NAMI is recognized as the preeminent voice in Utah for the thousands of Utahns living with serious mental illness. NAMI advocates have fought for policy changes that raise the bar on mental illness care and promote treatment and research on par with other illnesses. NAMI's advocacy provides a unique voice for people who live with mental illness and their families in state and federal public and private-sector policies that facilitate research, end discrimination, reduce barriers to successful life in the community and promote timely, comprehensive and effective mental health services and supports. NAMI Utah works steadily to influence critical state policy debates as they unfold.
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How To Be a Good Advocate
An effective advocate is in large measure determined by how well one can communicate his or her issue or position with policy makers. There are numerous communication techniques that are available, but there is no one best method to achieve your goals. This information provides some hints on how you can improve your effectiveness as an advocate.
- Develop a relationship with your legislator
- Identify proposed policy
- Analyze intent/impact of proposed policy
- Establish your position
- Develop an issue management strategy
Develop a Relationship with Your Legislator
It is not only necessary to understand the legislative process, but also desirable to establish a personal relationship with your legislator. If you do not know who your legislator is, call your county clerk's office, give them your address and they will give you the name of your state senator, House Member Representative and congressman/congresswoman. You will receive their name, address and home phone number, work number and capitol building phone and fax numbers. Do not be fearful of making contact. An elected official wants to hear from his/her constituents.
Try to find something about your legislator that shows you are interested in him/her. Log on to http://le.utah.gov/ where all of the legislators are listed. You can find out a few personal things like profession, party affiliation, etc. This can help you to be sensitive to some important things in his/her life.
Write down some items that you would like to discuss with him/her and make that call. Call when the legislature is not in session - this is a getting to know you call. One of the keys to becoming an effective advocate is to maintain an ongoing relationship that creates an open channel of communication with your legislator. It is as important to legislators to feel free to contact you for your comment on an issue as it is for you to contact them to express your view. Try to: attend Town Hall meetings, make personal short visits to get acquainted, attend open official functions, invite him/her to your open support groups or other meetings, find opportunities to honor your legislator for his/her service to the community. Always be grateful even if you don't agree on an issue.
Identification on Proposed Policy
During a legislative session, several hundred bills are introduced. In Utah we have as many as 900 bills during one session. This magnitude is overwhelming. Therefore, it is important to focus your efforts on only the bills that pertain to your issue. Know your message, be concise, be respectful, understand the consequences of the bill, know what your opposition is saying, use facts to back you up, but remember that your personal experience is also critical. Decide what points of your story are the most important as you do not have much time (2 minutes) to spend with a legislator at the capitol or even on the phone during the session.
Analysis of Intent/Impact of Proposed Policy
Information is a powerful tool in the legislative process. Success depends on it and the effective advocate will be the one who is most familiar with it.
Understanding the Bill
To establish a position for yourself or organization, you must make sure that you understand the details of the bill and its legislative intent. There are two primary resources for bill policy analysis:
- Sponsor - a legislator who believes in the cause/issue will sponsor a bill. The legislator or those who did the research on the bill can provide a great analysis.
- Author - the sponsor is not always the author. The author is the very best source for bill analysis.
Establish Your Position
Research will provide the necessary information for you or your group to establish a position - either supporting or opposing a piece of legislation. Know your position and make statements that send a clear message in support of or opposing a bill.
Development of Issue Management Strategy
Many tools are available to gather support for your issues, However the first step is to form a plan to organize, coordinate and mobilize resources. Here is a check list:
- Phone Campaign: organizing mass telephone campaigns to put pressure on a legislator is the least effective strategy. Messages are canned and without substance. A personal phone call that expresses your personal view with a well thought out rationale is much more effective.
- Letter/email: letters and email messages are taken seriously. All legislators have email and most read them. The individual grassroots approach is most effective. Mass produced photocopies letters or emails are generally discounted or ignored.
- Legislative Visits: appointments can be made for you to see your legislator during the session via his/her staff. Be prepared with written materials to educate your legislator on your issue. Go over briefly the documents and let him/her know that if they have any questions once they read the material they can call you.
- Committee Meeting Testimony: this is a key access point to anyone who whishes to express a viewpoint; prepare and rehearse your presentation; present your testimony (try not to read it word for word). Summarize your major points - some emotion is very effective but try very hard to keep it somewhat controlled.
- Collaborate with other organizations to make your point/voice stronger.