Activist Training Recap – Oak Park Progressive Women

Joanna and I had the honor of attending the “Be Impactful” activist training hosted by Oak Park Progressive Women on Saturday, November 4. It was the kind of valuable, information-packed session that has you zinging around for days, riding a joyous I-can-be-impactful-after-all high. Mad props to OP Progressive Women for pulling off an incredibly powerful day.

What’s that you say? You wish you could’ve been there? Never fear, intrepid activist! Read on.

“Understanding Self-Interest”
from Becky Stanfield at Vote Solar 

When planning a campaign to lobby for legislation and/or motivate legislators, you must follow these steps to capture the self-interest of all involved:

  • First, establish a good campaign goal—make it focused, make it realistic.
  • Second, think strategy—how will you achieve this goal?
  • Third, pick a target who will be responsive. Do some research to ensure that you are approaching someone like-minded.
  • Don’t have a like-minded Member of Congress (MoC)? Then…
    • Motivate enough people to contact the MoC and speak out to give the MoC “cover” on why they voted this way: “Sorry, lobbyist friend, I couldn’t vote no as you asked me to because too many constituents insisted that I had to vote yes.”
  • Follow this advice:
Constituents are with you Constituents are against you
Decision-maker is with you Decision-maker gets to be the hero. Decision-maker will need “cover” to make an unpopular decision. Figure out how to make it in his/her self-interest to still support.
Decision-maker is against you Decision-maker will need pressure (from you and constituents) to see your side. You can try to change the equation (think very long-term, e.g. electing someone new or changing public opinion) or move on to a new fight, which might be a more efficient use of time and energy.


“Overview: Advocacy 101”
from Khadine Bennett of ACLU of Illinois

  • “Do-gooder lobbyists” (such as herself): “We don’t have money, but we do have information.”
  • How do you find out what’s on the radar of legislative interest?
    • Call your member of congress (MoC) at start of each session and ask, “What’s on your agenda this session?”
    • During a session, find out what bills they are sponsoring. Look at the bill once introduced and see who else jumps on the bill with them.
  • Try to meet with your MoC. Follow these steps.
    1. Know the issue you’re meeting about. You don’t have to be a super-expert but do your research.
    2. Know the MoC and their stance on the issue. You can still always find a way to relate to them during the convo (maybe about their family, about where they live, about their larger agenda, about their goals for being in public office, etc.).
    3. Find out how much time you will have with the MoC to plan accordingly.
    4. Have a strategy and go in with a clear, direct ask. It doesn’t have to be an ask for their vote: “I know you may not agree with this, and I may not be able to get your vote, but I’m asking you not to speak out about this in committee.”
    5. Prep your materials, keeping in mind that how you frame the issue will depend on who you are talking to. They may not agree with issues, so you might take an angle of fairness or of modernizing thinking, etc.
    6. Confirm your meeting appointment the day before and again the day of.
    7. While there, LISTEN AS MUCH AS YOU TALK.
    8. Be sure to follow up after the meeting!


“How Springfield Works”
from Jen Walling of the Illinois Environmental Council

  • How to Contact IL State Legislators
    • Develop a relationship with them or with who answers their phones.
    • Try to arrange in-person meetings.
    • Write a personal letter or email and, if possible, share personal story that’s relative to the law you’re discussing.
    • Send a form email/letter through an organization
      • If you are using an email generator, change the subject line and reword the message to make it more “yours.”
    • Make a phone call. (Make several. Keep calling every day.)
    • State legislators can often help to plug you in to a like-minded advocacy group if you ask.
  • A Short Civics Lesson
    • There are deadlines. (Each session is two years long, and there are recesses within those years. Be mindful of this when approaching legislators. If it’s a busy time, they will not have much time or thought to give you.)
    • The media often gets it wrong. (Don’t assume what you read in the paper is entirely accurate.)
    • It’s easier to kill a bill than to pass a bill. (This is why things move so slowly.)
    • A bill …
      • has to be read three times (first – read into the record; second – read onto floor; third – vote actually happens)
      • is sent to the governor after passing both chambers of congress; governor has only so long to try to veto or to allow to become law.
    • Look at the role call. (The role call will tell you who voted how on each bill.)
  • Advocacy Groups
    • Get involved with them (such as with her group!) to let them guide you in how best to approach certain arguments and how to be most efficiently active.
    • Keep in mind that certain times of year are better than others to recommend actions to lobbyists and advocacy groups. (For example, she is slammed in May as congress winds down and can’t pay as much attention as in, say, November.)
  • Witness Slips (for Illinois)
      • Why? If there are a few of them, those who filled out witness slips are read into the public record. If there are too many witness slips, they instead say something like “And we received 112 witness slips supporting the bill.” So advocacy groups may want fewer witness slips so that their names are entered into public record as supporting.
    • When filling out, only put the list the name of a group you are in if you are specifically representing that group (not just as a member).
    • Go here to watch (or at least listen, not all rooms have cameras yet) to everything in Springfield.
    • The schedule is also up online here so you can see when a topic will be discussed.


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