Interacting with elected officials as a grassroots organizer

January 3, 2018 ACSA Writer

Like elected representatives, longtime educators often refer to themselves as public servants. Advocating on behalf of California’s 6.2 million children requires diplomacy and consistency. On this common ground, keep your interactions friendly and professional. Your goal is to become a dependable resource in the eyes of your representative. Likewise, the more you know about your representative, the better you can connect with them.

A hurdle you face may come in the form of your legislator’s scheduler. When reaching out to the district office, be polite, but persistent. If a scheduler does not respond, try again within a reasonable amount of time. Call more than your email, and make your request far in advance. Fridays are usually best for local visits, while the California legislature is in session in Sacramento. However, from October to December, legislators spend their weekdays in their home district. This means that before winter vacation, they are more likely to be able to meet with constituents, so plan ahead. Another incentive that works in your favor is if news outlets are present, so mention to the scheduler if they will be.

Preparing materials

We recommend that you plan on doing the majority of the work of educating your representative verbally. If you must offer a “leave behind” (similar to the documents that ACSA staff prepares for Legislative Action Day), make sure the content is minimal (one page) and relevant to the conversation. If this is your first time meeting your legislator, we recommend skipping the “leave behind.” Knowing your talking points and being knowledgeable and reliable is more important than the reams of paper you could bring.

“Are you a constituent?”

Yes! You represent the many students that reside within that elected official’s legislative district. You are also a constituent of that Assembly or Senate district. And if you live close to your worksite, you likely live within district boundaries.

Elected officials or their staff

Advocates can sometimes assume that when planning a meeting or event, the only acceptable attendee is the legislator themselves, and if a staff member attends in their place, then the event is a failure. This is a misconception. There are pros and cons to both situations: the legislator’s base knowledge of issues across the board is probably more shallow and wide- they know a little bit about many topics, but can be missing in-depth knowledge.

Treat a staffer with the same amount of respect you would a legislator. The staffer’s understanding of education may be more well-rounded than the official they work for; the staffer often has the opportunity to focus heavily on education along with another key issue or two, unlike the elected official.

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