“Advocacy is putting pressure on those who have the power to give you what you want,” Melanie Bridgeforth, Executive Director of Voices for Alabama’s Children, told me during my recent visit. We are all born advocates. When you were a child asking your parents for a toy, what did you do? Did you write a letter bargaining to do more chores? Did you ask them for the toy several times in several different ways? Or, did you stop after just one attempt? If it was something you really wanted, you probably asked as often and as persuasively as you could. And, I bet that eventually, you got what you wanted. That is advocacy!
It’s simply knowing what you want and asking the right person to provide it. But who is the “right” person? Alabama has 140 state legislators. Oklahoma is similar in number as we have 149. Melanie pointed out that though there are 140 members, only about 10% of them have the power to give her what she wants. Here’s why:
For a bill to become law, it must first be heard in committee. So the person you need on your side for the bill to even see the light of day is the Chair of the committee to which the bill is assigned. Once you know your bill will make it on the agenda, you need to focus your attention on the members of that committee (Click to see House and Senate committee Chairs and members)
The same is true if you are fighting against a bill. If you can get the Chair to keep it off the agenda, you can kill the bill before a vote is ever taken.
Once a bill makes it out of committee and is headed to the floor, there are a couple of people who need your attention.
The first elected official you need to pay attention to when a bill is going to the Floor is the Speaker of the House or the Pro Tempore of the Senate. These are the guys at the top, and they decide to hear or not hear a bill once it’s out of committee. If your bill makes it on the Floor Agenda, the next people you need to talk to and educate are those in leadership (Click here to see House and Senate Leadership) This handful of legislators is a highly influential group among their peers. If you can get people living in their districts to call their offices advocating for your bill (click here to find your legislator)
you have a better chance of getting what you want. Legislators take note when a constituent calls. Sometimes, it only takes 5 calls for a legislator to recognize a bill as important to their district.
However, if things do not pan out the way you hoped, don’t give up! Remember your six-year-old self and tap into that persistence. It took 42 years between the time the 19th Amendment was first introduced in Congress before it was ratified. What do you want? How hard and how long are you willing to fight? And who has the power to give it to you?
Good luck on your advocacy efforts! As always, feel free to contact me with questions or if you are interested in joining me up at the Capitol! (405-532-3944, or LHabrock@oica.org)
Lani Habrock is the director of KIDS COUNT at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. As a former contender for the State House of Representatives she believes legislative advocacy is an important work we must all take responsibility for in order to create positive change for all children in our state on a population-wide level.