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Advice for First-Time Activists: Pick a Passion and Meet Lawmakers Face to Face

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Protesters demonstrate against (left) and for (right) a bill regulating abortions in 2013.

If you've never watched the Texas legislative process before, heading to the Capitol for the first time can be daunting. Connecting with existing groups could be the best way to get involved with the process.

“Don’t feel like you have to become an expert yourself,” said Ann Beeson, director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning state policy think tank. “There are lots of organizations out there that that’s their job, and they can help you both really understand policy issues and develop talking points.”

Constituents who focus on just one or two issues are the most effective advocates, she said.

“Get clear on what issues you’re most passionate about and identify organizations that align with those interests, that work on those interests, and that believe in your values and connect with them,” she said.

Emily Cook, political director of Texas Right to Life, agrees that keeping activists focused on a single issue has worked well for the anti-abortion movement, whose members are very active and engaged.

“I just got out of a meeting with a state representative and he said, ‘I signed on to one of your bills because I had several constituents call or email or ask about this specific bill,’” she said.

Activists across the political spectrum say the best way to get lawmakers to listen is to meet with them face to face. To do that, Kelly Darby started a group called Texans Focus on Children in early January to advocate for increased funding of Child Protective Services.

She and a few friends from her neighborhood got together and decided on a mission and a name. “We started out on Facebook, just recruiting our own friends and family members,” she said.

What's important for people who are becoming newly engaged is to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. - Ann Beeson, Center for Public Policy Priorities

One of their first actions was to testify before the Senate Finance Committee in late January.

“It was so exciting,” she said. “Once we learned that the Senate Finance Committee was meeting, I encouraged everyone to put their own testimony together and to come down with us.”

Beeson said she is encouraged by the groundswell of activism she is seeing around Texas, but she's worried about burnout.

“What’s important for people who are becoming newly engaged is to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint,” she said.

In addition to looking for groups that align with your interests, Beeson suggested searching for advocacy days at the Legislature. These are gatherings at the Capitol that give people the chance to show their support for a cause without having to commit to an organization.  

Kate Groetzinger is a part-time reporter at KUT. She comes to us from Quartz, a digital media publication based in New York City, where she served as an Atlantic Media fellow. Prior to working at Quartz, Kate graduated from Brown University with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Brown, Kate served as an intern at Texas Monthly. Her work has been published online by Texas Monthly, CultureMap Austin, The Atlantic, Quartz, The Gotham Gazette and Paste Magazine, and in print by Rhode Island Monthly. She is happy to be back in her home state reporting on news for her fellow Texans.
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