How to get involved this legislative session
Becoming involved in the Oklahoma legislative process is not as hard as you may think. Just a few simple actions can make a difference in whether a bill gains support or not.
Bailey Perkins, an Outreach and Legislative Liaison with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said the first step is finding what you’re passionate about.
- Find your passion, find your people
Understanding the legislative process as a single voter can become confusing or overwhelming, so participation in an organized group can bring focus to the specific issues you care about. Whether it’s through a Facebook group or a weekly meeting at a friend’s home, more people make for louder voices.
“Are you passionate about education? The environment? Criminal justice reform? There are several organizations throughout the state who do policy, advocacy, and research,” Perkins said. “The first step is finding an organization who follows this stuff, and will help you get educated about these issues and find out what’s going on.”
Organizations such as Voices Engaged in Civic Education or Together Oklahoma exist to inform Oklahoman voters on a nonpartisan platform, tackling singular issues to consolidate time and energy. These organizations, Perkins says, are extremely helpful in making an effective difference.
- Find your legislators on Twitter and Facebook
The second step is to utilize social media to your advantage. “Legislators are using social media now more than they ever have, because it has become such a wide tool to connect with people and have a larger platform,” Perkins said.
Whether you follow your legislator on Twitter or Instagram, or friend them on Facebook, commenting on your legislator’s posts keeps your representatives and senators aware that their constituents are paying attention. A constituent is someone who lives in the represented area of an elected official. For example, if you live in the same district as Oklahoma City Community College, you are a constituent of Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City and Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City.
You can find your elected officials at oklegislature.gov by using their “Find My Legislator” tool.
- Meet with your representatives
If you have time during session, or any time during the semester, make an appointment to meet with your lawmaker. The millennial generation often succumbs to political complacency due to busy work schedules and full time study. Despite the busy schedule, Perkins said, the young voice needs to be heard.
“College students have a perspective that legislators need to know, and they shouldn’t be afraid to share that,” Perkins said. “It’s not speaking to someone superior to you, it’s speaking to someone who works for you, who is supposed to represent you. They need to hear what you have to say.”
When a constituent calls to schedule a meeting with their legislator, they should use the buzzwords, “I am a constituent of Rep. X or Sen. Y.” These words act as a “golden ticket” to securing a meeting with a legislator, because legislators prefer to only meet with their own constituents.
Perkins emphasized the importance of building a productive relationship with your legislator, rather than a tumultuous one.
“Sometimes, in those meetings, that legislator is not going to agree with your viewpoints. That’s something you should prepare for, but not be angry at,” she said. “It’s important to keep your cool. Share your view, but share it in a way that is productive so that bridges are not burned.”
If you do not have time during your semester to meet with a legislator, Perkins said “it is totally okay to call or email a legislator,” but that it’s important for a college student to have a specific purpose when calling or emailing their elected official. “Give them something actionable that you want them to do, such as ‘I want you to vote yes’ or ‘I want you to vote no’ or ‘I want to see a bill about this.’”
- Follow what’s going on in the legislature
After you find your passion and personally connect with your legislators, the final step is to follow the status of issue-specific bills as they make their way through the house and senate.
All the committee meetings and budget hearings are recorded live on the oksenate.gov and okhouse.gov websites. If you do not have time to watch the livestream, there is a feature on both government websites that will send you updates about individual bills.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute also has a daily newsletter called “In The Know,” which briefs subscribers about Oklahoma policy-related news and legislative information.
Though it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the entire political process, taking these small steps can simplify your efforts toward passing legislation that is representative of the people.