Legislative advocacy can be a confusing part of the social work profession. Most people are intimidated to speak with legislators or even begin to try and figure out how to advocate. Here are common misconceptions and how you can defeat them to become a better advocate!
I called my legislator…once. When you engage in advocacy, you may think that the one contact you had with your legislator, the phone call you made to his or her office, the email you sent, or the visit you had was enough. In fact, advocacy takes relationship building. Relationship building requires more than one visit, phone call, email, or letter. Legislators are swarmed with lobbyists, constituents, other legislators, staff, and others interested in their bills.
Session’s over….there is no way I can advocate right now. Advocacy is on going. Some of the best times to build relationships with your legislators is while they are NOT in session- when they’re actually at home in your district! Legislators have offices in Raleigh and back in their district. You can find who represents you and their office information from the General Assembly website. Some legislators will even tell you that meeting with them in November and December is often the best time to talk to them and get to know them. Once you’ve built that relationship with them, they’ll remember who to call when they have a question or need information to draft legislation.
I can’t engage my legislator. You may think that because your legislator does not agree with similar causes, he or she will not engage with you. Legislators want to know who is in their districts and what they do. Invite your local legislators to your school of social work, your agency, or a community event. You may be surprised to see the involvement they want to have in their communities and what they can learn from it.
I need to tell my legislator that they are wrong. Since advocacy is about relationship building, always telling someone they are wrong will not help strengthen your relationship. Instead, give data and other information to the legislator to prove your point. You are not meeting with your legislator to fight with them…you will certainly not develop a working relationship with them.
NASW-NC is here to help you become a better advocate! Check out our Advocacy Page for more tips, insight, and how you can help advocate!