Our children need real food at school, and our representatives in Congress can make it happen. But they'll only do it if we tell them how the Child Nutrition Act personally affects real families in our communities.
Contacting your legislators is surprisingly easy. Don't worry if you've never done it before—most of us haven't. That's why it's important: most people don't speak up, so each person who does can have an impact. When you do contact your legislator, his or her staff may be surprised to hear you're paying attention, which gives you an advantage.
As few as ten unexpected phone calls can be enough to sway a legislator's vote. Can you get ten people to make a phone call? How about 50?
Telling your legislators what's important to you is one of the most powerful ways you can participate in our democracy – and it's even more powerful if you get everyone you know to follow your lead. Here's how to be an advocate for real food for lunch:
As soon as possible, write your legislator to let him or her know that real food is a priority in your district. To avoid security delays, send your letter to the legislator's district office (in your area). To find the office's address, go to http://congress.org and type in your zip code.
Keep your letter brief, clear and specific. In your own words, tell your legislator why you're writing (“I'm worried the food my daughter and her friends eat at school hurts their ability to succeed”) and what you're asking them to do (“Increase the reimbursement rate by $1.00 so that my daughter's school can start serving real food for lunch.”) Tell them why child nutrition is important to you personally, and what the Child Nutrition Act means for your local community.
If you're a parent, consider including a letter from your child, too. The letter should be brief, hand-written and in your child's own words.
NOTE: A great way to be a more effective advocate is to get your friends to write their own letters. Organize a house party or set aside some time at your next Eat-In planning meeting. Bring pens and paper, envelopes, stamps, the legislator's mailing address and a list of talking points.
Calling your legislator's staff in D.C. is a quick way to tell your legislator to vote for a specific bill or amendment. Before you call, take a few minutes to prepare. You won't have too long to make your case, so you want to be focused and compelling. It will help if you have our talking points in front of you. Be ready to tell the person who answers exactly what you want the legislator to do.
You can find your legislator's phone number on http://www.house.gov or www.senate.gov. When the receptionist answers,
You might find that the person you're talking to isn't familiar with the issue. Take the opportunity to educate him or her and to explain our position. You might also find that the staff person asks a question you can't answer off the top of your head. That's okay. Say, “I don't know, but I can look into it and send you information.” Follow up promptly. Phone calls are a great way to build a relationship with your legislator's staff, which can make you an important advocate. In the future, the staff may rely on you for information.
There's strength in numbers. At a planning potluck or at your Eat-In, ask people to take out their cell phones and call your legislator. Have talking points, the bill number and your “ask” ready for everyone. Make the calls brief, and leave quick messages, but don't stop trying until every person has reached a staff person or left a voicemail.
As you build a relationship with a legislator's staff, you may decide that you're ready to take your advocacy to the next level by arranging for an in-person meeting. Bring three or four of your group members – and their children - to meet a staff person at the district office to discuss the importance of child nutrition as part of school lunch programs.
To schedule a meeting or an appearance, call the legislator's district office and ask to speak with the scheduler. Ask that person for the information he or she needs and for the best way to send it, e.g. by sending an email, a fax, a letter, etc.
If you are arranging for an in-person meeting at the district office, refer to the guidelines on page 14 of the Community Food Security Coalition's Advocacy Handbook.
Following the same steps, reach out to your legislator's office to invite him/her to your Eat-In.
If you're successful in getting a legislator to attend your Eat-In, he/she will want to give a speech, regardless of what you want him/her to say. At the Eat-In, introduce the legislator in such a way that he/she has to respond to your agenda. Put “It's time for lunch” or “One dollar for each child” on a big piece of paper and ask the legislator to sign it. (Then, get everyone to cheer.) For photos, get your legislator in front of a “Time for Lunch” banner.
To find your legislators’ addresses, visit http://congress.org and type in your zip code.
Remember that politicians work for you.