What is advocacy and to who does USS advocate?
Advocacy means trying to persuade a decision-maker, whether that person is a member of a legislature, like the City Council, State Assembly, and Senate, or United States Congress, or even the Board of Trustees, to enact legislation or policies favorable to your cause.
Why does USS advocate?
The decisions made by our elected representatives affect our daily lives. We advocate as a University Student Senate to ensure that the needs of our student body at CUNY are not left out during the decision-making process.
When does USS advocate?
Although the majority of our advocacy efforts occurs during the concurrent budget processes of both the city and state governments, advocacy is not limited to these timelines and successful advocacy is about developing personal and working relationships between the organization, USS, and the decision-makers.
Know The Issue
The first step is to know the issue. Two of the most commonly made mistakes while talking to a decision maker are:
1) talking in generalities and not about specific issues, and
2) introducing too many points into the conversation.
To avoid speaking in generalities, tell the decision maker what exactly you want them to do for you as a concerned constituent. Although most decision-makers may be hesitant to make a commitment on your issue, your direct advocacy might help the decision-maker learn about the issue and solutions--even if the decision-maker does not agree with your stance. Talking about too many points, on the other hand, may make it difficult for the decision maker to determine which issues are most important to you. Golden Rule: one issue, one request.
Once you know the issue, you need to identify target decision-makers that can champion your cause. Decision-makers prefer to talk to constituents and those directly affected by the issue you are advocating for. One of the easiest ways to cultivate a working relationship with decision makers is to learn who they are. We often tend to forget that behind the title, the decision-makers are people too! You can easily research your state legislator’s background information online. Find out if the legislator is a CUNY alumnus, or has kids in college or high school. Find a picture of them so you can spot them outside their offices and in large groups. Find out if the legislator has taken a position on the issue you are advocating for. Knowing ahead of time who you will be talking to and what, if any, values you and the decision-maker share, will help you narrow your conversation to the decision-makers’ points of interest. Note: Do not write-off talking to decision-makers who are of a different political party than you.
After talking with a decision-maker, whether it was a formal meeting or an informal conversation, you must follow-up with them. There are several different ways to follow up. You can send an email or written letter, you can schedule personal visits to their local offices, or you can even invite them to visit your campus. Your follow-up correspondence with the decision-maker should be brief, polite, and professional. Thank the decision-maker for taking the time to talk to you and jog their memory by summarizing the conversation. You should also remind the decision-maker about the specific request you made. The golden rule discussed above—one issue, one request—also applies to your follow-ups. Please be mindful that it is important to remain persistence when advocating for a cause. Decisions take time to develop and navigate the political process. Use frequent follow-ups to provide the decision-maker with updated information on your cause. This can help you and your cause remain on the decision-maker’s radar.