When trying to influence a legislator or a federal or state agency, one heart-felt personal letter is likely to be more effective than the signature of 1,000 persons on a form letter.
That advice was given by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) policy program coordinator Amalie Lipstreu during a webinar titled “Advocacy: What, Why, and How.” She commented that although “advocacy is getting louder, it is also less effective.”
“You don’t have to go to Washington, DC or your state capitol to be effective,” Lipstreu said. She noted that merely signing an online petition is easy to do but this is seldom likely to make a difference.
Take advantage of organized lobby days, develop relationships with legislators, research a topic properly and demonstrate one’s scale or interest in an existing problem, Lipstreu suggested. Organize or attend rallies because they tend to attract media attention.
An often overlooked avenue of advocacy is providing input when federal agencies have a formal comment period on the development of regulations. She said legislation could be needed to deal with violators or actions which are causing harm.
Letter writing hints
When writing that letter or making a phone call to a legislator, be sure to research any existing stance of the legislator on the topic, try to make some connection with what the legislator views as a priority, and be very specific on the policy or pending legislation, Lipstreu said. In some cases, as few as 10 calls can make a difference on legislation.
In addition, take advantage of any opportunity to meet the legislator in one’s home district, Lipstreu stressed. When making the contact, point out that “you are a constituent” of the legislator, “identify any organization memberships that you have” and “tell your story” on why the legislator should act in a certain way, she stated.
Writing letters to the editor can also be effective, Lipstreu said. She noted that the OEFFA’s website has a page with guidelines on how to write such a letter.
Importance of advocacy
As farmers, gardeners, and educators — the groups who make up most of the membership of the OEFFA — it is important both from a historical perspective and on pending current relevant issues to engage in advocacy for one’s beliefs, Lipstreu emphasized.
Lipstreu cited the effectiveness of advocacy in creating the national organic production certification program 35 years ago. She said advocacy also includes trying to get large institutions to make corrections in existing practices or policies and that advocacy does not necessarily result in conflict or confrontation.
Advocacy also applies to arranging community meetings or forums that lead to setting goals and setting strategies on ways to approach problems. She also suggested that advocacy should not take the form of a partisan political stance.
Topics for advocacy
In Ohio and other states, some of the current topics suited for advocacy are frac sand mining, the labeling of foods for genetically modified organisms, crop insurance, and local food policy councils, Lipstreu said. She noted that Ohio already has more such councils than any other state — due in part to advocacy by OEFFA members.
“More general topics that are appropriate for advocacy include the economy, the environment, biotechnology, and the effect of legislation on local communities”, Lipstreu said. She can be contacted at Amalie@oeffa.org.