As we work to block Trump's agenda in Congress, his agenda is already being implemented in many states.
Engaging Your State Legislators
Engaging Your State Legislators
Time is running out to make your voice heard.
You have more power to influence your state legislator than your member of Congress. The average state representative's district is 12 times smaller than a Congressional district. Most are not lifelong politicians, or even full-time politicians. They are not always focused on reelection because many of them run unopposed. And state legislators have the power to decide many of the most important issues impacting communities.
However, since state legislators have fewer resources than members of Congress, it is harder for them to take ideas and turn them into legislation.
That's where you come in.
Click each step to learn more.
1) Find out who your state legislators are.
Go to this website, enter your zipcode, find your state legislators, find their phone numbers, and where their offices are located. Use the OurStates map to see which bills they are currently considering. Then call them.
2) Ask for a face-to-face meeting.
State legislators live in your state, sometimes in your town. They don't always host town halls, so meetings are probably your best chance at engaging them. Schedule meetings with both your state Senator and House (or Assembly) member, if possible.
Don't be discouraged if you are directed to meet with a staff member. Staff are gatekeepers to legislators. Meet with them, inform them about the issues, and give them materials to give to your legislators.
If you are uncomfortable or unable to meet with your legislator or their staff, prepare to make your ask over the phone.
3) Prepare for the meeting.
Be prepared to tell them why an issue matters to you and share a personal experience about it. Find data showing how the issue impacts your community (i.e. how many people are undocumented). Bring materials for your legislator to read to learn more. You can also reach out to local organizations to see if they have information you can share with your legislator or advice on how best to engage them.
4) Have an ask.
Use the OurStates map to view the bills your legislator is currently considering. Are there good bills you’d like your legislator to support or harmful bills you’d like them to oppose? Be mindful of your representative’s political affiliation and their past positions on legislation. They won’t want to look like they’ve “flip-flopped” so if you can approach them before they make public statements, that’s better. Before you leave, get a commitment from your state legislator to 1) support or oppose existing legislation; 2) introduce legislation you’re suggesting; or 3) consider what you’ve suggested. Ask to take a picture before you leave and share it online.
Opposing legislation: If you are asking your legislator to oppose policies that they have supported before, suggest ways they can distinguish this bill from others in the past. For example, while a legislator may not have supported giving in-state tuition to undocumented students in the past, they might oppose a bill that bans sanctuary cities because they don't want to exacerbate tensions between police and immigrant communities. Once you’ve decided what bill(s) you’d like to focus on, print them out to leave with your legislator.
Supporting legislation: Be mindful of which political party controls your state’s legislature. It may be difficult in Republican-controlled states to pass many of the bills you believe should be passed. Try to find reasons to support the bill that effectively appeal to the party in control (i.e. criminal justice reform can help balance the state budget). If the bill hasn't made it out of committee yet, and the legislator isn't on the committee that is voting on it, ask them to co-sponsor the bill and then vote for the bill when it makes it out of committee.
Suggesting new legislation: Since state legislators have smaller staffs, bring the actual text of the bill or law that you’re advocating for. Find policy solutions that have already been implemented in other states. Tell your legislator how many other states have laws similar to the one you’re asking for and how the laws have been beneficial (i.e. workers earn more in states with higher minimum wages without there being higher unemployment).
5) Follow up.
Since state legislators don’t have the same resources as members of Congress, a ton of follow-up calls might be counter productive. Ask the legislator (or their office if you can’t get a meeting), what the best way to follow up on your conversation is (i.e. phone call, email etc.) and when. Ask them what the best way is for others to get in touch. Finally, ask them if there are any upcoming committee meetings where the bill is being discussed where you can testify. This is a way to stay involved, get your message in front of more legislators, and remind your legislator that you are paying attention.
6) Track the bill's progress.
Check back to see whether the bill is progressing through the legislature. Call your governor if the bill passes both houses of the legislature and reaches the governor's desk. If the legislation is unsuccessful, follow up with your state legislator and ask him/her why and how you can help it be more successful next session.
Remember, your representatives work for you. If your state legislator isn't initially willing to engage or be persuaded, there are ways you can apply additional pressure to convince them. There are also alternative pathways to change within your state including ballot initiatives and pressuring your Governor or Attorney General. If you need assistance planning an advocacy campaign or have other inquiries about this project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like members of Congress, state legislators rely on positive coverage in media to maintain enough popular support to win re-election. Write letters to the editor or purchase (even crowdfund) ads in local media outlets that pressure or shame state legislators into taking a desired ‘common sense’ action like meeting with their constituents, taking a position on a controversial issue, or supporting a given bill.
It may be necessary to conduct protest actions to pressure a state legislator or other public official into taking an urgent action (for example, getting a Governor to veto an extreme bill). There are many organizers and activists who have experience planning protests, reach out to them for guidance.
Sign up to join a growing network of learners, builders, and advocates pushing for equity and justice in their states.