At MSPEPAC, we believe one way we can create change in the way the Mississippi Legislature supports public education is by building strong relationships with legislators. We relish opportunities to work with lawmakers from across the state, but the fact is, some of the most impactful relationships are the ones legislators have with constituents like you. While legislators are often inundated with phone calls or text messages when a critical vote is pending, they are more likely to seek input on policy decisions from the people they already know. Relationships that connect a legislator's work back to the local community can be so powerful in affecting change. If you’re stumped on how to build that kind of relationship, a simple conversation is a great place to start. Whether it’s in a phone call or courtside at a ballgame, here are five easy things you can say to your legislator.
It’s the easiest way to begin any relationship! Introduce yourself to your legislator. Take time to tell him your name, where you live, and that you share the same district. Most of the time, legislators are eager to meet their constituents. It’s much easier to find common ground on critical issues when you connect first as neighbors from the same community.
Say thank you.
As public servants, legislators are often called on to make sacrifices that aren’t always easy. Particularly during session, your legislator spends a great deal of time away from her family, business, work, and other local obligations. Say thank you! Regardless of how your legislator’s stance on the issues lines up with yours, serving as an elected official requires a commitment that many simply aren’t willing to make. Showing gratitude for that commitment and the sacrifices it requires is kind. And, it can open the door to starting conversations on the pubic education issues that matter to you.
Say no to partisanship.
It’s not easy, but let your legislator know that you value public education above any party affiliation. So often, legislators hear from the public, the media, and even each other in an impersonal language of labels — Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative. Partisan politics seems to supersede almost everything these days, making that reach across the aisle a bit of a courageous act. You can become a refreshing voice enabling that courage when you make it clear that Mississippi’s children deserve support for their schools from every party.
Say why you care.
In our conversations with legislators, we’ve learned that it’s meaningful for them to hear more than just “vote yes” on this bill or “vote no” on that one. They want to know why public education matters to you. They want to understand why you feel strongly about certain policies. Do your children attend public schools? Are you proud of what your schools are accomplishing? Has volunteering with public schools given you insight into their need for funding or other resources? Does your business benefit from the workforce development your local schools provide? All these stories can help your legislator understand why you advocate for legislation that will strengthen public schools and also give them talking points as they discuss the issues with their colleagues.
Say we’ve got your back.
It takes courage to go against the flow of political leadership, which is all too often required of Mississippi legislators who want to stand up for public schools. That’s a fact. The daily juggling of influences and prioritizing of issues that our legislators face can be overwhelming. The reality is that sometimes a courageous vote for public education means losing political traction on other issues that may be important to your local area. Let your legislator know you’ve got his back on that difficult vote. And, be prepared to share your appreciation with your neighbors who may question the trade-off.
The 2020 legislative session marks the beginning of a four-year opportunity to build relationships with lawmakers. Those relationships between legislators and their individual constituents like you are some of the most impactful tools we have in advocating for public policy that consistently strengthens our public schools. One conversation at a time, we can positively impact the outcomes for Mississippi’s children. With these five things on the tip of your tongue, go make that phone call!