Engaging with Policy-makers: Why, How and When?
At OurPledge, we may pride ourselves on thinking forward, embracing innovation and technology, but on Saturday 6 November at the Annual Climate Action day in Leytonstone, we’re going full trad by sponsoring stamps – those good ol’ lick’n’stick, ‘you can pay for a bus fare with those it’s legal tender’, tiny magic squares of yore. Indeed, no mass letter-writing event like this should be without them. But why write letters in the twenty-first century at all?
Indeed, in a world of communications immediacy, where abbreviations and emojis fly from platform to platform faster than a billionaire’s space rocket (lol, ?), it might well feel antiquated and laborious to write a letter. But at last year’s Climate Action event as my pen hovered above an empty page, I had a very different feeling than when a petitions website autofills my details. What did I want to say? And to whom?
Writing a letter is intimate. It’s personal, vulnerable and requires consideration. I had to ask myself what I wanted for the world, whether I was being reasonable, and who might have the power to answer my wish. I needed to understand who was speaking for me and what their jobs entailed. In the UK of course, we have our local councillors, Borough Mayors, MPs and in London, the London Mayor and Members of the London Assembly. In the devolved Nations we have MSPs and MSs. Who should I write to? And – as I admit I found myself asking – ‘would it do any good’?
How to engage
Over years of campaigning via various methods (petitions, marches, letters, tweets, protests), I’ve come to believe that personal engagement is key. Communication has an impact on both parties involved, and in the case of climate change, I’ve seen how individual stories and deeper conversations carry weight. There is a degree of preparation required to talk to representatives, and I find letters helpful with that: an opportunity to dig into the specifics of a subject, as well as the emotion. Identifying particular issues, articulating why they matter to me, illustrating their impacts and then offering solutions, is all part of my own education on the topics I care about. It means that if I have the opportunity to speak to a councillor or MP directly, I’m prepared to explain my position and back up my requests. It also helps me feel confident to ask questions – including how I can help them to champion the environment through their work.
Letters are a gateway to these conversations, an opportunity to take stock of your own position on a variety of topics so that you can be a true ambassador for a future you believe in.
When to engage
Whilst there is an urgent, constant and ongoing need to raise awareness of a multiplicity of climate issues, there are a few moments when outreach is key: particularly those moments when party or governmental policy is being shaped. Make note of when party manifestos are being written and take the opportunity to inform your local representatives what you’d like to see included. Be sure to mark upcoming elections in the calendar too – and use the time in the run-up to speak to local politicians about how you might vote and what might persuade you to vote for them. This way, you can also ensure to be registered for a postal vote if you are going to be away or unable to attend in person on the day. Look out for parliamentary bills that you may want your MP to support or resist, as well as EDMs (Early Day Motions) to be debated in the House of Commons which are often on topics of major cultural interest. There are also moments of global political importance such as COP26 for which there will be mass mobilisation by many organisations, but the key is to keep the pressure on even after the furore has died down. The devil is in the delivery and that’s where keeping abreast of Bills and Acts will come into its own. Don’t forget that you can often also feedback on local development plans and strategies, where promises made at summits are too often watered down to pacify developers and financiers. Where possible, meet your representatives face-to-face so you can ask them directly what they are doing to support the future of the planet. In an echo of the excellent #ChooseLocal shopping campaign, it works to start in your own community where your knowledge and experience are rooted and where you can see and affect change.
If you are local to Waltham Forest, Climate Action Day will be the perfect opportunity to get stuck in – and even to meet some local representatives there. We’ll be hosting a series of ‘get involved’ circles with a variety of organisations all with the shared mission of pressuring policy-makers to do better for the planet. If you’d like to get writing, all tools will be provided – ideas for topics, paper and pens, and oh yes – stamps!
A few tips
Letters can – and must – be personal. If you are writing via an automated website, take the time to adjust it to reflect your individual experience: I’ve heard first-hand that repeat letters have less of an effect. Also, don’t forget to put your address in your signature so that the recipient knows that you are within their jurisdiction (and also therefore a potential future voter). Where possible, use detail: demonstrate where any upcoming actions your local elected official takes might have an effect on you and the planet, and refer to laws, acts, manifesto promises, science or other reference material that may give them pause to reflect. If you feel comfortable, share your letter publicly online or via a shared link to your friends to give other people inspiration and information to write their own. It may seem like a small act, but letters can spark movements and movements create change, just see Martin Luther King’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail for an example: https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html
Climate Action Day is organised by St. John’s Church Leytonstone (@stjohnsleytonstone), XR Waltham Forest (@xrwalthamforest) and OurPledge (@ourpledgeuk). #ClimateActionDayE11