As we start a new year, many of us make resolutions about negative habits we want to break or positive habits we want to establish. What if we all resolved to break the habit of sitting on the sidelines of civic engagement, and instead, we decided to establish the habit of speaking up for kids in 2018? Imagine what could be accomplished to improve the lives of children in our community if we all got more involved. Let’s make 2018 the year of child advocacy in RVA.
Many of you got a great start last year: Virginians turned out in record numbers for the 2017 election, particularly for an off-year when national candidates were not on the ballot. If you missed out on voting because you were not registered, take time to register now so you’ll be prepared next November when one U.S. Senate seat from Virginia and all eleven House of Representatives seats will be on the ballot. You can visit
elections.virginia.gov for more information.
Whether your preferred candidates won or lost in 2017, the opportunities for civic engagement continue. The Virginia House of Delegates has many new members who will be learning the ropes. This is a signal that we have a chance to educate both new and returning policymakers about the needs of children. The first step? Find out who represents you in the House of Delegates and the Senate. Go to virginiageneralassembly.gov and click on “Who’s My Legislator?” to find out who they are, how long they have served, and more about their backgrounds.
Once you know who represents you, you can contact your lawmakers to help educate them about issues that are important to you. The Virginia General Assembly is in session at this time of the year – legislators begin their work beginning January 10, and meet for sixty days. When you contact your delegate and senator during session, it is helpful to weigh in on particular bills and budget items, as they are extremely busy from sun-up to sun-down. Letters, phone calls, and emails directed to their General Assembly offices are all effective ways to contact your legislators during the session. You can also schedule an appointment to meet with your legislators at their offices on a particular topic, as they want to hear from their constituents. Keep in mind that your time will be brief, so come prepared with talking points and a handout to leave behind with your main message.
A great way to follow what’s happening at the General Assembly and how it might affect you is to subscribe to the email service VANews, a service of the Virginia Public Access Project (vpap.org). You will receive a daily email with headlines and links to articles and opinion pieces about policymaking from news outlets all over the state. You can also sign up for weekly email updates from Voices for Virginia’s Children (vakids.org) to stay abreast of legislation dealing with early childhood, foster care, and mental health, among other issues. We send out alerts when we need child advocates to call or email their legislators about specific legislation.
Advocacy does not have to be complex or intimidating – it’s simply you exercising your right as a citizen and having a conversation to express your views to the person elected to represent you. You do not need to be an expert (although if you are raising children, you already have a great deal of expertise!). Just share your concerns and values, and know that your views as a constituent and voter are important to your legislator. Becoming an engaged child advocate is a New Year’s resolution we can all strive to keep.