How to Advocate
GFWC’s historic legislative accomplishments are counted among its greatest achievements, including the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, the establishment of the Children’s Bureau as a federal agency, the first child labor laws, and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Sen. Joseph Biden recognized GFWC on the floor of the United States Senate as “a gem among our midst.” By continuing our long history of political activism and advocacy, GFWC clubwomen are ensuring our influential place in the future of our nation.
Public impact on national policy takes organization and planning. A successful advocacy campaign should include issue education, coalitions, common goals, advocacy tools and techniques, and media outreach.
You and your club have an important role in advocating for issues affecting club members and your community. Learning about the issue is crucial and will assist clubs in effectively influencing local and national representatives. Ways to educate yourself and your club include; instituting a series of study groups for club members to learn about policy topics, establishing a club legislative committee, participating in national issues forums, using the GFWC Public Policy Department as a resource, planning a club program on how bills become laws or how to communicate with legislators, and developing a directory of local public officials and their staff.
Coalitions are formed when several groups partner together to pursue a common policy goal. Coalition members may include civic organizations, religious groups, and community organizations. At a national level, GFWC works with coalitions such as the National Council of Women’s Organizations, the Child Labor Organization, the United Nations Association, and the Elder Justice Coalition. Coalitions help advocacy efforts by giving increased depth, public image, cooperation, and outreach. Coalitions can help bring new ideas to the table and share resources.
Calling Your Legislator
Calling your legislator’s office can be a very effective way to advocate, especially when a vote is scheduled to take place immediately. When calling, try not to argue. Express your opinion on the issue, explain why you feel the way you do, and state what action you want your legislator to take. For example, “My name is Mary Smith, and as a member of the GFWC Club of Pittsburgh, I strongly urge Senator Spector to vote in favor of increased funding for the Violence Against Women Act.” It is very important when calling your legislator’s office to give your full name and address, and to keep your call short and to the point.
Writing Your Legislator
Writing to your legislator is an extremely effective way to advocate. With increased security in the United States Senate and House of Representative, as well as many local state offices, letters may take up to a month to reach their destination. Letters can also be faxed and sent via e-mail to avoid these delays.
When writing a letter, identify yourself. State that you are a constituent and are writing a letter on behalf of other individuals as a member of GFWC. Give the reason for your letter and refer to specific legislation when possible. Explain how the issue directly affects you, your family, or your community. Use as many relevant facts as possible and back them up with sources if available. Be specific about the action you wish you legislator to take. Tell them to vote for or against a piece of legislation. Keep the letter short and to the point, and concentrate on one issue per letter. More tips for letter writing can be found in the GFWC Public Policy Manual.
Meeting with Your Legislators
By taking time and effort to meet with legislators, you are showing them that you care deeply about a particular issue. Most legislators and their staff are very impressed with the strength of conviction that this shows. When trying to meet with your legislator, it is best to write or call ahead to arrange an appointment. Be prepared to present your case. Assume the legislator may not know all the details of the issues, so be prepared to inform him/her. If you are not able to meet with the legislator, meet with a staff member. Staff are very important, and your meeting will be reported. Always follow up your meeting with a thank you note or additional information. Once established, keep the line of communication open.
Placing your message in the public eye can broaden your audience, increase your support, and build credibility. Write a media advisory or alert to announce upcoming news conferences, press briefings, or press opportunities. Press releases are a great way to report a legislative event. Be sure to include contact information and background information on the issue. Meeting with legislators also proves a great photo opportunity to be used for your clubs public relations. The GFWC PR Toolkit provides valuable resources for effective media outreach.