Friday, January 11, 2019

Time for the Hard Work

WE emailed. We wrote. We phoned. We visited.

We walked. We chanted. We visited. We emailed. We wrote. We phoned. We told our stories, and we advocated for our classrooms.

We voted.

AND NOW, if you haven't already, it's time for the hard part: building a lasting relationship with your legislators...whether you agree on every point or not.

A positive relationship. One built on a sliver of agreement, on common values, common goals.

Even if we fundamentally disagree with policymakers' stances on the issues we care about, we must FIRST create a space where we can smile, shake hands, and yes, even hug occasionally.

And lucky for us, we teachers are masters of building positive, cordial relationships with people. People we sometimes deeply disagree with. People over whom we have the power of the grade, people over whom we have no power.

Teachers are experts at creating positive, working relationships...with students (some of whom do not want to cooperate), with parents (some of whom are neglectful, disinterested, overwhelmed, defeated...some of whom are aggressive, interfering, meddling, pushy...some of whom are grateful, receptive, cooperative, helpful.), colleagues (some of whom...**see above), and administrators (some of whom are beaten down, fearful for their jobs, confused, overwhelmed, helpful, responsive, and just as confused as we often are). This is what we do. This is who we are.

Now, it's time to work to create that same cordial, working relationship with your State Representative and Senator.

To reach out. To introduce yourself. To share your issues, interests, goals.

Now, it's time to find the time to LISTEN to your lawmakers' concerns, issues, interests, goals. Find out what their legislative passions are...their expertise. Find ways to find the intersections between your passions and goals, and theirs.

But this is what we do every day, for a living. We use our skills to build community. We find ways to make misunderstandings and disagreements into opportunities for more talk, more listening. We find ways to ultimately put aside some of those disagreements for a time to find other common ground.

We use our skills to confront disagreements when that's important to confront with respect and assertiveness. We state our case with facts and, yes, stories. But we listen as well.

For some, the experience during the Walk Out was the first time we'd actively advocated. We found there was a lot we had to learn...but we're teachers! We are life-long learners. We learned to navigate the OK Legislature site...we learned about deadlines and how to get to the Gallery. We learned that the Sergeants at Arms are friendly but firm. We learned how to find legislator's offices. We learned about Legislative Assistants and their power. We learned where the bathrooms were. We learned where to park. We learned about the power of our votes.

We voted in the primary, and Platform Caucus members fell.

We voted in the run-offs, and Platform Caucus members fell.

We voted in the general election, and elected 57 new legislators.'s time to turn from campaigning to advocacy. To informing and learning. To sharing and listening. To informing...and learning and listening.

How to start?

Do you know the names of your State Rep and Senator? Do they know your name?

Have you ever met (outside the halls of the Capitol) face to face? Have you sat down in a coffee shop, or in their office in the district? Just to share and to learn?

Do you know their Legislative Assistant? Have you introduced yourself to these gatekeepers? Think, 'principal's secretary' and you see the power of these devoted public servants. They are loyal to their bosses, and they know and understand the issues as well as many of their bosses. If we're rude to their bosses, they remember. They take that personally.

Have you sent an email, congratulating your lawmakers on their election? Have you asked for a short meeting one weekend, or a Friday afternoon when they're not in session?

Have you called their office?

Have you sent a personal, snail-mail letter? 

If you haven't, could you find time between now and February when Session begins to make that first contact...low key, low-emotion. Just a friendly gesture.

Remind them you'll be paying attention during the'll be watching education bills. You'll be contacting them to advocate for or against certain legislation. Volunteer to be a contact for education policies and how they play out in the classroom...share your stories.

But do it now, before the Session revs up and there's little time for relationship-building. Think about the beginning of the year or semester...we invest time into creating the climate of our classroom, because we KNOW it will pay dividends in the future. We can count on those relationships when feelings are hurt, or misunderstandings arise. We've got that foundation of trust. This is what we do for a living.

All I'm suggesting to you now, is to turn your skills and talents and experience into the climate-building with your lawmakers.

Talk to them about what you care about...but listen. Listen to understand, not to refute or disagree, or to educate. Listen to start building the next conversation, and the next, and the next. Listen. Take notes.

Follow up.

And assure them you will be paying attention and you'll be in contact with them.

Aren't registered to vote? Shhh, don't tell me, and go to the OK Election Board and take care of that right now. Lawmakers have access to voters rolls...NOT HOW we vote, but if we're registered. will let them (and all of us) know IF we vote, NOT HOW we vote. Lawmakers check to see if constituents who contact them are registered voters, and if we're regular voters. That makes sense, and it hurts our credibility if we aren't registered, or if we don't vote. SO, take care of that! Right away!

Don't know your lawmakers? That's OK...for now. Shhh, don't tell me you don't know, and quick, check this site...type in your address and you'll find your Senator and Rep...right at the bottom of the page.

Click on their picture, and you'll go to their page. You'll find their office number, and a link to email. You'll see a link to their page...and on that page you'll find a biography and other information that will help you find those commonalities.

Call. Email.

Introduce yourself...ask for a quick meeting. Tell them your only agenda is to have the two of you get to know each other.

Then follow up with a quick note.

Check to see if they have a social media presence...FaceBook? Twitter? Follow them, like their pages. Some lawmakers are active on social media; some are not. But check.

Then, stay involved...Know you'll never agree on everything. But know your influence is more likely to matter if you've built that foundation first.

The work you've put in, to reaching out, to creating a relationship, to extending respect, to sharing your issues, will pay off.

Need an example? Here's a note my friend, Christie, is sending to her legislators...Quick, positive, sharing something she values highly.  Opening up the conversation...inviting participation.

We've got this.

We're teachers and we build relationships for a living.

No comments:

Post a Comment