Archive for January 28, 2018

Taking Action, Getting Results!

Bethany Snyder speaks at the January meeting

The American River Democrats were pleased to welcome guest speaker Bethany Snyder to the January 2018 meeting, so she could share her expertise in contacting lawmakers and getting results. She said that using resistance and bringing attention via protests and demonstrations is only one part of the equation—being an advocate and building relations with lawmakers and their staff is equally, if not more important to getting your point across in a meaningful way.

Currently from Roseville, Snyder is from Minneapolis, and has 15 years experience in the advocacy, legislative, and policy worlds. While currently an outreach and communications director for a health care consulting firm, she has also served as a grassroots director, lobbyist, and staff member for Senator Al Franken.

She said that advocacy is a three-legged stool, consisting of media advocacy, direct lobbying, and grassroots engagement. All three are equally important. Media advocacy involves getting your story out there, through letters to media (newspapers, etc.), stories shared through traditional (TV and radio) and social media, and other ways to publicly share an issue. Lobbying gets a bad name in the pubic eye, as we picture highly paid agents of wealthy corporations trading donations for favors from lawmakers. But the truth is, all causes have lobbyists of some sort, including environmentalists, seniors, the LGBT community, immigration rights, and so on. They are just people bringing their message directly and professionally to the lawmakers, and often help craft legislation. Grassroots engagement is people like us contacting our representatives directly, and lawmakers do want to hear directly from their voters. Regular communication can be one of the most effective tools to getting your cause heard.

There are of course multiple levels of government to advocate to. The local level includes city and county councils and boards, school boards, sheriffs, and elected commissioners. They can be the easiest and most direct representatives to contact, as they usually have smaller constituencies and are located in your community. State level government includes your Assembly Member and State Senator,  the Governor, Attorney General, Insurance Commissioner, Secretary of State, and other elected state-wide officers. Federal level includes your Congressional representatives, Senators, and of course, the President.

Slide from Bethany’s presentation

The big question, then, is what is the best way to contact them and be heard? There are many effective ways, but one of the best is the good old-fashioned phone call. Snyder recommends calling when the office is open so you can talk directly to a staff member. Those calls are tallied each day, with your position and ideas noted. (A voicemail after hours will be heard, but they may not understand all your issues, and can’t ask for clarity, so it can be lost.) When calling your rep, Snyder recommends you be personal and professional, share your story, but be short and succinct, and be mindful of the time you are taking. Be sure you have researched the issue so you are accurate in your points, and ask questions in the call, like “Can I count on ___’s support?” Be patient and persistent, and always say thanks to whomever you are speaking to.

Another good method is emailing. Though not as effective as the personal call, it will still be read and recorded, just not as quickly. (There is, of course, no opportunity for dialog if they want clarification, and they are not likely to email back and forth with you.) But your opinions will be noted, and the same protocols as the phone call are recommended; using accurate points, succinct, polite, and asking for support. Traditional mail is not as good as it used to be, as there are now security issues with opening letters, so it can take longer. (Postcards are a good option.) These are scanned and filed like email, so you are heard.

Social media is not a good way to contact your representative, since they don’t usually manage their own accounts, and comments to their posts are usually so full of both praise and hateful trolling that they are mostly ignored. Giving them lots of “likes” to their posts may make them feel good about an issue, but it is not the same as advocacy!

But still the most effective way, when possible, is a personal visit to the office, by one or more people advocating for an issue. There may be a staffer there who deals specifically with that issue, and will be happy to discuss. The same rules as above apply; be knowledgeable and succinct, be polite even if you are against their current position, and value their time (if you waste their limited time going on and on, you become an annoyance rather than an advocate!) They can only see so many people in a day, so make your meeting positive.

Snyder also recommends finding an advocacy group to help you understand the issue more deeply, and to advise what is the best timing to contact your representatives about your issue. If there is a vote or hearing approaching, that is the perfect time to give them your ideas and opinions. If it just concluded or is months away, your thoughts are not as impactful. And remember, always ask the question! So many people give their thoughts without ever requesting what they really want—a vote!

Following up, Snyder shared some of the things that do not work in getting your message through. Being confrontational, lying, being flaky, and contacting lawmakers who do not represent you. (You may want to give Paul Ryan an earful, but unless you have the power to re-elect him, he and his staff don’t care about your opinion!) Contacting members of administrative agencies, like the GAO, DOJ, HUD, HHS, etc. is also useless, as they don’t set policy. They often do allow public comment on an issue, so do provide that as appropriate, like when they are about to destroy a National Park or begin coal mining in your county.

Communication with your representatives is always important, and those who take the time are heard well beyond those who save their feedback for the ballot every few years. Some of the myths or perceived barriers to taking action that Snyder shared include the idea that you are not an expert so you opinion doesn’t matter. Not true, make your voice heard based on what you do know—others certainly will! Some think they won’t be listened to—also not true—all politicians have staff to keep track of the feedback they get, even if they don’t agree, it is noted. What if your representative is the polar opposite in political orientation? Let them know anyway, they may not change, but they may “evolve” with enough feedback, and if it is overwhelming, they may even change their vote, or sit out. (Feedback to some Senators saved the Affordable Care Act, at least for now.) What if they have already decided, or cast their vote? Let them know how you feel; positive feedback keeps them going for next time, and negative may keep them wary of their choices. When your representative is on your side, let them know that you are on theirs!

2018 Physicians for Social Responsibility Scholarship Essay Contest

Physicians for Social Responsibility is an organization many of the members of the American River Democrats belong to. Dr. Bill Durston, club member and vice president of the Sacramento Chapter of PSR recently announced their scholarship essay contest:

We’re pleased to announce that the 2018 PSR/Sacramento Scholarship Essay Contest is now open to high school seniors in Sacramento and surrounding counties (Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, San Joaquin, Solano, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba). A total of $15,000 in scholarship money will be awarded to 12 students. The prompt for this year’s contest, chosen by a vote of our members, is the following quotation by the Iranian women’s rights activist, Mahnaz Afkhami:

“The connection between women’s human rights, gender equality, socioeconomic development, and peace is increasingly apparent.”

To enter the contest, high school seniors must submit an original essay of 500 words or fewer describing their thoughts about Ms. Afkhami’s statement. The deadline for essay submission is midnight on Saturday, March 24, 2018. Students should submit their essays and contact information via the Scholarship Essay Contest Page of the PSR/Sacramento website.

We would appreciate your help in bringing the 2018 essay contest to the attention of any high school seniors with whom you have contact. We would also appreciate your help in choosing the 10 finalists by being an essay reader. Each essay reader is invited to read and rank an initial batch of ~30 essays in mid March in the initial screening process; to read and rank another batch of ~30 semifinalists’ essays in late March or early April in the second phase of the finalist selection process; and to participate in an in person discussion at our house on the evening of Sunday, April 15, at which we will make the final decision on the 10 finalists and two alternate finalists.

Being an essay reader provides an intereting perspective on the thinking of today’s youth. In past years, most essay readers have found the finalist selection process to be an enjoyable and inspiring one. Given the timeliness of Ms. Afkhami’s statement, the essays should be particularly interesting this year. Please contact us by email or call us at (916) 955-6333 if you would be willing to be an essay reader. Note that you don’t have to participate in all three phases of the finalist selection process to be an essay reader. You can just participate in one or two of the three phases if you like.

Please save the date of Sunday, May 6, to attend the essay contest finals dinner at which the 10 finalists will present their essays orally and a distinguished panel of judges from the community will select the first, second, and third place winners. First place will win a $3,000 scholarship, second place a $2,500 scholarship, and third place a $2,000 scholarship. The other seven finalists will all receive $1,000 each, and the two alternate finalists will both receive $250. We’ll be sending out detailed information about making dinner reservations in the near future.

This is the 14th consecutive year that PSR/Sacramento has offered the scholarship essay contest. With this year’s awards, we will have given out over $165,000 in scholarship money since the inception of the contest. It’s through the generosity of supporters like you that we can continue to offer the scholarship essay contest every year. Tax-deductible contributions toward the scholarship fund can be made online via the donations page of the PSR/Sacramento website or sent by regular mail to PSR/Sacramento, 10 Dumfries Court, Sacramento, Ca., 95831. One hundred per cent of contributions made to the scholarship fund go directly to the students.

Thanks for your support of PSR/Sacramento and our annual high school scholarship essay contest. I hope you’ll consider helping choose the finalists in this year’s contest by being an essay reader, and please remember to save the date of Sunday, May 6, to attend the 2018 essay contest finals dinner.

Bill Durston, M.D.
Vice President, Sacramento Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility