What do I do now? Creating a personal legislative agenda

Note: This post was originally published on June 10, 2012, and discussed on air with Tony Trupiano on Monday July 9, 2012.

In writing this post it occurs to me that I don’t know enough about my fellow bloggers, activists, progressives, etc. I mean, I know pretty much what we all stand for and where we may differ in opinion, but I don’t your stories. How did you come to be a progressive? How did your values develop?

I grew up in a union family. And I mean UNION. My grandparents, great-grandparents, and great (grand?) uncles were active in the Flint Sit Down. Active to the point where they didn’t feel that they joined the union; they felt that the union joined them. Great grandpa and uncle Charlie were in the Hole, and my grandpa was on the outside because he wasn’t on shift when the guys went out. He stayed right outside the shops every day until the strike was over. My grandma stood with the Women’s Emergency Brigade, and later would refuse to talk about it because she said it was the most afraid she had ever been in her life and she didn’t want to relive it. Cruel irony since my grandfather could not stop talking about his great victory for labor. He was one of the few remaining active Sit Downers when he died in 2001.

And did I mention my dad was union, and his brothers and sisters were union? I grew up with a healthy appreciation for collective bargaining and organized labor. When I ran off to college at 18, there was no doubt that I’d end up in politics somewhere, and that I’d be fighting for labor. But short of becoming an elected politician or a union organizer, how would I do that?

That’s where the personal legislative agenda comes in.

Like I said, I don’t know your stories, but I’d bet that many of you come to political awareness through a cause. Like me it may be labor. It might be reproductive rights, voting rights, equality, urban renewal. Maybe a candidate brought you into it? Barack Obama, Jennifer Granholm, Howard Dean? But now that you’re here, what is your legislative agenda?

A legislative agenda is just like it sounds; a list of legislation that you care about. This could be,

  • Legislation that you support
  • Legislation that you oppose
  • Legislation that you would like to see introduced
  • Anything you want to keep an eye on

Creating this agenda allows you to take a proactive approach toward public policy. The agenda will become the foundation for your activism.

So how do we go about creating our agenda? Let’s start with keywords, and assume that your issue is public education in Michigan. Start with the Michigan Legislative Website; this site allows you to track legislation, contact your representative, and see audio/video of the legislature in action. Click through to see all of the options available to you.

Once you’re at the site you see you can search for bills or compiled laws, by number or by keyword. At this point it’s like any other search. For education your keywords might be,

  • Charter Schools
  • Cyber Schools
  • Public Schools
  • Education
  • Teacher
  • Students

The keyword “teacher” brings up 99 bills from the 2011 – 2012 session.

Now it’s time for you to do some digging. Click on the link of the bill you would like to learn more about. You will find bill sponsor, bill summary, status, and the text of the bill in pdf or html format. It doesn’t get any sexier than that.

During the legislative research phase you should be tracking what you find. A great way to do this is to use the worksheets from The One Hour Activist by Christopher Kush. That’s the link to the book itself, but you can click here to download the worksheets for free. I recommend the Bill Analysis Worksheet for bill research. It helps you track your findings, and helps you train yourself so that you know what to look for when you research a bill. You can download this worksheet here (pdf).

Once you’ve performed the research you can put together your legislative agenda. The Personal Legislative Agenda worksheet makes this a little easier. (click here for the pdf) This worksheet helps you track the description, and status of the bill, as well as the action you took to address the bill.

As you can see, one issue can be a very large issue and the research can take up a lot of time. This agenda-setting process should help get organized so that you can plan your work and track your progress.

If you have any questions, suggestions, etc., drop ‘em in the comments or call in to First Shift during the Blog Role segment at 8.35am.

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