On Tuesday, July 22, about 125 West Virginians gathered in Clarksburg at the Our Children Our Future Northern Regional Policy Workshop to learn about state policy advocacy and get advice on how to advance their ideas to help end child poverty.
Tim Miley (D – Harrison), Speaker of the House; Jeff Kessler (D – Marshall), Senate President; Senator Bob Beach (D – Monongalia); and Delegates Barbara Fleischauer (D – Monongalia) and Linda Longstreth (D – Marion) came out to meet the community representatives and offer advice and support during a lunchtime panel. When asked what tips they would give to the policy advocates in the room, the legislators had several pieces of advice.
1. Find the individual stories that can make the issue personal.
Personal stories help legislators see the impact the policy has on real people. Jamie Gudiel, a Morgantown mother of three, was on the team that lobbied for a raise in minimum wage and won. Hers was a powerful story because even with three jobs between them, she and her husband couldn’t keep their family above poverty level.
2. Be strategic.
Look for allies, experts, and get people to run for office if necessary. House Speaker Tim Miley suggested you consider how an issue affects a legislator’s district, and then frame it as an investment for their communities.
3. Face time.
Senator Bob Beach said he has been moved to support policies because representatives for an issue came to his office and told their personal stories.
4. Be willing to compromise.
If you draw lines in the sand it is less likely you will make progress on issues. It takes moderation. Senate President Jeff Kessler said, “If you come with the attitude, ‘It’s my way or the highway,’ be prepared to see the highway.”
5. Be aware that legislators are human.
Not everybody likes each other, and it may not be easy to get them to work with those with whom they have conflict. Try to get the interpersonal lay of the land.
6. Be patient.
Even great ideas fall flat when the timing isn’t right or there are other priorities. Delegate Linda Longstreth said policy advocates should recognize that a policy may not happen immediately, and take it one step at a time.
7. Be informed.
All ideas are better with concrete facts or case studies. Delegate Barbara Fleischauer said if you are proposing an issue do the legwork and know the ins and outs of the issue and where the money is coming from.
The West Virginia Community Development Hub, WV Healthy Kids & Families Coalition, and West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy jointly host the Our Children Our Future workshops in four different geographic regions around the state so that everyone can come.