Participating in government can be intimidating. Until I started working as a legislative aide in January of this year, I hadn't thought about the legislative process since I had to take the U.S. Constitution test my senior year of high school. My interest peaked during the heightened participation, and calls to action by the 99 percent, marriage equality activists and Hawaii Food Policy Council. People hold the power, but some of us become overwhelmed, disappointed and apathetic about participating because of our own personal or cultural reasons.
The only way to improve our government system and realize positive changes is to stay vigilant and participate. I am no expert on the subject, but I do have experience participating in government both as a civilian and an employee. The following are some tips that I have picked up to help clarify the legislative process and effectively communicate your concerns to our lawmakers.
1. Visit the Public Access Room in the Hawaii State Capitol, Room 401. They can provide you with a wealth of information about the legislative process. Here they can support people who would like to introduce their own bills and teach how to track bills. You can also use this space (for legislative purposes only) to submit testimony, organize groups and learn timesaving tips.
2. Pre-write testimony on a heading so that you can submit them on time. Register on the Hawaii State Legislature webpage and use the tools available to track the bills that matter most to you, and submit testimony before the hearing. For a bill to be passed, it has to be heard at committee hearings. If your bill is not being heard, take the time to individually contact each member of the first committee it is assigned to and your representative.
3. Whether you support or oppose a bill, contact your representative by email or phone. In the email subject, write if you are a constituent (if not, there is no need to add that information in the subject) the bill number and whether you stand in support or opposition.
4. Be respectful always. If you are really angry about an issue, go ahead and write a wildly angry email, let it all out -- then trash it. The emails that are most effective are respectful from start to finish.
5. Find the legislators that are already supporting your causes and ask them how you can be supportive. This is most effective if you are their constituent.
6. Take the time to dig deep into the issue you are concerned about; the more valuable information you have the better. In your emails, include links to studies, articles or bills that have passed in other states that support your cause.
7. Be creative about how you advocate. For example, if you would like to see the SB2561 Relating to Cottage Foods to be heard, bring your homemade baked goods to the health committee members as an example and tell them about the jobs you could create by being able to sell these goods from your home.
8. Incorporate our youth! Nothing melts hearts faster than watching a child give testimony on a bill that will directly affect them. Our young adults have a powerful voice too and draw attention.
9. Set priorities and keep your messaging consistent. If you become attached to too many bills you may lose your focus and your mind while trying to keep up with the tracking process.
10. Most importantly, for your own health and well-being, keep your message positive. If you are constantly on the "anti" side of the argument without promoting, researching and participating in viable solutions, you will burn out. There is definitely a time and a place for protest but be sure to also explore and share solutions and innovative ideas.
I hope the following tips inspire you to participate in our democracy!