To speak out most effectively, as well as to avoid being manipulated by other agendas, it's important to understand, as much as possible, the facts of the matter. Fortunately, there are some basic tools and practices that those wishing to stay abreast of legislative happenings can employ to be their own best lobbyists in this and in other similar situations.
1.Stay informed about pertinent legislation – In Florida, we can track the course of whatever legislation we want via a Legislative Tracking system in both the House and the Senate . Simply register your email address, do some keyword or bill number searches (search on a variety of related terms, not just one word or phrase) and you can be updated at your convenience. You can even track specific committees, and statutes, particularly handy if you want to want to see who's poking around the laws. If you live in a less transparent state, try StateNet . At the national level, there are dozens of resources, from Congress.org to Open Congress, all of which allow you to keep a close eye on issues and those behind them. We have a large collection of Civic Engagement Resources at our website .
2.READ ! – Read the text of a bill for yourself, rather than taking someone else's word on what it says. Admittedly, bills can make for long and tedious reading. But you can use your computer's Find feature to look for specific words, phrases or relevant sections.
3.Ask questions – Of legislators, lobbyists, and anyone proposing, discouraging or promoting action or legislation. Don't reject things out of hand, but don't follow blindly either.
4.Focus on the real issue – Politics is emotional, and it can sometimes be hard to see the heart of the matter through the smoke and mirrors of all the vested interests. But take statements like "if this bill becomes law, then this will happen" and honestly assess the possibility and see if there's any relationship at all to the reality of the text or the situation. There are lots of great resources now for assessing the validity of claims, including PR Watch, PolitiFact, Fact Check.org, GovTrack and others.
5.Speak out politely, articulately and specifically – If you feel compelled to speak out on an issue after becoming informed about it, do so clearly and outline specifically what you'd like your legislator to do, and request a response back. You may not get the action or the response that you'd like, but your views will become part of the public record and you have started a dialog.
We're all busy with families, work, school, health and the day-to-day concerns of life and living. But we are also each signatories on the social contract for our governance. Our legislators work for us, and if we abdicate our responsibility as the owners of our government, others will happily step into our place, on their own behalf. And if you only speak out or act when others "alert" you, you risk ignorance of other possibly more problematic legislation of which they may chose not to inform you.
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