Do you feel helplessness when an action alert hits your inbox, or when you read some new statistics about the advancing pace of global warming, or fights over conservation priorities? Do you think you need a team of trained lobbyists, some sketchy Super PAC funding and a law degree to make a positive impact? Well – all of those things can help, but the fact is: you have the power to move the needle on national issues right now – with the right attitude, some strong coffee and some good friends! Before you head to DC to and start grabbing Legislators by the lapels, here are some introductory tips that will get you on the path to making a difference:
Know Your Issue
Whether it’s slowing global warming or the importance of fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund – read up on it! Do research until you can explain it to an 8 year old in terms they can understand. Have facts, figures and supporting data at your fingertips.
Focus on Relevance
Many of us feel so strongly about conservation issues that we forget this part of the equation. To most of our dirty, sunburnt, compost-savvy peers, the implicit argument “So the Earth doesn’t turn into a barren cinder rocketing though space, devoid of life – that’s why!” is very clear. To many, many others, conservation issues seem “aesthetic,” and without relevance to day-to-day life. Be prepared to take the wide view and explain conservation issues in terms of economics, health and quality of life. Tell people why conservation matters to the, now.
See It Their Way
Sorry, there are people out there that don’t agree with you. Pick an issue that you feel strongly about, and I will introduce you to a large group of people who feel strongly that you are wrong. Accept that some of the people who don’t agree with you are right about some things. Research opposing arguments, think them through and try to see your issue through the eyes of another. Understanding your opposition can help you understand your issue in a deeper and more meaningful way. Conceding a point to the opposition is not a moral failure. None of us has a monopoly on the truth, and admitting that makes us more credible and more effective.
Practice Respectful Dialog
Practice it now, you utter fool, or are you too stupid to understand?
Wait…..perhaps this is an example of why an angry, confrontational tone doesn’t work! Your best source of information and ideas are often the people you disagree with, so make a practice of asking detailed, respectful questions when someone attacks your argument rather than reflexively going on the defensive. The more strident and angry your counterpart gets, the more polite and organized you should be.
Engage With an Organization
Now that you’ve got the mental infrastructure set up – it’s time to take your advocacy to the next level! Pick an organization that works on your issue and get involved. Volunteer at their events, get an internship, read all of their source materials. Sometimes it’s good to go it alone, but we need to be careful about duplication of effort. 10 ineffective organizations can be worse than 2 effective ones, so find an organization you admire, learn from them and see how you can join their ranks.
Build your Own Coalition
Or not. Sometimes there isn’t a group that advocates your particular issue, or the group that is carrying water on the issue is doing so in a style that’s outmoded. Learn from the community first, then if you don’t find what you’re looking for, branch out on your own!
In Part 2, we’ll tackle bringing your issue to Capitol Hill!