How to Talk With Your Legislative Officials

This week’s blog is a guest post written by Paloma M., a Brookies alumni. Paloma enjoys environmental and climate studies. She is graduating high school in 2024 and loves informing those around her about the latest news about our planet, with an emphasis on politics and media. She attended Wildlife Leadership Academy to get out into the world and learn more about the environment she was reporting on.

Reaching out to local leaders can be intimidating. I mean, they’re the figures you see on TV and hear about in the news. They’re a big deal, and you want to make sure you’re making the right impression and asking the right questions when you meet them. When I joined WLA two years ago, this process seemed unfathomable to me. How did someone have the confidence to do that sort of thing and not feel embarrassed or scared? But that changed once I talked with our long time WLA Volunteer, Sharon Rathi.

Sharon has been with WLA for 16 years since Bucktails was first established and has watched the program grow into what it is today. Everyone who’s gone through WLA has spoken to or seen her at some point in time, making her a familiar figure among students and staff. Sharon quickly got me in touch with Jen Quinn, who is the Legislative and Political Director for the Sierra Club. Her job revolves around endorsing political candidates, working with volunteers, and advocating for state level environmental issues (think DCNR, State Officials, and the Shapiro Administration) in Harrisburg, PA. Her job was exactly what I feared doing and, after a short interview with both, I knew all I needed to know regarding getting in touch with our legislative officials.

First, there are so many ways to get in touch with elected officials. The different responses Jen and Sharon gave me shows this clearly. While Sharon usually publishes letters in the local newspaper or calls an official’s office, Jen mentioned the ease of access online to legislative officials too, pointing out how the Sierra Club will usually email or call officials. Alongside that, it is also easy to send an email through an official’s website if it’s difficult to get in touch with them. All of this can be easily accessed through a quick google search, and the offices of legislative officials are usually more than happy to help direct you to the best method for you.

When asked how they decide what they’re going to say to officials, both Sharon and Jen had very interesting advice. Sharon will make sure that she’s getting the best information possible. “We can usually get a summary of the proposed legislation from the Power Team leader [Sierra Club] or Jen Quinn, so we can create our message from the information, have the correct bill #, etc.” she told me in an email interview conducted in July of 2023. “I also receive similar info from other environmental organizations, like PennFuture.” Jen had something similar to say, having an emphasis on background research. However, when we met on zoom, Jen also mentioned that legislators are human, just like us. This enables you to “[try] to make that connection”, creating a bond with legislative officials.

Jen and Sharon also agreed with one key point: Teenagers and younger constituents should be reaching out to their legislative officials. As Jen told me, “They should know what matters to you. They should know who you are.” Sharon also told me something similar, stating: “As people who will be inheriting the planet and living with what has been done, good or bad, it is important that students start reaching out early, even before they are voting age.” “There is no reason to be intimidated. The only difference between them and us is that they ran for office” Jen said as we concluded our interview. Sharon said “Think of what you want to say and research so you have facts on your side” and, as both of them said, go for it!

As I learned through the experience of writing this, you don’t know until you try. So go out and give it your best shot. Show your local politicians and elected officials what matters to you so that they can make the best educated decisions in the halls of congress.

The photo used in this blog was sourced from the internet. It can be found here.