Community Advocacy: Make your voice count

Community Advocacy:  Make your voice count
Your public comment can make a difference, especially if it's in your own words.

We have all been there...thinking this is the year to air your public support for issues which matter to you. If you are anything like me the focus an issue requires serious soul searching for putting your heart on your sleeve. In order to demonstrate your participation in democracy sometimes it is necessary to put a voice to what is keeping back progress.

Becoming civically involved can happen in many different ways. One might receive an email asking to support a Call To Action for an advocacy organization for a specific concern. Or maybe filling out a survey with auto-fill prompts with our addresses on letters sent out by national advocacy groups which add our names as voices for public comments regarding social justice impacts, environmental justice campaigns, along with issues for public lands and wild life concerns. By signing these forms and adding our names to the list of supporters are we really making a difference?

In order for your public comment to gain active support for grassroots campaigns we, the public, must be very specific about the issues which impact our families and communities. Any issue which needs support should gain public comment in high volumes versus the opposing team.

Flooding leaders with form letters does one thing: it groups the concerns of the individuals as one concern under a single cloud for a group creating one main response for many voices. Read that again. On the website for the Bureau of Land Management indicates the amount of responses doesn't really matter. A lot depends on whether or not a democrat or a republican is debating the issue. Democrats look at the product of X results from evidence based data to support the critical points of their position. Public comments and polls guide the decision making especially if it is for the benefit of a whole or the public gained support. While Republicans support big industry ideologies and the efforts of timber, oil, mining impacts.

“The NEPA public comment process requires the proponent agency to respond to the issues raised by public comments,” says Jeff Ruch, Pacific director at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “One letter raising five issues will require the agency to respond to each of those issues. By contrast, if you have 100 comments raising the same issue, the agency needs to respond to that one issue only.

For example, BLM received 17,200 comments from form letters against opening the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska for drilling by ConocoPhillips Willow Project. But the agency counted all 17,200 as a single comment because they essentially say the same thing.

The BLM recommends that public comments on proposed rules be specific, confined to issues pertinent to the agency’s proposal, and explain any changes the writer would endorse. They also recommend referencing the particular section or paragraph that your comment addresses. Physical letters may have the most weight, because of the time they take. Other comments with impact are those that are original and supported by quantitative information or studies, and that include citations and analysis of applicable laws or regulations. People can use these guidelines to edit form letters before sending, picking out what resonates most and rewriting them in their own words in a few sentences. It might take a few minutes longer, but the difference can be large.

NGOs should also be aware that when and how the form letters are delivered can make a difference. “If you deliver them as one big file, then they are going to count as one, but if people send individual emails, then they count those separately,” says Manuel (Polley, Sierra Club).

One of the biggest ways to gain support is to have a community team who is civically engaged. This team will be trained on the issue at hand. They will have access to information for awareness and educating their communities and build a voice to support a bill which benefits whole communities. Learning the government process has created positive shifts for the land and its people. Those of us who work in these circles of gaining advocacy and support know things do not change over night. Positive shifts in communities require positive policies.

New Mexico Legislature has two bodies of government: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives has a membership of 70 members & the Senate has a membership of 42 members. The legislature meets each year on the third Tuesday in January for either a 60 day session (long session; odd years) or a 30 day session (short session; even years). A 60 day session considers all matters. A 30 day session is usually limited, budgets and items placed on the Governor's agenda, referred to as "Governor's Call".

3 Steps to Make Your Public Comment Count

  1. Be specific. What are you responding to? What do you want?
  2. Use data. Can you back up your argument? Include the source of your information.
  3. Be original. Use your own words to explain why the issue matters to you. 

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