and background information on key issues provided by WLA or other sources.

3. SUMMARIZE your concerns in a concise manner. State your position clearly. Remember to be positive, enthusiastic, considerate and appreciative. Be someone your legislators or their staff would enjoy meeting with again!

4. SHARE THE COMMUNITY CONTEXT OF YOUR MESSAGE. Use personal stories about your library and its patrons in order to make your case. SUPPORT your position:

* We serve X number of individuals (constituents) each week. They use education, information and reading services such as _____________.

* We are doing our best to give citizens of our community (your district) the best possible bang for the library buck!

* Utilization of our library, including the growing demand for electronic/computer access, has increased by X percent over the past X number of years. In addition, the cost of materials (books and other publications) has increased.

5. TELL your legislator what you hope he/she will do. Tell what WLA's top priorities are.

6. LISTEN to your legislator's concerns and opinions. He or she may not always agree with you, and it's important to understand the message the legislator/staff is trying to convey. Your legislator is balancing many constituents' concerns and may not always be able to vote as you hope.

7. INFORM your legislator of opposing viewpoints he/she may encounter and any counter arguments you may have. Don't try to hide information.

8. BROADEN YOUR SCOPE OF LEGISLATIVE INTEREST. Consider asking open-ended questions to show your interest in the legislative process and to learn about other issues of concern:

* Are you aware of any other library-related issues that have come to your attention, of which I may not be aware?

* How do you see the legislative session unfolding? What are the main priorities of the legislature overall this session?

* Going beyond library issues, what are the priority issues of the district as you hear from constituents?

* Would you have any additional advice for us today on the subjects we have brought up?

9. THANK the legislator for his/her time and interest. Tell him/her that you appreciate the efforts on your behalf. Invite the legislator to visit your library or meet with the board of trustees back in the district as your schedule may permit.

10. OFFER your expertise or assistance in the future.

11. FOLLOW-UP the visit with a call, letter or card. Make note of any additional information or your answers to questions the legislator may have asked. Keep in touch in order to build on the good will you've established by meeting with the legislator.

With thanks to Citizens for Missouri's Children