How to Have a Successful Meeting with Elected Officials

In the week following the election, one thing has become clear:  There has never been a more important time to be working to protect strong environmental policies. It has been heartening to have so many people around me looking for ways to be more active in communicating with their elected representatives. This advice comes both from my experience as a lobbyist for Maryland LCV, but also my years as a legislative staffer.  I’ve been on both sides of the desk, and this is what I’ve learned.

Go ahead.  Try it at home.

General Things to Remember

1)    Politicians are not (usually) evil.  They are: neighbors, family members, activists, public servants, committed to their community, champions, living away from their families, sacrificing their careers, not experts on your subject, and trying their best.

2)    Lobbyists are not (usually) evil. Instead, they are generally: professionals, subject experts, educators, committed to their issues, important resources and critical to the process.

3)    You can lobby, and you should.

4)    You aren’t calling an office, you are calling a person.  The person who answers the phone is a human, and like most humans they respond better to people who treat them like humans.  Their job is to help you.  They want to hear from you.

Find out who represents you here: http://mdelect.net/

Tips for a successful meeting

1)    Know what you want, know what you need, and know the difference: If what you want is a tricked out high-end Tesla, but what you really need is a method of transportation, then don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, but know that it might not be feasible. You can always try to upgrade later.

2)    You have personal stories to share. They are important.  A personal connection to policy helps the legislators understand that there is a human face to the sterile legal language of bills and fiscal notes.

3)    Stay on message, and stay positive. Be prepared to be brief, always be polite and respectful, never take anyone's positions for granted (pro or con), legislative reform is a long-term proposition - don't expect to get everything you want on your first go. keep your eye on the prize.

4)    Treat legislation as project advocacy. Respect staff and make them your friends. Treat the legislators as partners, not adversaries. Know your allies (and enemies). Remember that money is a zero-sum game.

5)    Be a good human. Never lie (even if you think other people do), if you don't know an answer, don't pretend you do (use the opportunity to follow up later), do your best to be consistent and trustworthy, and never ever attack legislators (present or otherwise) or other advocates.

There will be lots of opportunities to practice these skills with not only your national representatives, but your state and local elected officials as well. Come to one of our Legislative Previews, get involved, stay educated and become an advocate for your community.

We need each other more than ever,

Kristen Harbeson
Political Director

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