Talking to Legislators: An Empowering Experience
During the last weekend in July, I had the good fortune of joining Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin, Howard Baskin, and volunteer Susan Mitchell in Washington D.C. for the third annual Taking Action for Animals Conference. Each year the conference is presented by several animal protection organizations and includes lectures, workshops, and exhibits that provide knowledge, skills, and tools to help us speak out for animals more efficiently and more powerfully. This year the theme was farm animals and some of the organizations involved were The Humane Society, Farm Sanctuary, Compassion in World Farming, and many others.
There was still plenty of opportunity to speak out for wildlife, however, and one of the most empowering aspects of the conference was its culmination in the form of “lobby day.” After a weekend of gathering loads of information, on Sunday evening representatives from The Humane Society prepped participants for going to Capitol Hill to discuss animal welfare issues with members of Congress. They even set up appointments for us or gave us the info on the staff members we should talk to in our legislator’s office.
After such great preparation, I felt ready to do something I have never done before, which was to walk into my representative’s office and ask him to co-sponsor bills that protect animals. Gus Bilirakis is the Representative in the House for my district (9) and I spoke with one of his staff members. I simply explained why Haley’s Act and the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act are so important to me and why I think they are probably important to other Florida voters.
I was a little nervous at first, but I really couldn’t believe how easy it was. During the preparation, they had explained that the most important things to remember are that you are a constituent, which means you have power and your opinions matter, and to simply speak from the heart. Once I really understood this, I felt much more comfortable.
I encourage everyone to try this at least once. You can visit your rep’s office here in Florida and you can call and write to them. Remember, you don’t have to have a PhD in ecology and you don’t have to know every aspect of an issue, although it certainly helps to do some homework. You are a policymaker’s constituent if you live in his/her district (whether or not you voted for that particular person) and it is part of his/her job to listen to you. Take advantage of that power and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
If you would like more information on the conference or on lobbying go to www.takingactionforanimals.com, or the Citizen Lobbyist Center at www.hsus.org.
Sharyn Beach, Partner Volunteer