The ASPCA encourages everyone to be active in the political process by participating in local meetings hosted or attended by your elected officials on the municipal, state and federal levels. These meetings are likely to take place in convenient settings, and their formats should encourage you to ask about a lawmaker’s position, thoughts, past actions or future plans regarding a specific matter or concern. Whether it’s a formal Q&A held at your local library or a more casual get-together at a coffee shop, you can help give animal-protection issues a higher profile by seeking out and attending these local events.
How to Find the Meetings
You can quickly identify who represents you in your state legislature and in Congress by using the ASPCA’s handy Look Up Your Legislator feature. Click through to your legislators’ websites and Facebook profiles—you’ll likely discover that you can sign up to receive announcements directly from them. If that’s not an option, however, you can stay on top of local events by reading your community’s newspaper and frequently checking your legislator’s website for updates.
If you are able to go to a meeting or Q&A with your legislator, try to bring along friends or family members who also care about animal issues. Showing legislators that there are multiple constituents who are concerned about an issue will help that issue to stick in their minds—remember, politicians are constantly aware that constituents equal votes.
How to Participate
Your goals will likely be to make the lawmaker aware that as a constituent, you care about a certain animal welfare matter; to ask him or her to take the same position; and to encourage him or her to help introduce, pass or defeat a measure (as appropriate).
Public speaking is not easy for many people—but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Even if you are a bit nervous asking your question, remember that everyone has to start somewhere!
Here are some sample questions to show you how easy it can be:
For a member of the U.S. Congress:
"Congressman, I am concerned about our nation's horses. What is your position on the horse slaughter issue? Would you be willing to cosponsor the bill that would permanently ban horse slaughter in the United States?"
For a state legislator:
"Senator, our state still allows dog racing even though the dogs are treated inhumanely. Are you in favor of ending dog racing in our state?"
"Representative, dogs in puppy mills deserve to be treated humanely, not just as products for sale. Do you support setting standards and limits on puppy mill operations?"
For municipal officials:
"Our town’s animal shelter is in terrible condition. What can you do about it?"
If you attend one of these meetings, be prepared by employing the following strategies that will help you to be heard:
1. Brevity is all-important, so work on your potential comments ahead of time and be sure that you’ll be able to offer a tight, focused presentation. (For example, use one of our Advocacy Alert to provide you with talking points.) Legislators have limited time in those meetings and what will get their attention is a brief, relevant question with one vivid, short example.
2. Clearly and concisely explain the issue and ask the legislator if he or she is aware of the matter and what steps are being taken to address it. Be specific. Do you want him to cosponsor a bill, state his position, make a vote for or against a measure or take some other action to get a bill enacted?
3. Always be polite, clear, unemotional and professional—and do not be surprised if the legislator is not aware of the issue at all. If necessary, ask the lawmaker to get back to you with the information you requested.
4. Provide your name, contact information and question on a piece of paper. Do not overload your legislator with written material; one page of well-honed information is more likely to be read.
5. If the public official wants more information that you do not have, or has questions to which you do not know the answers, simply respond that you don’t know but will get that information—and then make sure you do get back to him or her in a timely manner. For more information on a subject, visit ASPCA.org.
6. Regardless of whether the legislator is focused and/or interested in what you have to say, please be sure to thank him or her for this opportunity.
7. If the legislator appears to have staffers with him, try and introduce yourself and get their business cards. Staff assistants are key people when a legislator is making a political decision. If you get them on your side, it can really further your efforts!
If members of the media happen to be in attendance and ask you for a statement afterwards, proceed with caution. Do not bash a legislator who does not agree with you. Focus on the importance of the issue and diplomatically indicate that you are hopeful that with constituent pressure the legislator will come to see the value of that issue. Remember, today’s opponent may be tomorrow’s ally, so never burn bridges or close doors. Legislators are people, too!
1. Ask for a private meeting to discuss the matter further. Send a letter reminding the legislator of your interest and question, or call her office a few days later for more information. Please read our article Working With Your Elected Officials for advice on how to prepare for a meeting with your legislator.
2. Keep an eye on your local media (newspapers and television) to see if the meeting has been covered. If you see that a newspaper covered the meeting but did not report on your issue, take the time to draft a brief Letter to the Editor, pointing out that the importance of furthering animal protection was also mentioned at the meeting.
3. When an official takes a position, either pro or con, please share that information with us.
4. If the legislator ultimately does the right thing, a phone call to thank her for a job well-done will go a long way to keeping the door open for your next effort.
For more tips on lobbying and advocating for animals in your community, please visit our Lobbying 101 section.