Politics and legislation as a whole often feel untouchable to many people. We think of elected officials as people in suits who work in Washington D.C. or Harrisburg and it feels like they are in a whole different world from the rest of us. While it may feel like that sometimes, politicians are also the mom at soccer practice, the dad dropping his son off for therapy, or the person getting gas at the next pump over. They are regular people and their job is to take into account the interests and needs of the individuals they serve and advocate for them in an effort to pass legislation that positively impacts their constituents.
As a parent of a child with a social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenge you most likely have some experience advocating for your child in order to get them the education and services they need to thrive. Sometimes those services and needs can be met by your child's service provider or school district. However, it is possible that they may be bigger and you may need to seek out support from your elected officials. It may feel daunting to contact your legislator but be assured that they want to hear from you. It is essential for both families and the legislators that serve them to have an open communication pathway.
We reached out to legislators from across Pennsylvania and asked each to share a few ideas with parents and caregivers about how they would recommend you prepare for a legislative visit. Below are two videos, one from a PA State Representative, and one from a PA State Senator, that address ideas and tips so you can prepare for a productive meeting. These tips are so important because they give insight into what kind of information is most impactful so you can best prepare.
The first legislator is State Representative Michael H. Schlossberg, representing the 132nd district which includes parts of Allentown, South Whitehall, and Lehigh County. He is a co-chair and co-founder of the House Mental Health committee.
As Rep. Schlossberg shared, he has a personal connection to mental health. He is very open about his struggles with depression and anxiety. He has used this lived experience and is now an active voice in advocating for and prioritizing mental health at the state level. One thing that clearly stands out in his message is that he's just a regular working professional like us. That understanding of our politicians should make scheduling a meeting with them a little less intimidating.
The second legislator who reached out is State Senator Daylin Leach representing the 17th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Montgomery County and Delaware County.
One idea that Senator Leach introduces is that sometimes your legislator might not necessarily be a supporter of your cause, and that is okay. Don't let this hinder you from asking, but do let it dictate what exactly you ask. He brings up a few ideas you could ask for rather than just "vote yes/no for this." Some of those examples include; "not oppose a procedural movement, or keep silent" on a particular issue.
To make this vital information more easily accessible to our readers we have created a series of tipsheets and accompanying blog posts. This week we are debuting the 1st of 2 entitled; How to Effectively Meet With Your Legislators. Check back with us next week to learn how to craft your own personal story and share it with your legislators to make an impact.
This tipsheet breaks up their tips into 4 distinct sections. Making sure that you are talking to the right person who can help you is an essential first step. To find out who your legislators are click here.
One big theme we heard from many legislators was to not be discouraged if you end up meeting with a member of their staff rather than with the legislator themselves. Those staff members interact with the legislator on a daily basis and if you make an impact on them chances are the legislator will be hearing about it. Meeting with a staff member may help to ease your nerves and your personality and story may shine through much more.
The second section is all about doing your "homework" before the meeting. As Rep. Schlossberg said it is frustrating for him, and his colleagues when someone comes in and asks what he knows about a particular topic. It shows them that the person asking for the meeting did not do any research on the legislator and their history with the topic. Schlossberg went on to say that perhaps finding a unique fact about the person you're meeting that connects with you, your family, or your cause can be a great tool to show them you're serious about the meeting and time with them. Senator Leach shares in Schlossberg's sentiment that knowing who you are meeting with, their ideology, and voting record makes you stand out to them and helps better prepare you for the meeting.
Thirdly tailor your meeting and your subsequent "ask" to ensure that it directly impacts the people that they serve. Their job is to look out for the best interest of their constituents so you need to make a case for how this directly impacts those people. Both the farm example that Schlossberg used, and the treatment center example in the tip sheet both show how to utilize this tip.
Both legislators are in agreement that having a clear ask is important, and don't leave before you have the chance to ask it. As previously mentioned; Senator Leach's video offers insights into what to ask for if they aren't necessarily a supporter of the cause. The tip sheet breaks down what you can and cannot ask for. There is so much more a legislator can do for you than vote "yes" or "no" on something. Read through the do's and don'ts to get a sense of what kind of ask might best benefit your cause.
Hopefully hearing from your state legislators inspires you to see that they not only want to but need to talk to you, their constituent. Do not be scared to reach out to them, they are normal people whose jobs are to help the people they represent. Now that you know how easy it is to contact and meet with your legislators check back in with us next week to learn how to craft your story and ask. Your lived experiences and knowledge has the potential to make real systemic changes.
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