Each year, Voices for Virginia’s Children hosts Advocacy Days during the General Assembly session in Richmond. Youth, parents, nonprofit partners, and community members take the opportunity to speak with their elected representatives on issues that matter to them. For many, it’s their first time engaging with a state senator or delegate. That experience can be intimidating, but every single person who has shown up for Advocacy Days has talked about realizing the power of their voice. We count that as a win.
At Voices, it’s our job to continue to provide opportunities and training so more people can share their stories to influence change.
Policy often feels like another world to a lot of people. That unfamiliarity can lead to intimidation, causing many not to use their voice or attempt to be a force of positive change. But the reality is that advocacy does not have to be scary. Your story – the summation of your life experiences, both good and bad – makes you qualified to be an advocate.
Right now, more people need to use their voices and be champions for our children. We want more parents and families to influence the process.
Heroism is not required to help build systems that work for people. It only requires your time and commitment to making change happen.
Here’s what you can do:
Call and email your representative.
Be positive, partisan, and personal. Keep it simple by focusing on one issue. You can look up your legislators and their contact information at WhosMy.VirginiaGeneralAssembly.gov.
Respond to an action alert.
Many advocacy organizations like Voices make it easy for you to fill out a form letter that is sent directly to your representative. It’s so simple, you can do it on your smartphone.
Educate and mobilize through digital and social media.
Galvanize supporters to take action through email, text, and blogs. Use your social media networks to spread the word about important legislation, especially as it comes closer to a vote.
Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed and it might be published.
Engaging your local newspaper and electronic media is an effective way to reach a large audience, raise awareness, and generate momentum for an issue. A letter-writing campaign to local media is also a great way to increase awareness about an issue.
Watch recordings or a live stream of House and Senate Committee meetings.
Learn about what’s happening in the General Assembly and help your family, friends, and colleagues learn, too. Tune in at VirginiaGeneralAssembly.Gov.
What’s your issue?
At Voices, our motivation for speaking up for the wellbeing of Virginia’s children and families is driven by the need to dismantle systems of racial, gender, and economic inequities that oppress, devalue, and leave families behind. This can motivate and move you to take action as well.
There are 2.6 million children and youth in Virginia. Yet, too many families struggle to meet their basic needs for food, housing, childcare, and healthcare. The poverty rate in Virginia is at 31 percent and has not improved in the last decade. As of May 2021, 39 percent of families experienced a loss of employment income due to the pandemic, but that number is 66 percent for Latinx families. Even more telling is the economic disadvantage of Black, Latinx, and multi-racial children who are more likely to live in poverty. In fact, 50 percent of Black children in Virginia live in poverty.
Be an advocate.
Living and working in Richmond, we have a front-row seat to the state legislature. Virginia’s General Assembly convenes this year on January 12, 2022, the second Wednesday in January. The hundred delegates and forty senators we elected to represent the residents of Virginia will review thousands of bills and the state’s next two-year budget, which determines the priorities for state spending on everything from schools to roads to the health of the environment – all in sixty days.
Advocacy Days are special events when people across the Commonwealth come together to discuss, learn, and network with elected officials on specific issues, but you can and should use your voice every day of the year.
If you need a place to start, check out the tools for advocates at VaKids.org, complete with talking points. There are plenty of ways to stay informed and engaged. Remember, whether you choose to take action individually or as part of a group, your efforts help influence change for the betterment of Virginia’s children. Your advocacy will be the difference for this generation and the next.
Photo: Samia Minnicks