Advocating on behalf of the mentally ill by educating policy makers is a critical component to helping those who are fighting this illness.
Whether you choose to become involved in existing grassroots efforts or are interested in spearheading a specific “campaign”, your involvement is needed. Grassroots advocacy, beginning at the local level, helps ensure that good laws are adopted and necessary program funding is obtained.
Here are two ways to get involved!
Join an existing Grassroots Campaign/Organization
Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare
Contact: Ivan Cosimi, CEO, mail to: email@example.com
Florida Council for Community Mental Health
Contact: Melissa Witmeier, mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org, 850.224.6048
Create your own Grassroots Campaign
1. Identify the Issues: What’s the problem to be solved?
- What do you want to accomplish?
- Gather facts on the issue (pro’s & con’s) and be able to explain both sides.
- Is there a bill which must be passed or defeated?
- Is there an appropriation which must be passed?
2. Develop Campaign Framework
- Start early, because developing a campaign takes a long time and because issue development in Tallahassee begins early.
- Create an advocacy calendar with timelines and responsibilities.
- Determine which legislators to target. Legislative targets should include bill sponsors, your hometown legislators and their staff, members of the committees which will address the bill or budget item, legislators which have somehow demonstrated support for your issue (whether on key committees or not), and key leadership within the House and Senate.
- Do you need to recruit bill/ appropriation project sponsors?
- Compile legislative contact data base – with email and mailing addresses, district and Tallahassee phone numbers.
- Compile Legislative County Delegation contact and meeting information lists.
3. Prepare Advocacy Materials
- Identify your audience (FL Legislature, County Council, or other for purposes of this exercise, assume the audience in the FL Legislature).
- Create a one-page fact sheet on the issue (see attached sample). This sheet and your presentation should include a statement of the current law, the problem to be solved, the suggested solution, counterpoint(s) to main objection(s), the Ask (i.e. what do you want the Legislator to do) and campaign contact information.
- Prepare a 2 minute presentation about the issue. Note: if you can’t make your pitch in less than 2 minutes, its too long.
- Draft several sample letters to be sent to policy makers in support of the issue.
4. Assess and Build Relationships
- Recruit volunteers.
- Determine who within your organization has personal relationships with policy makers/legislators and assess the strength of the relationship.
- Create a Key Contact Program – match up policy makers/legislators with membership of organization – build quality relationships.
- Identify legislative champions, coordinate campaign activities with your champion in order to bolster his/her efforts.
5. Form Coalitions
- Identify and solicit assistance from possible allied groups.
- Identify possible opposition and assess whether better to engage them in an effort to neutralize or better to merely monitor their level of involvement. Sometimes better to not stir things up.
6. Begin Outreach to Policy Makers
- Assign group leaders as necessary.
- Schedule meetings with legislators and staff. Begin early in the district and then go to Tallahassee during committee weeks and session.
- Do not underestimate the importance of legislative staff and legislative spouses.
- County deletion meetings – attend and make a brief presentation on the issue.
- Email and letter campaign – include broad-based constituent involvement.
- Do not flood email inboxes with hundreds of emails, as these will either annoy the legislator or they will ignore them, but emails are still good.
- Phone calls to district and Tallahassee offices.
- For email, US Mail, and phone calls, it is best to use constituents of the legislator rather than someone from outside the legislative district.
- Gather feedback from volunteers to assess whether talking points are effective, which legislators are supportive, whether efforts should be modified, etc.
7. Committee Weeks and Legislative Session
- Continue outreach to policy makers.
- Utilize Online Sunshine to track bill progress.
- Continue coalition building and networking.
- Meet with committee staff members.
- Attend appropriate committee meetings to testify and bill.
8. Seek Opportunities to Engage and Thank Policy Makers
- Invite legislators to tour a facility, speak at an event, or join the organization’s board.
- Keep a loaded camera to record a legislator’s involvement for the organization’s publication and/or to provide to the legislator for their publication or newsletter along with a personalized thank-you note.
- Keep track of legislator’s voting decisions – send thank you notes from key contacts.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead
Content for this page provided by Douglas S. Bell and Marnie George