This toolkit will walk you through a number of different ways to get involved in protecting and supporting our public lands and trails, but if you're ever feeling overwhelmed, here’s an easy way to remember the basic ideas behind advocating: H.I.K.E.!
HAVE AN ISSUE
IDENTIFY WHO TO TALK TO
KNOW WHAT TO ASK FOR
OK, now let’s get into it!
There are several ways you can flex your advocate muscles — we'll walk you through them. Pick and choose what you want to learn more about and what fits your time and interests!
If you want to dive right in, here are 2 ways to start right now:
- Take a recent action! We always have a way for you to plug right in and act.
- Learn more and connect digitally. Find out how to attend an outdoorsy webinar, virtual event or connect to an online community here.
A really important piece of advocacy is knowing who to talk to.
Elected officials make important decisions affecting public lands and trails all the time. There are plenty of ways to get in touch with them, even when there isn’t immediate action to take. Here’s how.
- First, find out who your state and federal congresspeople are.
- Then you have many options. You can:
Don't want to talk to an official?
You can make your voice heard in your preferred newspaper or online periodical by writing a “letter to the editor” (LTE)
It’s easy to find out who your elected officials are by using these tools.
You can find out who your Washington state congress people are here. You have two state representatives (find their webpage and additional information) and one senator (find their webpage and additional information).
Emailing elected officials
A useful tool to connect with elected officials is through email. You will often see many organizations ask individuals to email their representatives, as it is an effective tool to directly communicate concerns to your elected officials.
At the federal level, emails to elected officials can help guide the office to determine which issues they should be active on. At the state level, emails to elected officials can help to inform the office what issues their constituents care about and can often have a stronger impact.
You can also contact your elected officials at any time! Once you know your state lawmakers, you can easily access their email addresses here.
Here are some tips to write an effective email to elected officials:
- Be concise. Oftentimes, the elected officials’ staff read and triage emails appropriately. Given the amount of emails they receive, it is important to be as concise as possible.
- Lead with your issue. State your concerns early in your email so that it is clear and anyone reading will know what your email is about in a limited amount of time.
- Let them know you are a constituent. Elected officials like to hear from their own constituents so they can represent them best, so if you aren’t required to provide you home address make sure you mention that you are a constituent.
- Make it personal. If you are using an email from an organization like WTA take a minute to make it your own, using your own words is a key way to highlight that you really care about this issue.
- Request a follow-up, if you’d like. Given the amount of emails offices will receive, if you prefer to receive a response, be clear about it.
- Spread the word! The best way to ensure your message is heard is to get others to support it. Share your efforts with your network and ask that they do the same.
Feeling stuck? Here’s a simple template to follow:
"My name is (your name) and I live in (your town). I am contacting you because I care about keeping our trails and public lands accessible and well cared for. Please support funding for recreation lands in Washington. (Or, insert your specific message requesting them to support a particular bill or proposal.)"
Using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
Engaging with elected officials on social media has become one of the most popular ways to advocate for issues. Contacting elected officials on Twitter and Facebook is a convenient and easy process to raise your voice and amplify other messages. When using any social media, we have some general guidelines for how to best get your message heard.
- Choose your wording carefully. Elected officials’ accounts are popular. If you contact an elected official, you should take careful steps to ensure your statements are relevant and not misleading. Messages directed towards them may be seen by far more people than intended.
- Avoid using partisan language.
Use images and tell your story. Elected officials engage best when they hear the real-life impacts of their constituents, and even more when they can see the story. Showing impactful photos is an effective way to convey your issues to elected officials and to those that might see your post.
Following your elected officials on social media is a great way to stay up-to-date on issues, and the easiest way to find out when they are hosting town halls, virtually or in person.
Many state agencies host public meetings that residents can attend, and have also shifted those online.
Finding out what's happening
There are many ways to keep track of meetings, hearings and other public conversations that agencies and governments hold virtually. Here's where you can keep up-to-date about these events:
- State agencies: Washington State Parks, Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife (DFW) routinely post updates to their planning projects, which can provide the information to access public meetings held virtually
- State and federal hearings/meetings: TVW and CSPAN are public resources that show live and recorded hearings and commission meetings from the state and federal level. This includes budgetary hearings and debates on legislation as well as updates from the Governor.
Showing up, online
Many public meetings are now being held virtually. Attending a public meeting online can often be easier than going to a meeting because you can view the presentation from your home! You’ll want to make sure your technology set-up allows you to participate at whatever level you want. Test your set-up (computer, webcam and microphone if needed) and your internet connection to make sure you won’t have any technical difficulties.
At online public meetings, you are often offered the opportunity to comment and provide questions in a chat. These features are highly useful if you want to ask a question without speaking or want further information.
Public hearing versus public meeting: what’s the difference?
If the meeting is a public hearing, the public may participate and present opinions and evidence. There may be restrictions on participation such as time limits. Anyone can observe a public meeting, but there is no right to speak or be heard there. The public participates in presenting opinions and evidence at the pleasure of the body conducting the meeting.
Whether attending in person or online, general meeting etiquette remains the same. Here’s some guidance:
- Be on time. While sometimes lateness can’t be helped (bad traffic, etc.), it’s best practice to give yourself plenty of time... so you can be on time.
- Be respectful. Please refrain from conversation with other audience members. Microphones are very sensitive and can pick up even whispers.
- Please silence all cellular phones and other noise making devices.
- Avoid verbal approval or dissatisfaction of the ongoing discussion (i.e. booing or applauding).
- Refrain from congregating near the doors or in the area outside the council room to talk. Doors must remain open during a public meeting/hearing.
If you are speaking:
- Be prepared. Make sure you know the meeting topics. Prepare informative answers ready if attendees ask you questions.
- Be concise. Keep your statements to the point and try not to repeat yourself.• Keep comments constructive.
- Be considerate of others by adhering to the comment length, and avoiding repetition of what has already been said.
General meeting rules:
- All comments must be recognized by the Chairperson and addressed through the microphone.
- When speaking to the Council / Committee Planning Commission, stand, state your name and address for the record, and speak slowly and clearly into the microphone.
- Exhibits (photos, petitions, etc.) given to the Council/Commission become the property of such.
At a meeting on personal time? You can still help WTA. Take notes on the following and share what you learn with us.
- Who was there? This can be both representatives for organizations or outspoken community members.
- What were the major topics covered?
- Were the majority for or against the issue? Note any outliers and the points made.
Scheduling & preparing for meetings with elected officials
Your elected officials want to meet with you. It’s true – you are a constituent and they were elected to represent you, so they value your opinions. A face-to-face meeting with your legislator is one of the most effective ways to lobby for a hiking issue.
Who to meet with
You can meet with your state senators and representatives, city and county councilmembers and federal representatives. Elected officials love to hear from their constituents, and consider face-to-face meetings as a valuable tool to understand how their constituents are feeling or where they stand on important issues. You don’t have to feel alone in meeting with your elected officials! If you’d like to meet as part of a group with other constituents, feel free. Just be sure to remember to inform the office you will be doing so. They will often ask for names and information of those going with you.
How to set it up
When scheduling the appointment, contact the official’s support staff. Most elected officials will prefer to set-up meetings through phone calls or by email. These emails and phone numbers can usually be easily found by visiting an elected official’s website. For example, a member of Congress will have an appointment secretary or scheduler. Contact them and tell them what issues you want to talk about and make sure to tell them if you will be part of a group or by yourself. Provide contact information, and be sure to get all the specifics you need for your meeting, including the location, date and time for the meeting. If any details of the meeting change, be sure to inform the office as soon as you know. In cases where a meeting was scheduled far in advance, it can be useful to contact and confirm the meeting as it approaches.
How to prepare
Do your research. If you are heading into a meeting with an elected official, it is a best practice to conduct a reasonable amount of research prior to the meeting. If you are discussing one specific issue, research topics that can be of value include:
- The official’s position on the issue.
- Your (or the organization you might be representing) stance on the specific issue.
- Prior legislative activity on the issue.
- Any specific statistics or information that support your stance.
These basic preparations can often mean the difference between having a flowing conversation and being caught off guard. By no means should you expect to be an expert on an issue!
- Outline your main points. Once you feel comfortable with any issues you might discuss, write down your main ideas. These should be items that you would like to make sure you discuss during the meeting. Think about how you would present these points, and how you might transition in discussing one to the next.
- Write down your story. Elected officials often prefer to hear the real-life stories of their constituents. These stories help to conceptualize how their decisions affect the lives of those they represent. Write out your story, describing why you are passionate about this issue and why you feel the need to advocate to your elected officials about it!
What is a Letter to the Editor (LTE)?
A letter to the editor —or LTE— is a short message to a local news publication that states your opinion on an issue. Advocacy-focused LTE’s often include a call to action for your elected officials and community members.
Tips for writing an LTE
Writing a LTE is easier than you think. Effective letters are short, personal and locally-focused, and they share your core values and energize other supporters. Here are some tips for writing an effective LTE:
- Keep it short. A well-written LTE shouldn’t be longer than 250 or 300 words (and stay within the publication’s rules for length). It should be straight to the point and stick to one issue.
- Write effectively. Short sentences and short paragraphs make it easier for the reader to digest. Declare your position towards the beginning and restate it at the end.
- Tell your story. Begin the letter with a story, and make it personal. There’s a good saying that “people can argue with your positions, but they can’t argue with your experience.” Describe how this issue has affected you, your family, a coworker or a friend.
- Think about your audience. What type of publication are you writing for, and who typically reads it? Tell a story that the audience will connect with. A recent article, editorial, or another letter are usually good topics for an LTE. You can also tie your topic to an anniversary or current event.
- Think local. Illustrate how the issue impacts the quality of life of the readers. The more relevant you can make an issue to both your own and the readers’ circumstances, the more likely it is that your letter will be published. Point out how you and your home region would be affected by the proposal.
- Avoid wonky policy details. Only use one or two of the most stats or facts. But including data is important--they much more difficult to rebut or to dismiss as mere “opinion.”
- Use powerful language. Write with sincerity and passion. Use common-sense, persuasive language and powerful verbs and descriptions. Humor can help people connect with your letter. But don’t go over the top. Overly emotional responses and rants are more easily dismissed than thoughtful arguments. Avoid jargon, hostility and bitterness.
- Include a call to action. Conclude your letter by summing up your main point, argument, or position and ending it with a specific action that your elected official or community members can take. Your LTE will only be effective if it gets others to take action and its impact. Don’t just raise problems--suggest solutions.
- Proofread for proper grammar and spelling. Is there anything worse than a perfectly formed argument with a typo? Ask a friend to edit carefully. While most newspapers will edit your letter before printing it, spelling and grammatical errors create a bad impression and reduce the chances of your letter being published.
- Provide contact details. Provide your name, address and telephone number in case the paper needs to contact you. The publication will never print your telephone number or your street address.
Still feeling stuck? We’ve got you. Here’s a basic LTE template:
Salutation: “Dear Editor:”
Paragraph 1: Establish why you’re writing your LTE.
- If you are responding to or referencing another article, you should reference it in the first sentence. Make sure to specify the title of the article, the name of the publication, and finally the date it was published (e.g., Bowman, Lee. “Reaching the vulnerable.” The Badger Herald, 4 October 2016.)
- Clearly state why you’re writing about this issue.
Paragraph 2: Tell your personal story.
- How does the issue affect you, your family, and/or your community? • Why is the issue important to you?
- Tie in a key fact or figure to support it—but remember, less is more when it comes to numbers.
- Be concise, draw a local connection, and relate to the community you know best by touching on the values you share with them.
- Include contrast—what do opponents and supporters think? This helps legitimize your position by showing you have considered both sides.
Paragraph 3: So, now what?
- Time for a call to action. What are you asking readers to do? Contact an elected official? Go to a meeting? Share on social media?
Paragraph 4: End on a positive note.
[YOUR CITY, STATE, Month, DD, YYYY]
Published? What’s next?
Share the printed LTE on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. Link to the page where it’s published online. Email and share it with your own networks. If the publication has an “email” or “share” feature embedded in the article, ask supporters to use it to share directly with their networks. This will make it rise on the “most emailed” or “most shared” list on the site if it has such a list.