Advocacy Institute Training at Columbia Law School
Deb Scher, Director of Strategic Service & Civic Engagement at Manny Cantor Center
I had the great opportunity, thanks to our wonderful partners United Neighborhood Houses, to attend a three-day training from the Advocacy Insititute. This was basically a crash course in New York City and New York State governments, covering things like who the key players are, how budgets and bills work and are decided, and how we can navigate this huge and complex system to work for us, get support and funding for the things our community needs and to hold our legislators and officials accountable to the people they report to – us.
I want to share some of the key themes I took away with all of you because as Changemakers in our community, both older and new, I hope that we can continue to learn together how to be most effective in creating meaningful change.
“No Permanent Friends, No Permanent Enemies”
In general, I think that this is just a great life lesson about not allowing ourselves to be in a fixed state and to approach situations with an open mind. This is especially true when working with elected officials. We need to of course be strategic with who we work with, and should always seek to find common ground, even with people we might not expect. You may disagree with an elected official about many things, but if there is one issue that you overlap on, try to work together, if it is someone that surprises you. The flip side is it’s important not to assume that just because you agree with someone on most issues that they will always agree with you. That can be hard but be open to continue your work and conversations with them. That’s how lasting and meaningful relationships are built!
Pay Attention to the Calendar!
Our elected officials are busy people, from voting to building coalitions to state officials being in Albany, away from family and friends, for half of the year, but meeting with and hearing from their constituents is a big part of their job. The key is to be smart and thoughtful about when you request those meetings (and with who, if you’ll be meeting with one of their staff) and can go a long way in setting a collaborative tone to the relationship.
Some tips – for State Senators and Assembly people, meeting out of session (July-December) is usually great (and helps put things are their radar at the right time), and Fridays during session (January-June) when they have working days in the district. For City Council Members, they are obviously not traveling, so it is a little easier, but summer and fall (which are outside of the long budget season) are ideal times to get started (that’s now!).
We got a great toolkit that included maps and charts and data, which I hope to find ways to use and share in the coming months. But the coolest tool I am going to share now! It is an interactive portal that provides data and contact information for elected officials and districts. It includes things like list of staff members (so you know who to ask for when you call to make that meeting), what committees a legislator is on and much more! There are lots of ways to filter to find elected officials that can be of help to your cause. Check it out: http://interactive.advocacy-institute.org/.
I will continue to process and share all that I learned. I’m especially excited to find ways to use this knowledge to influence the work we do together at Manny Cantor Center and on the Lower East Side, so we can best take action and build thriving and equitable community.
If you’re interested in learning more, have an idea or issue you want to talk about or questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646-395-4184.