Q: What do I say to a legislator who already supports our views? I really don’t see the point in “preaching to the converted” when there are other legislators who need to be informed about students’ issues.
A: Your concern is understandable, but think about advocacy in this situation as “reacquainting yourself with an old friend.” Just as you wouldn’t take your good friend for granted by not maintaining contact with them, so too should you not take a legislator who knows your issues for granted. While s/he may know your issues and even support them, this does not mean that they will actively advocate your cause. Think of it as pushing your advocacy efforts to another level. So what do you say in this situation? Try something like this: “Senator/Assembly(wo)man _____, I know that you have been a long time supporter of higher education and I would like to thank you for that. But it seems that we are fighting the same issues every year. [Insert your personal story here]. I know that with your help we can begin to see some long-term results.”
Q: If I don’t get the chance to see a legislator but am offered the opportunity to see a staff member, what should I do?
A: Legislators are busy and cannot always meet everyone all the time. This does not, however, diminish the value of legislative staff. The legislative staffer you meet may also play the dual role of gatekeeper. They are principally responsible for placing issues on the legislator’s “radar screen.” They are valuable resources for information and can be used to make further and more direct contact with your legislator. To be certain this occurs, write a follow-up letter to your legislator stating that you were sorry that you did not get the opportunity to meet with him or her, but that his or her staff person (state name(s)) was very helpful and understanding of your concerns. Use this as an opportunity to reiterate to the legislator what you said to the staff member and don’t forget to send a note of thanks to the staff member.
Q: I arrive for my appointment with my legislator on time. After waiting ten minutes, I am told that s/he is running 20 minutes late and I have an appointment with another legislator in 15 minutes. What do I do?
A: This happens more often than not. Tell the staff person that you have an appointment with another legislator that is scheduled after your appointment with this legislator. Ask the staffer if it would be possible for you to meet the legislator at a later time. Chances are the staffer will make the accommodation because you were inconvenienced. In addition, a meeting does not have to take place in the legislator’s office. You could offer to meet the legislator elsewhere: near the Legislative Chamber, near the room in which their committee meeting will be held, etc.—wherever it is convenient for both the legislator and you. If this is still not an option, make an appointment to see the legislator when s/he returns to the district, or write a letter indicating your attempts and then proceed to state your issues. Above all, always be gracious.
A special thanks to Lesley Massiah of Fordham University for supplying much of the information contained in this document.