Reprinted from The Infant Crier Fall 2012
For many of us, the idea of contacting our elected officials and/or key decision makers brings on a case of uneasiness; it’s a discomfort that often causes us to avoid making the contact at all!
So let’s consider the work of an advocate from another perspective. What if we remember that legislators are people just like the rest of us, people who depend on relationships to help them navigate the often troubled waters of their job.
In our daily lives, we recognize that relationships help those with whom we work — parents, children, providers — to find their footing, to help them recall their best selves and to find the strength to face the troubles of their lives with greater depth and commitment to their values and beliefs.
Now, for a moment, let’s imagine the life of a legislator — imagine the quantities of issues that cross his/her desk, imagine the information s/he is assumed to know, and imagine the decisions s/he is expected to make. When you are faced with situations in which you have to make decisions about things you know little about, what do you do? Many of us call a trusted party. We rely on one another to help us understand, to give us the critical analysis that we can’t get on our own.
You can well see the path this article is leading you toward, can’t you? You know that many people are eager to build relationships with legislators and other elected officials and key decision makers — they want to make sure that their legislator knows to call if s/he wonders about something, or at least will listen with open ears when this constituent pleads a cause. If we don’t do that same work, recognizing that our elected officials need relationships they can rely on, can we really fault them for not making the decisions we wish they would, for not understanding the issues the way we see them, for listening to the people who have fostered a relationship with them?
Hopefully, you can begin to see that making contact with your elected officials is nothing more than the beginning of a relationship. Use those fabulous relationship making skills you have honed in your practice and help these people understand the world through the eyes of a vulnerable parent and baby, help them see why investments in the first years of life have enormous fiscal and social payoffs, and let them know that you appreciate their efforts on behalf of the State of Michigan.
Think about how you like to begin relationships. Is it giving people information? Asking them about themselves? Thanking them for their work? Sharing your interests and concerns with stories? Use what you know about yourself to plan your conversation with the decision makers you intend to call.
The core message that we need to share is that Michigan is populated with an important constituent group, a group that neither votes nor can advocate for itself. This very constituent group is the future of our State — our economy, our society and our democracy. Investments in this invisible group have the capacity to dramatically improve the trajectory of our future. A few facts peppered into this core message are a great beginning for your emerging relationship with the legislators and key decision makers in your community.
We have put together some talking points and questions that may guide you as you make your advocacy approach. We urge you to do your part. Help Michigan realize the amazing returns when we do the right thing.
Brief talking points:
- High-quality investments in families with very young children have surprisingly high rates of economic and social returns.
- Toxic stress changes the very structure of the brain, decreasing the capacity of the child to learn and succeed in life.
- Supportive relationships and interventions can help parents manage the conditions that lead to toxic stress — conditions such as depression, unemployment, etc.
- The bulk of the brain is developed in the first 1,000 days of life. A healthy brain depends on high-quality relationships.
- Michigan’s future depends upon a healthy citizenry and workforce. Please make the data driven and smart investments now to realize a thriving future. Tomorrow’s workforce is being born today.
- You may not be aware, but although Michigan has been a leader in developing high-quality supports and interventions for families with young children, we have fallen behind other states that have made greater early childhood investments, allowing them to improve the lives of more children and more families. We’d like to put Michigan back in the front. I’d love to speak with you later about the work under way in Michigan and how we can give Michigan the cutting edge that will secure a thriving future.
Spread the word, build relationships and stretch your comfort zone during this important election cycle.