Before joining Phone2Action as a Civic Tech Fellow, I was an intern for a state Senator, and I got an insider’s view of the legislative process. During my time there, I witnessed how lawmakers worked together or against each other, and also how they interacted with lobbyists and their constituents.
Taking those experiences and seeing how organizations were able to galvanize support has helped me strategize effective advocacy methods here at Phone2Action, whether its contacting legislators or mobilizing supporters.
Interning on the Legislative Side
As part of my internship with the state Senator, it was my duty to attend committee hearings and respond to constituents when they called or emailed, and this is where I got to see how advocacy played an important role in the legislative process. During committee hearings, constituents, lobbyists, and organizations are given the chance to testify in support or opposition of a bill being heard, and this was the perfect time to show lawmakers how many people cared about this bill and the issue behind it. Organizations were aware of this opportunity, and they took full advantage of it, they came with groups of constituents and went around offices leaving information on the issue, who it affects, and how and why the lawmaker should vote.
Being in charge of constituent matters, I went through emails and voicemails and got to see what constituents cared about and how many cared about it. The lawmaker I interned for was never the first person to receive these messages, only a few made it straight to him, and only the extremely unique ones were the ones that he saw. As for the other messages they bounced back and forth between the Chief of Staff and myself, and we used those messages to get a sense of how constituents wanted the Senator to vote on various bills.
Turning to Advocacy
During my college career I was part of some advocacy groups on campus, and saw how small groups of people were able to mobilize students and faculty, and even get news coverage. Seeing how they used social media in a different way to spread their message and recruit more supporters was interesting, one organization created a “catfish” account, they would change their identity to resemble the cause or issue they were advocating for, then start a hashtag “#WeAreAll (whatever the catfish’s name was at the time).” Watching how creative ideas can produce such a great turnout was a fascinating experience.
What Both Perspectives Have Taught Me
The benefit of having the opportunity of being on both sides of advocacy, is I have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. The common theme from both sides is that standing out will let you be heard by both lawmakers and advocates. Sure there isn’t a clear “5 steps to Successful Advocacy,” but I picked up some Do’s & Don’ts.
- Think outside the box, you have to make your call to action stand out.
- Use social media as a tool to gather support, the internet is your friend, treat it like one.
- Lay out your goals with other advocates so you’re all on the same page and deliver the same message to lawmakers.
- Don’t send long messages or use a passive tone. You want whoever is reading or hearing your message to be equally concerned, passionate, and as interested as you.
- Don’t get comfortable with your circle of advocates, branch out you never know who’s out there.
- Don’t send mixed messages, you want to have different sounding messages so they’re all heard and read, but you don’t want to send different goals.
My summer at Phone2Action has been an ongoing learning experience, not only about advocating but also strategizing within advocacy. During my summer here, I was able to see live Call-To-Actions for campaigns I helped with, and I watched campaigns run from start to finish. Seeing the client use different messages and social media posts to gather advocates and getting them to contact their legislators right then and there at a conference, was something I value because I was able to see all the pieces fall into place. Phone2Action has given me a summer I will never forget-especially when it’s time to run my own advocacy campaign.
About the Author
Liriam Quintanilla is a Summer 2018 Civic Tech Fellow. Born and raised in Prince George’s County, she is a recent graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park where she majored in Government and Politics with a concentration in International Relations. Her interest in government and politics developed in the spring semester of 2016 when she had the opportunity to work on a state election campaign, where she got to understand the complexities involving community outreach in concern with the language barriers that the constituency face. She saw how ‘reaching across the aisle’ tactics worked in promoting the agendas in the state legislature. Pursuing her interests, she interned with Sen. Victor Ramirez, where she conducted policy research and assisted with constituent services. Liriam aspires to pursue a career in law and working on education policy. When she is not busy keeping up to date with current affairs, she’s studying for the LSAT or visiting art exhibits.
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