Involved in Government Affairs: Twelve Tips for Becoming an Effective
1, Issue 2,
October 2003, pp.16-17
There are lots of
state and local organizations that need
your help in advocating issues of concern to women and girls in
across Virginia. Any of these organizations could use your help in
legislative activities and speaking to state and local legislators and
officials about pending legislation and administrative policies.
Richmond women are
in a unique
position to influence state government because we live and work in or
proximity to the State Capitol. We can
run down to the Capitol to meet with a state legislator or appear
legislative committee without having to brave the unpredictable
mixing bowl on 95 south, fight the tunnel and construction traffic on
or travel eight hours by car from far southwest Virginia.
This is a
wonderful benefit and an
obligation. Richmond women should be more informed and more engaged in
affairs in order to ensure that all women in Virginia have a real voice
You can find out
which organizations are already involved in
“lobbying” the state legislature by searching the lobbyist registration
base on the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website, www.commonwealth.virginia.gov,
where you’ll find the name of the organizations and contact information
their registered lobbyists. You can
connect with local organizations and issues by participating in the
community associations, local business and youth organizations and the
Once you’ve found
the organization or cause for which you
want to be an advocate, you’ll need to focus on how to be effective. Here are twelve tips for being an effective
grass roots advocate that will help you be a better advocate, whether
choose to focus on issues pending in Congress, the Virginia legislature
City Council, County Board or a local school board:
Learn the culture
– staff vs. member. In Congress, you
have to build a good relationship with staff before you’ll get to see
member. In the Virginia legislature and
in local governing bodies, this is less likely to be true.
procedural rules (formal and informal). If
you want to make something happen, you need to know
what process you
must follow to get something done. Is
there a particular subcommittee or committee that will hear an issue
first? How is legislation or an
ordinance introduced? You need to know
how the game is played before you take the field.
Be fearless. Don’t
to be assertive. As Robert Grudin says,
“[t]he years forget
our errors and forgive our sins, but they punish our inaction with
limits. Don’t make promises that you
can’t keep. Don’t overcommit.
allies. Build coalitions with other
organizations and people who share your goals and objectives.
opposition. Find out who’s likely to be against you on an issue, and
whether there is any common ground.
Look for win/win
or acceptable compromise. If there’s a
balance that can be struck, strike it. If
you can move your ball forward a yard, take it. You’ll
be closer to the goal even if you
can’t score in one play.
yourself about the double binds faced by women
leaders and advocates, Kathleen Hall Jamieson describes these in her
the Double Bind: Women and Leadership:
exercise their brains or their wombs, but not both.
speak out are immodest and will be shamed, while women who are silent
ignored or dismissed.
subordinate whether they claim to be different or the same.
are considered feminine will be judged incompetent, and women who are
As men age,
they gain wisdom and power; as women age, they wrinkle and become
Learn how to
capitalize on your assets and minimize your
weaknesses. Remember that guys can lie and get away with it, women
can’t. A woman who loses trust can never
Pay attention to
how you are marketing yourself. Like it
or not, how you dress, wear your hair, talk, all affect how you are
prepare, prepare. You are presenting a
“case” to a difficult jury. If you
don’t know your stuff, no one will pay any attention to what you say.
know more about how people align on issues? Check
out www.pollingreport.com. Want to become a better speaker?
Read Leading Out Loud by Terry
Pearce. Want a handbook that’s easy to
follow? Get Women for a Change: A
Grassroots Guide to Activism and Politics, Thalia Zepatos &
Kaufman. Use the internet to become
yourself too seriously. Use humor to
defuse “difficult” situations.
12. Keep things
professional. Develop relationships by
providing information and
making yourself indispensable.
If you follow
these tips, you’ll be on your way to becoming
an effective advocate for a cause or organization whether you choose
on issues pending in your local school or community association, the
City or a
surrounding county, or at the state level. Now
all you have to do is just “get out there.”