How to talk to elected officials

This is a guide on how to sound credible when you talk to elected officials. Remember, they work for you!

People working to pass SAFE policies will talk to elected officials – or other people with rule-making power –through public testimony, in meetings, emails, and letters with electeds, in rallies, etc. No matter how you are speaking with people with rule-making power, there are guidelines and tactics that are important to use.

Know your goal and your audience:

Have specific goals for each communication and tailor your message.

  • Decide the goal of your communication, whether it’s to persuade elected officials to change their minds, make sure they know that the community will support them if they take bold action, get their position on the record, or some other strategic step.
  • Decide which rule-makers you need to talk with and tailor your message to them.
    • Find any good climate and environmental justice action initiatives they have taken so far so you can highlight them and thank them for it
  • Highlight how SAFE Cities connects to their priority issues, to upcoming elections, to their allies and constituents, to the welfare of the community, etc.
  • Make your ask clear. State the action or actions you want the local leader to take. These could include endorsing the local SAFE Cities effort, publicly acknowledging the problem of fossil fuel expansion, committing to voting for a new rule, etc.

Earn trust:

These steps will help you earn and keep the ear of key electeds, members of the press, and people and groups in your community.

  • Be truthful, with credible citations at the ready for what you say.
  • Be concise and focused.
  • Find out ahead of time how long the speaking time is, and practice to make sure you can make your point clearly in the time you have.

Show broad local support:

Use your communications to demonstrate that the movement is large and diverse. Show in your communication, as much as possible, that the movement includes recognized leaders and people who represent different neighborhoods and backgrounds, especially those most impacted by fossil fuels, including people who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, people with low incomes, and you’ll also want to include workers, owners of businesses, labor union leaders, youth leaders, senior leaders, environmental, environmental justice, and social justice activists, leaders from civic and religious organizations, etc.

For emails, letters, or calls:

  • Have recognized leaders be among the people who send emails or letters or make calls.
  • Have many people from the movement email, send a letter, and call
  • Talk about the breadth of the movement you’re a part of when you email, send a letter, or call.

For speaking at a public meeting or rally:

  • If only one person can speak, they can quote others who help show the breadth of the coalition and/or name different people, organizations, businesses, neighborhoods, recognized leaders, etc. that support it who do represent the diversity behind the movement.
  • If multiple people can speak, they should represent the diversity of the movement, representing the different backgrounds, neighborhoods, organizations, businesses, recognized leaders, etc. themselves as well as additional diverse support they can discuss in their testimony.

Share authentic expertise:

There is great power in people being true to themselves and sharing important personal experience or rare knowledge.

People in your community who may be able to communicate with significant power include:

  • People who represent a group that will bear disproportionate harm from fossil fuel expansion locally.
  • Local experts on how increased local pollution and accidents and/or climate change will threaten health, climate, heritage sites, businesses, natural resources, tourism, etc.
  • People who can raise any already existing legal basis for preventing local fossil fuel expansion.
  • People who are into numbers and details who can confidently bring in one or two critical details that are not getting enough attention.
  • Experience from other communities (SAFE Cites can help with this) – consider joining our Organizing Network if you haven’t already.

For a public meeting or rally, try to have speakers who are:

  • People who can deliver a speech that engages the crowd with humor, a sense of urgency, a sense of wanting to be on the right side of history, a sense of inevitability.
  • People who have never spoken in a forum like this before but can speak very directly about why they have been moved to act now.
  • If more than one person can speak, choose people who can do as many of the above as possible.

Be coordinated across opportunities to speak and across speakers:

People can be true to themselves and the movement at the same time.

It’s good to coordinate:

  • Key message points, including what to say and what not to say.
  • Different people speaking at different events to show the breadth of the movement.
  • Getting speakers to the meetings and events where they will have the most impact.

Show solidarity:

  • Using agreed upon catch phrases in all communication opportunities.
  • For public meetings and rallies, have speakers and audience members wear t-shirts with the same color or design.
  • Have speakers carry similar signs for public meetings to highlight support for the movement.
  • Even though not everyone may comfortable speaking, try to get as many of your people out to the council meeting as possible. This really gets the council’s attention.

Use powerful props:

  • Walking to the podium or into a meeting with a long list of petition-signers flowing behind you gets attention.
  • Posters with key numbers, graphs, or drawings on them can help strengthen messages.
  • Photographs of people and places can be powerful in emails and letters.

Now you’re ready to talk to elected officials – we can’t wait to see what you and your community accomplish.