What's New at CBH

The ABCs of Advocacy

Date:
2/22/2012 8:00:00 AM
Written By:
Kim Smith

Is there something going on in our government that gets your blood pumping? Do you ever think to yourself, "If I had more time and energy I would tell someone how I feel about this issue!" Congratulations - this means you have considered advocacy.

However, just the thought of picking up the phone to call your legislator may make your heart race. What if you say the wrong thing? Or worse, what if you don't remember why you even picked up the phone?

You are not alone in your thinking. Most of us hate making cold calls, especially to elected officials. Knowing that we have 60 to 90 seconds to clearly communicate our point will cause even the best public speaker to get clammy hands.

The good news is, advocacy is something that is relatively easy to do and in which everyone can and should participate.

Webster defines advocacy as "the act of or process of supporting a cause or proposal," more simply put, showing support. You have probably been stopped in front of a grocery store by a person with a clipboard or received emails asking you to sign and forward a petition. No doubt you have debated issues with friends, perhaps even written a letter to the editor. Taking part in these simple acts makes you an advocate, whatever the cause.

Why should you advocate? Your legislator's job is to represent you in regards to policy and decision making. To do this they need to know what you support. By advocating you are simply making your opinion known to the very people who can effect legislative change. Nine times out of 10 Legislators are happy to hear from you. Legislators want to make decisions that parallel the thoughts and views of the population they represent - you and your family.

With this in mind, advocate for the issues that are near and dear to your heart, issues you are passionate about. For example, Colonial Behavioral Health advocates for the rights of those affected by mental health, intellectual disabilities and substance use disorders. CBH's advocacy efforts work to ensure funding for these community services and to ensure the equal treatment of those affected by these diagnoses.

Agencies that also advocate for Behavioral Health issues include:

If you are still exploring what to advocate for, try contacting the local organizations in which you are involved, such as schools, local government or any non-profit. Usually these organizations will develop annual legislative priorities and always need additional voices to join their cause.

Finally, there are several online resources that make advocacy easier. First, if you live in Virginia and don't know who your state legislators are, visit the General Assembly website's "Who's My Legislator" tool. Here you simply enter your address and you are given both your Delegate and Senator along with all of his/her contact information.

In addition to helping you find your legislator, the General Assembly website provides a plethora of information regarding everything from meeting times and dates to how bills become laws. It is a great starting place for all advocates.

Richmond Sunlight is another online tool for Virginians advocating at the state level. It provides very user friendly tools to track bills. A particularly unique section on this site is the "Tag Cloud" where you can search bills by topic. The more common the topic, the larger the word appears in the Tag Cloud. Visiting the Tag Cloud may also help a new advocate see what topics are frequently addressed in legislation and may facilitate your decision regarding what to advocate.

So, whatever you decide to advocate for, don't be overwhelmed. Starting a new project may seem challenging at first but you'll find that advocacy can be very rewarding and there's nothing like seeing a bill you support pass both the House and Senate and become a part of State law.


Kim Smith has worked at Colonial Behavioral Health for three years as the Marketing and Development Specialist. Smith studied Communication at The Ohio State University and has worked in the Communication industry for over six years. She also owns her own marketing and design business in James City County, Virginia.

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