The Family Cafe Advocacy Toolkit
The Family Café has created this Advocacy Toolkit as a guide and informational tool for individuals with disabilities and their families who would like to take control of their futures by getting involved in the legislative process through advocacy. This guide will help walk you through the advocacy process and answer some of the questions you might have about it. So that we can make this toolkit as helpful and effective as possible, please provide us with your feedback. Be sure and click on the survey link at the bottom of the page and let us know how we did, and if there is anything you think we should add.
First, let us tell you a little bit about advocacy and why it’s so important.
What is Advocacy? The definition of advocacy is any act supporting a cause, including recommending, speaking in favor of, arguing for or pleading on behalf of others. Advocacy helps to make sure that your voice is heard and your opinion is considered when decisions are being made that affect you. Advocates are a big part of the decision-making process, like the Legislative Session we have approaching in March (click below for more information about Legislative Session).
Why Advocate? There are many reasons why advocacy is necessary. As mentioned, it allows your voice to be heard on issues that are important to you. Advocacy enables you to be a part of the decision-making process by educating lawmakers on these issues through the sharing of your personal perspectives and experiences. You can be a part of the creation of change, and your next opportunity is during the upcoming Legislative Session!
See a short video on advocacy here: https://youtu.be/0F_PxzLIIzQ
When is the appropriate time for me to advocate?
You can visit your local legislator throughout the year, but Legislative Session is the time period when new laws are created or existing laws are changed. It is best to visit your legislator before Session begins, and then follow up with a call, email, letter or visit again during Session in Tallahassee. Important dates to remember are listed below:
Interim Committees are committees authorized to study particular subjects before Regular Legislative Session begins. These weeks are basically a jump-start on the Regular Legislative Session and most legislation is filed during these weeks. In an election year, Committee Weeks don’t start until after the election in December. In a non-election year, these weeks can start as early as September.
What is Legislative Session?
Legislative Session is a period of time in which a Legislature is convened for the purpose of lawmaking. The Legislature is made of people who can create, amend, or repeal laws. These people are either part of the House of Representatives or the Senate and they represent different parts of the state, also known as districts.
Who do I see to advocate and where do I find them?
Advocacy needs to start with the legislator that represents the district you live in. Each district has a Representative and Senator with a local office. The links below will allow you to enter your address to find out which legislators represent your area. Each legislator will have a local office and a Tallahassee office address listed. You’ll want to start with the local address before advocating in Tallahassee during the Legislative Session.
To find your local senator, click the following link: https://www.flsenate.gov/senators/find
To find your local representative, click the following link: http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/myrepresentative.aspx
How does the advocacy process work?
Basic advocacy can be broken down into a few steps. These steps are as follows:
- Identification of key issues and goal-setting
- Understanding of and familiarization with the identified issues
- Development of a persuasive argument
- Outreach to and engagement of the appropriate audience, in most cases, elected officials
- Follow-up and monitoring of the movement of your issue after your initial argument is made
How do I develop my argument?
Development of a persuasive argument is key in the advocacy process. In order to develop your argument, you first need to identify the issue(s) you want to discuss. This usually occurs through your own personal experience and/or the experiences of your peers. Make sure that your issue is thoroughly researched so that you can explain cause and effect, how it affects you personally, and the approximate number of people affected by your issue. The higher number of affected people, the more likely your issue will gain some traction. Any additional historical information on the issue is helpful, like how people have been affected over the years, the progression of your issue over time, and what the current law is. And finally, possible solutions that you would like to be considered need to be included and explained.
A lot of the information you obtained during the research process should be compiled and used in the preparation of your argument as mentioned above. Put your argument in writing and bullet-point the key points you want to make. Be sure and keep your supporting documentation on-hand. Ideally, your argument should be accepted and in line with the opinions of your peers because their encouragement and support with be essential to your advocacy success. Use your stories and testimony as well as those of the people you are speaking on behalf of to make your argument personal. Should your argument put another group at a disadvantage, be prepared for push-back.
The next segment of this toolkit will include different ways of communicating with your elected officials including how to write a letter to an elected official. It will also include tips to remember when meeting with your elected official. Check back at the beginning of January and remember to click below to fill out a survey on the content of this Advocacy Toolkit!