Advocate for change
Stay engaged beyond Election Day by taking action on issues you are passionate about! There are many ways to make your voice heard and advance positive change. These resources will help you engage with your elected officials and participate in advocacy efforts on local or national issues that are important to you.
The CCE also hosts events and workshops that provide tools, information and resources you can use to engage in effective changemaking. Check out B-Engaged for information about upcoming events.
Contact your elected officials
Talk to your elected officials about policy issues that matter to you. Ask them to vote a certain way on pending legislation, request that they raise awareness about an issue that is not currently receiving attention, or thank them for a particular vote or policy statement.
1. Find out who represents you. Depending on the issue that you care about, there are a number of officials you can call at the local, state and federal levels. Research who has power and influence on the issue you care about.
2. Research the issue. What kinds of issues do you care about most? Which issues are currently being considered at the official level? Check out reliable news sources, specific organizations you care about and trust, and political offices' websites to see when meetings will happen, when issues are discussed and when legislation will be voted on. Attend public meetings, such as city council meetings or town halls, to learn more about the issues and where your elected officials stand. You can also talk to other people about what issues they have been keeping track of and care about.
3. Call! Calling is often more effective than emailing or writing a letter to get your message across. It is preferable to call the local or district office over the D.C. office, and be sure to call during regular business hours.
Keep your message brief and clearly identify the issue you are calling about, why it is important to you and the specific actions you want the elected official to take. Providing your address or zip code will also be helpful to show you are a constituent.
"Hi, My name is Baxter Bearcat. My zip code is 13850 and I am a constituent of [insert official's name]. I am calling to [insert message*] because [add in additional details if desired]. Will you please pass on the message?** Thanks for your time."
*Your message could be a number of things: urge them to vote [yes/no/abstain] on [issue/bill/legislation], consider the interests of [organization/group], take [issue/cause] seriously, make a public statement about [issue], thank them for [doing, saying, voting ___].
**You may also leave contact information, if you want: "If there are any questions, I am happy to discuss this further. Here is my contact information: ___."
If you feel shy or nervous about calling, that's okay. Nobody will tell you that your issue is unimportant or argue with you. If the person says that the representative has a stance that disagrees with your message, simply reiterate your message. You may also elaborate more on the issue if you want to.
Tips for letter writing
In addition to calling your representatives, you can also write them a letter. A letter is an opportunity to build out your argument in more detail. You can write a letter on your own, or encourage others to join you in a letter writing campaign.
- Start with a clear message or ask. Keep it simple and focus on one point or action (such as asking them to vote a certain way on pending legislation, to propose new legislation, make a public statement about an issue, etc.).
- Define the stakes for you and your community. How and why is this issue impacting people? Use relevant data to highlight why this issue is important and urgent. Appeal to emotion by making a personal connection. How does this issue impact you and the lives of everyday people?
- Research the elected official’s current views on the issue. Have they supported or opposed similar legislation in the past? Have they made public statements on the topic? Tailor your argument and your ask based on their stance.
Find your officials
- General information
- U.S. Senate
- U.S. House of Representatives
- State governors
- State legislature websites
- U.S. mayors
- County executives
- Local governments
- Broome County Legislature
- Binghamton City Council
- NY State Assembly
- NY State Senate
- N.Y. Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (District 123): 607-723-9047 (Binghamton office) or 518-455-5431 (Albany office)
- State Senator Lea Webb (District 52): 607-773-8771 (Binghamton office) or 518-455-2170 (Albany office)
- Congressman Marc Molinaro (District 19): 202-225-5441 (DC office) or 607-242-0200 (Broome County office)
- U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles (Chuck) Schumer: 607-772-6792
- U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: 212-688-6262
- Congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121
- White House switchboard: 202-456-1414
- White House switchboard: 202-456-1414
Contacting senators and representatives
All questions and comments regarding public policy issues, legislation or requests for personal assistance should be directed to the senators or representatives from your state. Some senators and representatives have email addresses while others have comment forms on their websites. Always include your postal mailing address to show your constituency.
By postal mail
For correspondence to U.S. senators:
Office of Senator [Name]
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
For correspondence to senate committees:
[Name of Committee]
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
For correspondence to U.S. representatives:
Office of Representative [Name]
US House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Alternatively, you may phone the United States Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the senator's or representative's office you request.
Make your voice heard
Depending on the context surrounding an issue of importance to you, your approach to advocating for change will vary. Check out these strategies for communicating effectively in person and in print.
Giving public comment
The public can provide comment during certain government meetings, such as city council meetings. Sometimes elected officials will organize a special meeting for public comment or there may be time set aside for public remarks during regular business meetings. Note that not all meetings will allow public comment. Be sure to review the policies and guidelines for the meeting you are attending, and follow any rules for format, length and content.
Tips for effective public comment:
- Prepare your remarks ahead of time. Research the issue and review news sources to make sure you are up to date on where the issue stands. Is there pending legislation? Have officials taken a public stance? What are other stakeholders saying?
- Begin by introducing yourself and noting whether you are a constituent. If you are speaking on behalf of an organization or group, state that as well.
- Tell your story! How does this issue impact you and your community? Why is it important?
- Use data and evidence to support your argument. Testimony that incorporates both an emotional appeal and a more objective argument is most convincing.
- Offer solutions and ideas to address the issue.
- Make a clear ask. What do you want the elected officials to do?
- Be respectful and professional. Do not use derogatory language. Thank your representatives for their time. Use proper titles (such as mayor, chair, councilmember, etc.).
Adapted from the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.
Writing op eds
Writing op eds or letters to the editor is another way to communicate about important issues and influence public opinion. Many publications accept letters from the public. Be sure to follow guidance from the publication on length, content and format.
Tips for effective op eds:
- Have a clear message or “hook.” What is the primary point you want to convey to readers?
- Write with accessibility in mind. Avoid jargon and write at a level that is appropriate for a general audience.
- Lean into your unique voice and perspective. Sharing personal experience and telling a story allows readers to empathize and care more deeply about your proposed solution.
- Offer potential solutions and ideas, and demonstrate why these solutions are necessary and urgent.
- Write concisely. Invite others to review your draft and make revisions to offer a compelling argument using succinct language.
- Sandwich counterpoints in between a powerful start and end. Hook readers in with your first sentence and offer momentum forward in your closing statements. Letters that (briefly) acknowledge limitations and counter arguments are stronger than a list of reasons why you’re right.
Have an issue you care about? Face-to-face meetings with legislators and their staff can be a critical step in advancing your policy ideas. Follow these tips for successful lobbying!
Set up your meeting
1. Identify your issue and your target. Focus on a clear and specific topic and identify the legislator who is in a position to make a difference.
2. Reach out directly. Call the legislator's local office and let them know that you want a meeting with the representative. Be prepared to briefly articulate your position over the phone.
3. Offer a flexible schedule. Legislators have busy schedules. Offer multiple times when you are available. If they take a message and don't follow up with you, call back in two days.
The ABCs of lobbying
Make a clear and confident ask. Pose a question that can result in a direct answer, such as "Can we count on you to..."
Take time to make a convincing case, but get to the point quickly and keep the focus on your primary issue. Meetings typically last 15–20 minutes.
Have residents of the representative's district lead the meeting or tell personal stories. Legislators may wish to use these anecdotes as they push the legislation forward with their colleagues.
Keep detailed notes of the meeting's results. Know what the legislator agreed to do and share it with others working on your topic.
Use examples to back up your position. Personal stories, facts and anecdotes help to paint a clear picture of why your issue matters.
After the meeting, send a handwritten or typed note to thank the representative for their time, briefly remind them of your cause and follow up on any lingering questions they had for you.
Introduce yourselves and your connection to the issue at the beginning of the meeting. Begin by saying, "Before we start, I'd like to go around and give everyone an opportunity to introduce themselves..."
Do not lie or make up information. It is perfectly fine to say, “I don’t know the answer to your question, but I will find out and get back to you.”
If you are meeting with a representative who is supportive of your cause, encourage them to increase their support. They can become a champion of the issue, co-sponsor a bill or speak to fellow lawmakers.
Make sure your topic falls under the control of your chosen representative. Determine if your goals are of a local, state or federal nature, and target the legislator who represents your district on that level.
Go into the meeting knowing as much as possible about the representative's position. Reference their previous work on the topic or draw connections between their stances on related issues.
Create an opportunity for a two-way conversation. Listen to what they have to say about the issue and find out what they might need to know in order to shift their stance.
Bring the legislator a one- or two-page fact sheet assessing your issue. Make sure that your information is clear and up to date.
Reference your specific legislation by bill number. If it is not yet a bill, be very clear about your desired outcome and ask the representative to sponsor a new bill on the topic.
If you represent an organization or coalition, make sure to share this information with the representative. There is power in numbers and a larger effort demonstrates that people care about your topic.
Meet with your full lobby group beforehand to run through the steps of the meeting. Anticipate questions or counterpoints and be prepared to respond.
Be prepared for questions. Your fact sheet should cover the main points, but you may wish to assign more nuanced elements to group members who can research and respond to specific issues.
Several weeks before you wish to meet, call the legislator's local office and let them know that you want a meeting with the representative. Be prepared to briefly articulate your position over the phone.
Legislators have busy schedules. Offer them multiple times when you are available. If they take a message and don't follow up with you, call back in two days.
Make sure your team plans out their route to the meeting, including parking and other logistics beforehand. If you are running late, the representative may move on to their next meeting.
Understand that you may be scheduled to meet with a staff member or legislative aide. This person will relay all information to your representative.
In the days before your meeting, call the representative's office to confirm the time and date. Let them know if there have been any changes to the number of people you plan to bring.
End your meeting with a brief summary of everyone's next steps. Repeat what the representative agreed to do and remind them of any further information you plan to send to their office.
Citizens influencing policy is an important part of our democracy. Send an encouraging email or text to the members of your group the day before to get them excited for this important act.
Do not interrupt or talk over members of your group or the legislator. If needed, make a note and you can circle back around to your point later.
Get some sleep the night before your meeting. A well-rested advocate is a prepared and influential advocate.