If you are one of the many people who feel our current political scene is in chaos and would like to see a change, but don’t know where to begin, speakers at the recent Women’s Summit Napa Valley have some practical advice.
Number one is speak up, even if it means risking getting out of your comfort zone.
“Rather than be a bystander, do something. Make your voice heard,” said Beth Lincoln, founder of Women Stand — Up St. Helena.
Lincoln was host of the Women’s Summit Napa Valley which took place Saturday at Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena. Also speaking were Janice Jackson, education policy maker in the Clinton Administration and public school leader in the Boston area school districts, and Delaine Eastin, former Superintendent of Public Schools in California and former candidate for governor.
“If you are not participating, they (elected officials) will only hear the other voices. Individual voices are effective. Calls saying ‘vote yes or no’ matter. They keep track — every voice counts no matter how it is conveyed,” said Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon, also speaking at the event.
About 150 women and a handful of men attended the interactive event designed for participants to take away some kind of plan for political action. Although the event was directed at women, the message was universal: How do you advocate for legislation, put your message into action, instead of just ranting and raving.
“We can have all the voices and talks we want, and then someone else goes and makes all the decisions,” Jackson said. “Be clear about where you stand and know who you are and where your sources of power are.”
Speaking of the president Jackson said, “We live in chaotic times. Some blame Trump, but he just opened the gates to something that was already there. This is the time to wake up and say ‘who are we and what does it mean to be a democracy.’ Fear is not a stopping point but a stepping stone along the way. If we want change, we need to be fearless and risk discomfort to do action.”
There are many ways to make your voice heard, Dillon said, whether with a phone call or email, group form letters, canvasing neighborhoods for support, or attending town meetings. The most effective way to get your voice heard, however, is through direct meetings with officials.
More than likely you will, at least at first, meet with a legislator’s staffer.
“It’s equally as efficient to meet with a staffer. Legislators don’t read (constituent’s presentations),” Dillon said. “And staffers are likely to be more sympathetic than their bosses.”
Dillon elaborated on six key points to make your case and lobby elected officials:
Create or find something that illustrates your point and catches people’s attention.
A catch phrase or sound bite
Create a specific summary phrase the legislator will remember. Something like “Save the Lost Coast.” And no one has heard your message until you hear it back three times, Dillon said.
Know your audience
Do the research. Know who the recipient of your message is. Are they a lawyer? Are they religious? Do you have anything in common? Go on Facebook, LinkedIn, and learn about the staffer and the official to tailor the presentation. If you know about them, it creates a bonding opportunity.
Do not at first present any written material. You want them to listen to what you have to say. Don’t tell a story, people’s attention spans are short. Respect their time, as you might only have five minutes to present your idea. Then leave behind one to two pages with the details including your contact information near the top.
Speak their lingo, not yours
Listen to speeches the legislator has given and adjust your pitch to fit into the bill you are concerned about. Communicate in a way they can understand.
Don’t ramble. Keep your message topic-specific. Also, never be negative. Lobbying is like sales; you’re selling a message. Be specific. If there is time you can tell a story.
As a follow-up strategy, send a thank you email or one written on letterhead. Follow the bill and as it progresses and changes get back to the staffer.
Lincoln and Jackson stepped in for guest speaker Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who cancelled at the last moment. Lee, who represents California’s 13th congressional district, Oakland, is known for being the sole dissenting voice in Congress for not going to war after the 9/11 attacks.
Also at the event was Kathryn Zdan, who performed Lauren Gunderson’s one-person play “Natural Shocks.” Gunderson stated, “We are the undeniable force of nature that will light up this darkness and change it forever.”
Booths representing the American Association of University Women, League of Women Voters, Napa Valley College, Soroptimist, Girls on the Run, and Moms Demand Action also were present at the event.