- Host a Letter Writing Event
Letter writing is an easy and effective way to advocate collectively. Our City Councilmembers are elected officials and this is a way to let them know that constituents are involved and care about children with disabilities. Letter-writing campaigns are most effective when folks get together in a group and write the letters on the spot. It can be inspirational to have a knowledgeable speaker give a speech or a lecture to help close the knowledge gap of what people know the issues to be. This helps with uniformity of message. Another method is to have “writing points” on a board or pass out a Draft Letter to Council a board so people can take the language and personalize it. Letters can be sent to one particular Councilmember (i.e. the Chair of the Education Committee), or have copies sent to all member of Council. Sending uniform post cards with personalized message are also effective letter writing efforts.
2. Telephone Campaigns
Just as receiving mass letters and postcards are effective, having the Councilmembers’ phone lines busy with a uniformed message of support for Special Education is another effective way to get the message out. An effective way of creating critical mass for this sort of advocacy is to have folks call in at the same time on the same day for several days (i.e. 1-2pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for a month). This allows for Councilmembers and their dedicated staff to get the message that this issue matters to their constituents. It is also difficult, and perhaps not most effective, to speak directly with the Councilmember. Once calling, the most effective person to speak with on special education is the staff member who works on education issues.
3. Host a Town Hall meeting via your PTO or PTA and Invite Your Councilmember and/or other Public Officials
Town Hall meetings are effective ways to get the broader community involved with issues impacting children with disabilities. By inviting a City Councilmember or other Public Officials, this gives them an opportunity to experience the power of your organizing efforts and to gain awareness of issues pertaining to children with disabilities. To effectively host a town hall, one must be clear on what the goals and objectives. This can be done in a collaborative agenda setting meeting with other organizers or an approved press release. Town Hall meetings take real collaboration to pull off effectively, so being organized is essential. Here’s a great breakdown of how to prepare for one.
3. Ask to Meet with a City Councilmember
While it might seem intimidating, meeting with a City Councilmember in person protects our democracy. They are there to serve YOU and as parents, it is critical voice that many public officials welcome our voices because it is truly and purely grassroots. While advocating for children with disabilities is technically a special interest issue and there are nonprofit organizations and policy wonks that are also effectively lobbying on our behalf, city officials need to hear directly from families. And it is deeply impressive when directly impacted communities can professionally engage with lawmakers to educate them around issues as dear as the pleasures and pains of raising children with disabilities. For more information, click here for how to contact each of the 13 sitting member of City Council.
4. Have Clear Media Objectives
Media objectives need to be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely (SMART). Being passionate about promoting the rights of children with disabilities and creating achievable goals are important, but what makes the issue a topic of household discussion is creating both a social media buss and a evening news blitz. To this end, it is imprtant to decide how and when to involve the media. Blogging and using social media are ways to spread the word through a personal network. These can and should be managed daily. Goals for social media and blogging can be measured by the number of followers or the number of people that sign on to a petition. Yet, engaging broadcast news as well as popular newspapers requires more strategic planning. It is very important to do your research on children with disabilities, know other organizations and people that are engaged on this issue locally and nationally and study the success of previous campaigns. Because the issue of the rights of children with disabilities is a unifying issue amongst families of diverse backgrounds, there should be no media strategy off limits. Here are some way to engage major local media outlets: 1) write an op-ed to the Washington Post, 2) pitch a news story to local tv or radio show, 3) take out a public ad or psa and 4) send out a press release for events (i.e. townhall meetings, press conferences, etc).
5. Testify at a Public Hearing or other Public Forums
First, it is important to get familiar with the DC legislative process and to know how a bill becomes a law. Next, you should know when best to communicate with Councilmembers and their staff. DC Council sessions last 2 years and begin in early January; and Council usually goes on recess from July to September and from mid-December to the end of each year. In terms of budget advocacy, here are clear steps and great tips offered by the DC Action for Children and A Citizen’s Guide to the DC Budget by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. To see an upcoming campaign by the Inclusive Proeperity Coalition to testify click here or visit the DC Council calendar to see all upcoming hearings.