In December, I know two things are about to happen—the holidays and the launch of a new session of the Washington State Legislature. While the holidays take a fair amount of our time (for good reason—enjoy your loved ones), now is the time to get ready for the new legislative session. Why? To advocate for older adults! Why? Because state-funded services make a world of difference in the lives of older adults, individuals with disabilities, and caregivers of all ages and income levels. And there’s a lot of competition for limited funds. Read more here.
Here are 10 tips for effective legislative advocacy, with tasks you can complete this month to prepare for January:
- Who represents you? Make sure you know who represents you at the city, county, state, and federal levels.Access Washington offers a Legislative and Congressional District Finder. Enter your address to learn who represents you in Olympia and in Washington, DC. Also see the Site Contents at the bottom of the page for a wealth of information about the Washington State Legislature. And take the time to click on each representative’s name to access their home page, e-mail, office address, phone number, and committees.For other local elected officials’ names, use the League of Women Voters’ They Represent You booklet. It gets updated every year.
- Take a deeper dive into the information you gathered above. Determine which issues are near and dear to your elected representatives’ hearts, their backgrounds, and a bit about their districts. Learn everything you can about the people who represent you.
- Sign up to receive newsletters from each elected official. This may appear on legislators’ websites as “Subscribe to My E-mail Updates.” You may learn about town hall meetings you can attend. Most definitely, you’ll learn what’s important to your elected official.
- You may see Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or other social media icons on their website. Typically, these pages are open to the public—you can read them even if you don’t have an account on that platform but you need an account to respond. Click on each one to learn which social media platforms they use individually (some are general party caucus accounts). These are clues to the many ways you can contact your elected representatives.
- If you don’t use social media, now is a good time to start learning. To open an account, you need your name, an e-mail address, and a password of your own choosing. Start posting, tweeting, sharing, and retweeting so that you’re good to go come January. Also, while far more older adults use Facebook than Twitter, Twitter is most common for advocacy purposes. Use both—you may be surprised at the networking possibilities!
- Friend or Follow your elected representatives on social media so that their posts show in your News Feed (only you can see them unless they “tag” you, which is unlikely).
- Learn about tags and hashtags. Generally, if you add the “@” (at) symbol before a name of someone who has an account, you can tag individuals who receive notification they’ve been “mentioned” in a post or tweet. And if you add a “#” (hashtag, number, or pound sign) followed by a topic, anyone who searches for that topic will find your post. Here are some tweet examples:
Tweets Translations Let @PattyMurray & @Senator Cantwell know how the #ACA affects you & your family. http://n.pr/2hlPgup Let Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell know how the Affordable Care Act affects you and your family. (Link to One Of Alaska’s Senators Could Be A Deciding Vote On Affordable Care Act Replacement, NPR, 9/21/17) Thank you @karenkeiser1 for a lively discussion about WA state budget shenanigans! http://bit.ly/2fP0Gq9 Thank you, Senator Karen Keiser, for a lively discussion about Washington State budget shenanigans! (Link to Does divided Olympia remind you of a certain other gridlocked capital?, Seattle Times, 8/20/17) Improve #aging for all! Support #agefriendly communities support #Medicaid #Medicare #LTSS http://nyti.ms/2tDAc4c Improve aging for all. Support age-friendly communities by supporting Medicaid, Medicare, and long-term services and supports. (Link to Plan on Growing Old? Then the Medicaid Debate Affects You, New York Times, 6/30/17)
- Practice. Build your online community. Remember to maintain a professional and respectful tone. And don’t post anything on social media that would embarrass you or your organization if it showed up in the news.
- Find and follow social media sites sponsored by organizations that support your interests. For example, if you support programs and services for older adults (of course, you do!), you could follow these:
That’s just a start. Watch who and what these organizations follow, and follow them, too.
- Memorize this number: 1-800-562-6000. That’s the number for Washington State’s toll-free Legislative Hotline. Know it by heart or save it in your phone directory. Advocacy may only be one button away.
Contributor Irene Stewart is the Age Friendly Seattle project manager and a planner at Aging and Disability Services—the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County. Irene has worked for city, county, and state governments, including the Washington State Legislature, run for public office (school board) and served, and organized grassroots advocacy efforts. She has presented workshops and webinars for Washington Association of Area Agencies on Aging, Washington State Council on Aging, and National Council on Aging that promote use of social media for civic engagement and advocacy.