I’ve worked and volunteered in advocacy for nearly ten years–organizing community members to push for new laws, funding for their schools, for programs their neighborhood needs. I’ve seen grassroots efforts do a lot of good and create a lot of change.
Despite that, a common concern I hear from first-timers about speaking to their elected officials is, “Will calling/e-mailing/writing make any difference?”
It’s a valid question. The inner-workings of the political world are messy and hard to understand, even for those immersed in it. I’m here to spill the tea though: Turns out it has a much bigger effect than you’d think.
During my time in graduate school, I was lucky enough to land an internship with a U.S. Senator’s district office. Every Monday morning, I’d arrive at the office, get a cup of coffee, and start my day by listening to voicemails from constituents from over the weekend. I’d type a one-sentence summary of each one into a tracking document:
“Please vote no on the Trans-Pacific Partnership!”
“Our schools need more federal funding.”
“My taxes are too high!”
Each week, the Senator was handed a report that detailed what issues needed attention based on constituent communications. My job was to track the number of calls and if any issue received a certain number, it was marked as needing Special Attention from the Senator.
How many calls on an issue do you think it took to get Special Attention? How many ‘I want more funds for our schools’ messages did it take before a U.S. Senator was handed a report that indicated a critical mass of constituents wanted action? (Remember, the Senator represents an entire state, population over 5 million.)
The number you’re looking for is 10. If ten people called to say they wanted to pass a bill, it was flagged for Special Attention and there would be a discussion on how to take action on the issue with their staff.
If 25 people called on an issue, it was marked Urgent Priority.
All it takes to get the attention of a U.S. Senator is you and nine of your friends, or other parents in your district, or members of your community picking up the phone or writing an e-mail. That number is lower for your State Legislators, City Councilmembers, and Superintendents–the people who control the budgets and policies for Washington’s schools.
Your voice will inform how they vote on bills, what legislation they write and sponsor, and what they decide to speak about publicly.
My point is best summarized in one of my favorite quotes by anthropologist and activist Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
If you want Washington students to get a vibrant, comprehensive education with high-quality arts learning, you can make it happen. Check out our advocacy guide for practical steps you can take, talk to other parents in your district, and go change the world!