Vietnam Veterans of America, Oakland County Chapter #133 

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VVA LEGISLATIVE COORDINATORS

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.

...Thomas Paine, 1777

Making a Difference in Veterans Policy-Making

VVA's Legislative Coordinator Network works with elected leaders to make all levels of government more effective in meeting the needs of veterans and their families.


HOW YOU CAN INFLUENCE LEGISLATION:
There's a lot you can do -- and the only "pull" you need is your own convictions!

VVA Legislative Coordinators employ basic tools of grassroots lobbying to INFLUENCE LEGISLATORS' DECISIONS on issues of concern to veterans. Grassroots lobbying involves:

  • KNOWING THE FACTS about an issue that concerns you;
  • CONTACTING YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS by letter, telephone, or personal visit;
  • PRESENTING YOUR VIEWPOINT to your elected legislators

Grassroots lobbying is a way to PUT GOVERNMENT TO WORK FOR YOU!

YOU CAN MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD through grassroots lobbying -- the heart of our democratic way of life.

Grassroots lobbying is IMPORTANT because government must know your wishes before it can respond to them -- it is simply the art of communicating with your elected officials.

This is the basis of government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" -- the very principles that veterans fought to defend.

As a part of the VVA Legislative Coordinator Network, you'll be doing your part to create a government that is truly responsive to veterans' needs.

VVA does employ professional government relations staff to advocate our concerns at the national level, but..

Professional lobbyists don't elect legislators -- citizens do. That's why, as a citizen lobbyist, your efforts can make a difference.

Virtually every law in this country is on the books because some group of interested citizens wanted it -- and let their government know they wanted it.

IT'S YOUR RIGHT to influence how your elected legislators vote. Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, every American has freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government for a "redress of grievances."

IT'S YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to speak up for good government. Each year, your legislators make decisions that affect your tax dollars -- and your life. It's up to you, as a citizen, to voice your opinions and influence the future of your government.

As a consumer, taxpayer, and citizen, you've got the power. You can use it effectively -- if you know how.

Be Informed. The more you know, the more influence you'll have. Study the history of issues, pros and cons, and your legislator's voting record.

"If you expect a nation to be ignorant and free,
you expect what never was... and never can be"!
                                                                                                                        ...Thomas Jefferson

Express Your Views. Your lawmakers are elected to represent your interests. They need to stay in touch with you -- or face the prospect of losing their jobs at reelection time. Likewise, you need to stay in touch with your elected officials -- or live with legislation that doesn't represent your views.

"Politicians and diapers have one thing in common. They should both be changed regularly... and for the same reason."
                                                              
                ...Unknown

Visit Staff MembersAlthough congressional staff members do not vote, they are key people who can give you valuable information and advice. Treat staff members with respect -- they're the legislator's front-line advisors.

By developing a cooperative relationship with staff, you'll be a more effective lobbyist. Ideally you can become a resource for Congressional staff -- they'll respect your knowledge and opinion, and call you for advice regarding veterans issues.

Organize OpinionIn politics, strength lies in numbers. No elected official can afford to ignore the weight of public opinion. As a grassroots lobbyist, you can engineer a publicity campaign, form an organization, or join a group of people who feel as you do about an issue -- VVA's Legislative Coordinator Network is based on this principle.

VoteTake the right to vote seriously. It's your best bet for protecting democratic freedoms, and your constitutional guarantee that your rights and opinions are taken into consideration.

Make sure you're registered to vote, especially if you've just moved. Learn the candidates' positions on the issues that are important to you.

Telephone. If you need to get a message to your legislator quickly, you can telephone your legislator's Washington, DC, or home office.

Letters To The Editor. A short, well-written letter to the editor of a local newspaper gets your point across to members of Congress and to other citizens. Letters to the editor get lots of attention because legislators always keep tabs on news from the people back home.

Tips on writing an effective letter to the editor:

  • Type your letter -- not more than a page.
  • Be concise.
  • Draw on personal experience to support your views.
  • Don't exaggerate your case.
  • Be firm, but not hostile. Be respectful. Your letter should reflect your sense of conviction.
  • Sign your name.

Invite Your Legislator To Speak. During congressional recesses, most legislators return to their home districts to find out their constituents' views on the issues. Take advantage of this opportunity to invite your legislator to one of your chapter or state council meetings. Call or write his or her district office to arrange a time.

VISITING YOUR LEGISLATOR:

Person-to-person visits are an excellent way to get your point across to legislators and staff.

Make An Appointment. Call or write your legislator's home office, or call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202/224-3121 to contact his or her Washington, DC, office. Ask staff to arrange a time and place, either in Washington or in the legislator's district. To contact your state legislators, write or call their local offices or your state capitol building.

Be Prepared. Know what you want to say. Emphasize how the issue affects you, your community, and your state. Present your views politely but persuasively. Use relevant facts and research to support your views. Bring an expert on the subject to support your views, if possible.

Follow Up! Send a thank-you letter to your legislator and to the staff who helped arrange your visit. Include a summary of your position plus any other new information that supports your views.

Tips on having an effective lobbying visit:

  • BE CONFIDENT. Focus on the issue - let your enthusiasm and concern override any shyness.
  • BE FIRM BUT POLITE. Find out your legislator's position on issues. Ask what action he or she intends. Don't be afraid to press for specifics.
  • BE BRIEF. Since legislators have extremely busy schedules, be sure you are on time for your appointment. Plan to get your message across in 5 or 10 minutes. Don't get sidetracked into small talk - make your time really count.
  • ANSWER QUESTIONS. Respond to questions clearly and concisely. If you don't know the answer, admit it - and send the answer later.
  • LISTEN CAREFULLY. Even if you disagree with you legislator's viewpoint, listen carefully. Understanding their view will help you attempt new angles in swaying their opinion and advocate more effectively in the future.

WRITING YOUR LEGISLATOR:

Many people believe letters to Congress aren't even read. This simply isn't true. You can be certain your letter will be read by an aide or the legislator -- and answered. Letters are one of the best ways to stay in touch with elected officials at any level -- federal, state, county, or local. Your letter can influence your legislator's vote. The more thoughtful your letter, the more personal attention it will get.

Tips on writing an effective constituent letter:

  • BE BRIEF. Boil your argument down to one page or less -- any longer, and your letter loses effectiveness. Attach any detailed information you have to this one-page letter.
  • HAVE THE FACTS. The more facts you know, the better. Refer to bills by title or number. Cite experts when needed to back you up.
  • FOCUS ON ONE ISSUE. Your letter will be given the attention it deserves if you speak out on only one issue at a time.
  • BE DIRECT. Tell your legislator what action you want him or her to take, such as introduce legislation, cosponsor a bill, vote for (or against) a bill in committee or on the floor.
  • BE CIVIL. Don't threaten, insult, wisecrack, or name call.