This is post 2 of 2 in "Advocating for Our Environment by Engaging with Our Government."
Engaging with government processes can be daunting, especially if we don't understand all of the opportunities and tools available to us. But it's imperative that we use our power as citizens of a constitutional republic to speak up for wildlife and wildlands across the continent. In this series, you'll learn about why advocating for our environment matters and how to effectively engage with our government to effect change. You'll also learn about local opportunities to take action for the wild creatures and places we all love. All posts in this series…
Your Voice is Your Influence
What if you had a personal relationship with those you voted to represent you? How would your life and the lives of those around you (both human and non-human) be different if you told your lawmakers exactly what you wanted, and pressed them to uphold your priorities in their decision-making?
As it stands, most Americans stop participating in democracy after the polls close on Election Day. In fact, very few people even exercise their right to vote, with a national average of fewer than 15% of eligible citizens participating in local elections.
We have the opportunity to speak for the wild creatures who can’t speak for themselves by engaging in governmental processes to advocate for laws, rules, and decisions that will benefit them.
Our democratic republic was conceived to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” If you want change, you are the best person to voice your priorities and concerns to your elected officials and thereby influence change. You are a stakeholder in the work of your elected officials. As citizens participating in government, we legitimize the Founding Fathers’ “by the people” ideal, we strengthen the voice of citizens in lawmaking, and we exercise a right granted to us to influence the actions and decisions of our government.
Talk about power! We can use the power of our voices to speak up for not only national issues like healthcare, immigration, and gun reform, but we can defend wildlife and wildlands as well. We have the opportunity to speak for the wild creatures who can’t speak for themselves, protecting their habitats, their resources, their very lives by engaging in governmental processes to advocate for laws, rules, and decisions that will benefit them.
How Do You Start Advocating for the Environment?
Consider the environmental issues that hit home for you. Do you want your state wildlife agency to protect more than just game species? Do you want your federal government to adhere to the mandates of the Endangered Species Act? Do you want clean water and air in your local communities? Do you want your community to start depending on renewable, sustainable resources like solar power? Start conversations with others in your community about these issues. Learn more about the traditional channels of citizen engagement, and research and plan opportunities to talk to your elected officials.
In every region of this country, you’ll find opportunities to speak in defense of wildlife and our shared environment. Wildlands Network—and our partners—can be a conduit between you and your government; we are working to mobilize people like you to use your voice for wildlife and wildlands.
On your own, it can be hard to talk to your elected officials. Your local government provides you with opportunities to talk to your lawmakers, but often these opportunities can be hard to find—they’re often underpublicized and under-attended. And while all state and federal governmental agencies have websites where they post citizen engagement opportunities, the information on these websites can sometimes be outdated or not adequately promoted.
However, other digital resources can better connect you with your community and provide platforms for organizing. Social networks, digital media outlets, and organizational newsletters are great tools to learn about public meeting announcements, citizen engagement events, and grassroots movements. They are also good tools to foster robust and instant discourse about a wide range of issues. For these reasons, acquainting yourself with a few of these digital tools can make advocacy easier.
A word of caution: While all politically engaged citizens in the 21st-century should use technology as a catalyst for taking action, we should also be discerning about political content we come across on the internet. We should identify the partisan bias of news and media outlets and protect ourselves from falling into fake news traps by critically examining the source of the content and conducting independent research.
Here are several digital tools and tips, and specific digital resources that will get you plugged into your elected officials and on the road to more effective advocacy.
Building Your Environmental Advocacy Toolbox
There are several great ways to use the internet to stay abreast of environmental legislation. Here are my favorite ways to use the internet to keep me informed of opportunities to engage with my government and speak up for wildlife and the environment.
- Sign up for mailing lists from governmental agencies. You will get regular news from the agency delivered to your inbox. In most cases, you can decide which information you would like to receive. This Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) email list sign-up is one way to make sure you don’t miss any wildlife decisions in Washington state.
- Sign up for e-newsletters from non-governmental organizations. NGO newsletters can be full of advocacy opportunities. Become a supporter of a science or policy group—like Wildlands Network!—staffed with experts on the issues you care about. These groups are removed from the political stage, which means they are free to pursue their mission without having to answer to taxpayers and vye for reelection. These groups often collaborate with governments, so they can connect you with your lawmakers.
- Follow your representatives on social media. I’ve found that elected officials tend to be the most active on Twitter, where you can see how other constituents are reacting to posts and follow the conversations that arise in response to your lawmakers’ tweets in real time. You can also tweet directly at your lawmakers, and multiply your sentiment by coordinating mass tweets to raise awareness about an issue.
- Follow non-governmental organizations and advocacy groups on social media. This will help you stay in-the-know about community events focused on the issues you care about. Social media will also plug you into other digital campaigns, like fundraisers and days of action.
- Set up Google alerts on your representative’s name, or keywords relevant to issues you care about. Google will send you a list of all news that contain your Google alert keyword. For example, I might set up a Google alert for “Canadian lynx” if I am following conservation planning for the species in Washington. Google then delivers media stories on Canadian lynx right to my Gmail inbox. You can stay on top of news about your representatives by making their name your Google alert keyword.
- Join Facebook groups of people in your discussing the issue you care about. A few quick searches, or a referral from a friend, is all you need to connect with a community of other advocates and begin organizing. Be conscious of what you share and how you post in these groups. Oversharing creates a lot of noise, and may drown out organizing plans or useful information. Sharing and reposting news content without critically examining the source can lead to disreputable content being shared, thereby discrediting the group.
Environmental Advocacy Resources in Washington
Now that you have your digital tools in order, here are some digital resources specific to Washington that you can use to learn about legislation. If you do not live in Washington, do not fear! Chances are you can find similar resources on your state legislature’s website and your state’s wildlife agency page.
- Find your Washington state legislator using this online tool. You put in your address, and it spits out the names of your district’s senators and representatives, with convenient links to their contact information.
- Familiarize yourself with this Citizen’s Guide to Effective Legislative Participation from the Washington State Legislature. It is a great how-to for effective letter writing, making public comments, and setting up personal visits with lawmakers.
- Check out the list of wildlife bills currently in the Washington state legislature. When you click each link, you will find background information on the legislation and whether there is a public comment period.
- Access meeting minutes and agendas from WDFW Commission meetings online, or attend these meetings in person. The public is allowed to attend certain Department meetings and listen without providing input. Observing these meetings will give you insight into new projects and inform your perspective in conversations you have with officials.
- Attend WDFW’s Open House on Wednesday, December 12 in Issaquah, Washington. You’ll have an opportunity to discuss Washington’s wildlife with new WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. Immediately prior to the Open House, join Wildlands Network and our partners for an event that will shine a light on some of the concerns around Washington’s wildlife, including wild wolves and orca whales.
More posts from Advocating for Our Environment by Engaging with Our Government
- Shaping Our Environment by Engaging with Our Government, November 30, 2018
- Advocacy in the Digital Age: Using Technology to Defend the Wild, December 10, 2018