Advocacy 101 - What is It and Where Do I Start?

What is advocacy?

Advocacy means speaking out on issues that you are concerned about.  Advocacy is a process of influencing a government's practices on behalf of an idea or a group of people.

What makes advocacy effective?

An advocate's actions must be focused, informed, and strategic.   To do this, an advocate should understand the process by which political change takes place.


 

What language should I be familiar with?

Co-sponsor - a member of Congress who formally adds his/her name as a supporter of another member of Congress's bill

"Dear Colleague Letter" - when one member of Congress asks other members of Congress to sign a letter on a specific issue. These letters help keep the profile of an issue high even if there's no legislation on that topic being debated in Congress.

Stake-holders - a person with an interest or concern in the success or failure of the bill.  Someone the bill's passage will affect.

Mark-up - to make changes and amendments to a bill prior to recommending the bill to the full committee

Constituent - a voting member of a community or organization with the power to appoint or elect

Swing-members - A member of Congress who may vote either in favor or against a bill.  The votes of these members are highly sought after by both sides.

Amendment - an alteration of the language, provisions, or stipulations in a bill

Veto - Rejection of a decision or piece of legislation. The executive holds the power to veto any bill before it is signed into law.

Pocket-veto - an indirect veto of a legislative bill by the president or governor by retaining the bill unsigned until it is too late to be dealt with during the legislative session.


 

How does the legislative process work and how can I help promote change at each step?

Step 1: Introduction of a bill by a Congress member - A bill must first be introduced by a member of Congress, either in the House of Representatives or in the Senate.

At this stage, you can encourage your representative to become an initial co-sponsor of the bill.  This gives the bill greater strength and priority right off the bat.  To find your member of the House or Representatives, go to www.house.gov and enter your zip code. 

 

Step 2: Committee action, review, mark-up, and report - The bill is examined by a group of delegates from that chamber of Congress. Research and hearings are conducted to record the opinions of experts, officials, executives, and stakeholders. The committee may "mark-up" the bill and ultimately votes to "report,"or recommend, the bill to the main body of Congress.

At this stage, you can help by lobbying committee members, and expressing your views as a constituent.  Your representatives want to keep their constituents happy, so it is important that you communicate your interests to them.

 

Step 3: Floor action in that chamber - Debate in the House or Senate precedes voting.  After the debate, the bill is passed ordefeated by a vote of all present members.

At this stage, you can lobby swing members in that chamber and encourage them to vote one way or another.

 

Step 4: Sent to other chamber - If the first chamber passes the bill with all of its amendments, it is sent to the other chamber of Congress - either the House or the Senate.

You can encourage your representatives in the second chamber to co-sponsor the bill.

 

Step 5: Committee action - A committee of delegates from the second chamber examine the billagain.  They may "mark-up" the bill further or hold any other hearings they wish.

At this stage, lobby committee members to fight for the bill one way or another.

 

Step 6: Floor action- The second chamber of Congress debates on the bill once more.  If the bill amasses major changes in this chamber, it is sent to a Conference Committee.

At this stage, lobby your representatives or swing members in that chamber.  Encourage them to vote on the passage of the bill one way or another.

 

Step 7: Conference Committee - When the actions of the second chamber significantly alter the bill, a conference committee of delegates from both chambers is formed to reconcile the differences.  If the conferees are unable to reach an agreement, the legislation dies.  If agreement is reached, a report is written that describes the changes the conference committee proposes.  At this point, both the House and Senate must approve of the changes in the report!

Lobby committee members and Congress members to protect the bill and prevent it from dying.

 

Step 8: Sent to executive (President or governor) to be signed into law -There are three ways a bill can become a law.  If the executive approves of the legislation, he/she signs it and it becomes law.  If the executive does nothing for ten days while Congress is in session, it becomes law.  If the President vetoes the bill, two-thirds of present Congress-members can override the veto and the bill becomes law.

At this stage, you can help by generating publicity and support for a bill's approval.  The executive will be less likely to veto or "pocket-veto" the legislation if there is a lot of publicity surrounding a bill's signing.