Guest Post: Why I Advocate

By Melanie Knapp, 2012-2013 Chair of AALL’s Government Relations Committee

On March 27, AALL’s Government Relations Office will host its second Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. As the former chair of AALL’s Government Relations Committee and a District of Columbia resident, I encourage you to attend this special event in our nation’s beautiful capital.

In our democracy, it is our right to visit our elected representatives and have them understand what is important to us. Members of Congress rely on many factors to help them make their decisions: their own knowledge of an issue; spirited debate with colleagues; the urging of party leadership; e-mails, letters, and telephone calls from constituents; and lobbyists on both sides of an issue. Obviously, no legislator can be an expert on every subject. Research shows, however, that nothing is more influential to a member of Congress than meetings with his or her constituents. Our legislators are grateful to be educated by their constituents in-the-know—that is, the people who elected them who are also experts on a particular issue. This kind of civic engagement leads to more efficient and effective decision-making.

In July 2009, I attended the AALL’s Day on The Hill event before the AALL Annual Meeting and Conference. The experience was incredibly valuable to me, both personally and professionally. Though I had done a lot of advocacy as an environmental attorney in Austin, Texas—I had spoken in court, at city council meetings, at meetings of federal and state agencies, and at many public gatherings and rallies—I had never visited the halls of Congress in Washington. I was intimidated!

The Day on the Hill taught me the skills and information I needed to boost my confidence and advocate successfully. Just as you will at the March 27 Lobby Day, I heard from experts about methods for communicating my positions effectively and practiced key talking points on the issues of the day. In the afternoon, I partnered with a fellow Ohioan (my home state at the time) to visit my members of Congress’s offices. We spoke with legislative aides about our personal experiences as law librarians and the policy issues affecting us. And, I found, it was actually a lot of fun. The key to feeling comfortable visiting your Congress member is practice, and that’s exactly what I did at the Day on the Hill. I’ve since visited the Hill again. With each meeting, advocacy becomes easier and I feel more comfortable.

On March 27, you’ll have the same opportunity to practice this vital part of the democratic process. You’ll learn all the tricks, tips, and talking points you’ll need to feel confident expressing your views. Walking through the same buildings as our lawmakers will give you a sense of pride and strength knowing you are there to make a difference for yourself, your patrons, and your law libraries.

I hope you’ll join me, the Government Relations Office staff, and other seasoned and budding AALL advocates on March 27 to practice advocacy. I guarantee it will be fun!

The AALL Lobby Day is open to all AALL and chapter members and registration is free of cost. For more information, visit http://aallnet.org/Home-page-contents/Events/lobbyday2014.html. To register, please email Elizabeth Holland at eholland@aall.org by March 1.

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