Articles by Claire Guthrie Gastañaga
Public Advocacy
 Presentations / OpEd / Articles
Getting Involved in Government Affairs: Twelve Tips for Becoming an Effective Grass Roots Advocate
Richmond WOMAN, Vol. 1, Issue 2, October 2003, pp.16-17

There are lots of state and local organizations that need your help in advocating issues of concern to women and girls in Richmond and across Virginia. Any of these organizations could use your help in monitoring legislative activities and speaking to state and local legislators and officials about pending legislation and administrative policies. 

Richmond women are in a unique position to influence state government because we live and work in or in close proximity to the State Capitol.  We can run down to the Capitol to meet with a state legislator or appear before a legislative committee without having to brave the unpredictable Springfield mixing bowl on 95 south, fight the tunnel and construction traffic on 64 west or travel eight hours by car from far southwest Virginia. 

This is a wonderful benefit and an obligation. Richmond women should be more informed and more engaged in state affairs in order to ensure that all women in Virginia have a real voice in state government.

You can find out which organizations are already involved in “lobbying” the state legislature by searching the lobbyist registration data base on the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website, www.commonwealth.virginia.gov, where you’ll find the name of the organizations and contact information for their registered lobbyists.  You can connect with local organizations and issues by participating in the PTA, community associations, local business and youth organizations and the like.

Once you’ve found the organization or cause for which you want to be an advocate, you’ll need to focus on how to be effective.  Here are twelve tips for being an effective grass roots advocate that will help you be a better advocate, whether you choose to focus on issues pending in Congress, the Virginia legislature or the City Council, County Board or a local school board:

1.  Learn the culture – staff vs. member.   In Congress, you have to build a good relationship with staff before you’ll get to see the member.  In the Virginia legislature and in local governing bodies, this is less likely to be true.

2.  Learn the procedural rules (formal and informal).  If you want to make something happen, you need to know what process you must follow to get something done.  Is there a particular subcommittee or committee that will hear an issue first?  How is legislation or an ordinance introduced?  You need to know how the game is played before you take the field.

3.  Be fearless.  Don’t hesitate to be assertive.  As Robert Grudin says, “[t]he years forget our errors and forgive our sins, but they punish our inaction with living death.”

4.  Recognize your limits.  Don’t make promises that you can’t keep.  Don’t overcommit.

5.  Find your allies.  Build coalitions with other organizations and people who share your goals and objectives.

6.  Identify your opposition. Find out who’s likely to be against you on an issue, and determine whether there is any common ground.

7.  Look for win/win or acceptable compromise.  If there’s a balance that can be struck, strike it.  If you can move your ball forward a yard, take it.  You’ll be closer to the goal even if you can’t score in one play.

8. Educate yourself about the double binds faced by women leaders and advocates, Kathleen Hall Jamieson describes these in her book, Beyond the Double Bind:  Women and Leadership:

Women can exercise their brains or their wombs, but not both.

Women who speak out are immodest and will be shamed, while women who are silent will be ignored or dismissed.

Women are subordinate whether they claim to be different or the same.

Women who are considered feminine will be judged incompetent, and women who are competent, unfeminine.

As men age, they gain wisdom and power; as women age, they wrinkle and become superfluous.

Learn how to capitalize on your assets and minimize your weaknesses. Remember that guys can lie and get away with it, women can’t.  A woman who loses trust can never regain it.

9.  Pay attention to how you are marketing yourself.  Like it or not, how you dress, wear your hair, talk, all affect how you are perceived.

10.  Prepare, prepare, prepare.  You are presenting a “case” to a difficult jury.  If you don’t know your stuff, no one will pay any attention to what you say. Want to know more about how people align on issues?  Check out www.pollingreport.com.  Want to become a better speaker?  Read Leading Out Loud by Terry Pearce.  Want a handbook that’s easy to follow?  Get Women for a Change: A Grassroots Guide to Activism and Politics, Thalia Zepatos & Elizabeth Kaufman.  Use the internet to become more informed.

11.  Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Use humor to defuse “difficult” situations.

12.  Keep things professional.  Develop relationships by providing information and opportunities and making yourself indispensable.
If you follow these tips, you’ll be on your way to becoming an effective advocate for a cause or organization whether you choose to focus on issues pending in your local school or community association, the City or a surrounding county, or at the state level.  Now all you have to do is just “get out there.”(end)

Public Advocacy
 Presentations / OpEd / Articles

Home  l  Services  l  Resources  AboutContact  l
©2000-2004 by Claire Guthrie Gastañaga | copyright policy | legal disclaimer | privacy statement