Last night I was at the MERI offices for their training seminar called “Moving Legislators Your Way: Winning Marriage Equality in Rhode Island”.
I thought I’d share some of the things presented during the seminar here as well as some of the stories that came out of this session.
First the story. One person had a legislator dead set against a marriage equality bill. The legislator brought up the standard arguments, he was Catholic, his district was highly Catholic, etc.
But that person went one step further. She canvassed her district, surveyed about 400 of her district neighbors and found out an interesting fact. Despite being heavily a heavily Catholic district, it ran 2:1 in support of marriage equality. She presented those results to her legislator and by doing that she’s brought him into the camp that supports marriage equality in RI, to the point that he’s a big proponent of the move to grant us full equality.
You can change a legislators mind. One of the ways we can communicate with legislators is to setup in-person meetings. Some tips for successful meetings with your legislator follow:
1) Location of meeting
2) How will you setup the meeting?
3) Determine topics of discussion
4) Listen – meeting with your legislator is also an intelligence gathering activity.
5) Is a follow-up necessary? In some cases yes, in others no.
6) Information pass along. If you’re working with a group establish the protocol for the passage of information.
Believe it or not the best place for a meeting is at your own home. People tend to drop their guard a little bit in that environment so you it allows a full exchange to occur.
Some legislators are skittish though, so suggestion for alternate locations include coffee shops, libraries, etc. Some legislators even hold open office hours so try to schedule a time then.
As to the intelligence gathering, remember this is a two way conversation. You’re trying to convince your legislator to support marriage equality, but at the same time listen to your legislator for clues as to the motivations behind his/her position and pass that along to the group you’re working with so better strategic decisions can be made.
As to what to talk about, personal stories work best. Go from there and hopefully you can swing a legislator in our column.
You can do some research on your legislator. Here in RI it’s as simple as going to the Legislative Web Site and searching for your legislator and looking at their Bio and legislation sponsored.
Here are some items you can find out about your legislator. You might just have something in common with them.
– Legislative priorities can be gleaned from the bio.
– What do they do for a living?
– Where do they live in your district?
– Where did they go to school?
– Other offices they may have held?
– Community group involvement?
Additionally you can:
– Brainstorm with group members
– Ask other state legislators who may know your legislator well. This one is a bit more difficult but you can find out by researching bill history.
– Meet with progressive organizers and groups, as well as service organizations.
– Attend a city or town council meeting. You’d be surprised how many politicos show up at those.
– Social club membership is a gold mine too.
Letter writing is also important (An increasingly so are emails).
Here are some tips for letter writing:
1) Hand written letters carry more weight but should be brief and to the point.
2) Stay positive
3) Tell YOUR story.
4) Ask legislator to support marriage equality
5) Sign with your name, address, and email address.
Letters to the Editor should follow the same rules as above, with the exception that you can use word processing or email programs. In my case my handwriting is such chicken scratch they’re getting a printer letter. I can also type a lot faster than I can write so it works out better for me.
Unfortunately I live in a district that has full support from both our State Representative and our State Senator. But I’m in the camp that says we need to go after the leadership in the house and senate. We did float the idea of a legislative intel operation which I fully support. Do the canvassing in their areas and find out that more than likely, there is 2:1 support for marriage equality (Which btw, mirrors the surveys I’ve seen, both the formal and informal surveys all track in at 60/40, or near enough to 2:1). And as we get more press and inform more people I think we’ll see that ratio rise.
But it was great to talk about ideas for pushing this forward and even get a new t-shirt:
BTW, the new screen on the laptop is super bright. I love it.