15 Ways to Advocate for Entomology at the Local and State Level
By Ashley Kennedy, Ph.D., BCE-Intern
With so many pressing issues taking place at the federal level, maybe you’re wondering why it’s worthwhile to get involved in advocacy for science and entomology at a lower level of government. In fact, advocacy at the state and local level can be more effective and arguably more fulfilling for the following reasons:
More specific goals. Setting your sights on a local issue can translate to more attainable goals. Local issues tend to be less sullied by partisanship, so it’s easier to find allies to work with you toward a common purpose.
Bigger fish in a smaller pond. At the local level compared to national, any given constituent is empowered with a stronger voice for the simple reason that the pool of constituents is smaller. This means that local representatives are likely more accessible and more eager to hear what you have to say.
Grassroots change. Local action can be an effective way to tackle national issues when top-down action seems unlikely to move forward anytime soon. Solving a problem at a smaller scale can serve as a valuable example for other communities, and the approach could be “scaled up” to a higher level.
15 Ways to Get Involved at the State or Local Level
1. Attend town, city, or county council meetings. You don’t have to attend every one, but stay informed and show up especially when important issues come up.
2. Write a letter to the editor. Or write an op-ed. Last week here at Entomology Today, my fellow entomologist and science advocate Helen Spafford, Ph.D., offered advice on getting your perspectives published.
3. Follow your legislators on social media to stay informed on current issues. This is a great way to track their activities and communicate with them remotely in real time. Yes, you can tweet at them!
4. Invite your legislators on a tour of your workplace. More about this later. The next post in our series on entomology advocacy will share suggestions for earning a visit from your legislators and making it count.
5. Track your legislators’ voting records on sites such as Ballotpedia.org or OnTheIssues.org. If you approve of their vote on a given issue, it can’t hurt to reach out to thank them. Much of the correspondence they receive from constituents is negative, so sending a positive message can help you foster a good relationship and act as positive reinforcement for “good behavior.”
6. Show up to legislators’ coffee hours, breakfasts, and other informal town halls. This can be a less-daunting approach than meeting at their legislative office, and it still gives you valuable face-time with decision-makers.
7. Attend a school board meeting. Don’t have kids? Don’t let that hold you back—everyone benefits from working toward ensuring that the students in your community are getting a top-notch education.
8. Plan a trip to the state capitol to discuss a particular issue. If possible, go as a group and show up in matching T-shirts (see photo at the top of this post). Don’t underestimate the impact of demonstrating that you are a group unified for a common purpose.
9. Make yourself known as a go-to expert. After introducing yourself to a legislator or other politician, offer your availability as an authority on any entomology-related issue. Most politicians do not have a science advisor on staff, and many of them would be grateful to have access to one. Make sure to be responsive and non-confrontational in this role.
10. Join a committee, commission, task force, or working group. These groups often lack willing participants with the necessary background to make scientifically sound recommendations and could benefit greatly from your expertise.
11. Focus on local issues to foster greater connection. Local issues will resonate more strongly and are less likely to have controversy or partisanship associated with them, compared to issues on the national stage.
12. Practice your elevator pitch. It’s vital to deliver a summary of your research in a concise and easily understood manner. Relatively few legislators and legislative staff have a science background, so remember to avoid jargon and stick to the main points. They are usually pressed for time; don’t be surprised if they tune out after a few minutes’ discussion, which is why it’s important to start with the most important information you want to convey.
13. Circulate a petition. As every periodical cicada knows, there’s strength in numbers. A petition demonstrates that a particular issue is important not just to you but to the broader community. By itself, a petition drive may not be a strong tactic, but in concert with other action items on this list it can help to get across an important idea.
14. Contact neighbors. Chances are, if you’ve made it this far down this list, you’re already more involved in the process than many of your friends and neighbors are. Reach out to them to encourage them to follow your lead, particularly on quick, actionable items that can act as a “gateway” into greater advocacy efforts down the road.
15. Call your legislators to voice your opinion on issues. Calling is considered more impactful than email. Phone-shy? Don’t worry, these calls typically take less than a minute. Simply give your name and say that you are a constituent (you may be prompted for ZIP code or full address), then briefly explain why you are calling. Legislative staff will probably take down your comment without asking for additional detail.
Remember: Showing Up is Half the Battle
You’ve probably heard the old sayings, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” or “Decisions are made by people who show up.” But don’t forget the wisdom of Shirley Chisholm, who said “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
You might feel like an impostor at first, but remember that you are well within your rights to communicate with your representatives as often as you like. It’s your legislators’ job to represent you, and that starts with listening to your concerns.
Annals of the Entomological Society of America
Special Collection on Science Policy, March 2019
“Entomology Advocacy Week 2019,” August 18-24
Entomological Society of America
Ashley Kennedy, Ph.D., BCE-Intern, is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Postdoctoral Fellow at the Army Public Health Center’s Tick-Borne Disease Laboratory in Aberdeen, Maryland, and an ESA Science Policy Fellow. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.