I attended an election watch event a few days ago for Ralph Northam, who is now the governor-elect of Virginia. After all of the speeches concluded for the evening, newly elected officials as well as other politicians made their way through the crowd, talking to members of the audience. Prior to this, my friend told me they were starstruck by all of the politicians, and they had no idea what to even say to them when the time came for us to talk to them. Luckily, I came prepared, and was able to easily speak to everyone. Here are my tips for talking to elected officials and politicians at these types of events.
Voting and attending events
Before I start with these tips on meeting people, it’s best to talk about how to vote in elections with low vision, as well as how to attend political events without losing anything. Read my post on voting here, and my post on attending political events here.
Research their interests ahead of time
Prior to talking to politicians and elected officials, I research their interests and platform ahead of time on their website or other media. This way, I knew who to talk to about what. For example, the governor is very passionate about education, so I talked to him about education policy, since I knew that was one of his major interests, and one of mine too. I also highly recommend following politicians and elected officials on social media to keep up with what they are doing. This includes local representatives, senators, congressmen, the governor, lieutenant governor, and similar.
Introduce yourself in one sentence
When you finally meet them, keep your introduction brief, one sentence at most. If I’m talking about education, I say “Hi, I’m Veronica, and I’m a graduate of Virginia public schools.” If I’m talking about healthcare, I mention I have a pre-existing condition. If I am off-campus, I mention what college I attend as well.
Focus on one key issue
I don’t like to jump around when talking to officials, so I stick to one key, easy-to-remember issue. I try to choose issues that are positive, and request their continued support. I also included some related tips on how to write to senators in my post here.
Cite bills and laws, if possible
If there is a current bill or law that is in the news, talk about it! I have found myself frequently speaking about various bills at the state and federal levels, citing either their identifying number (i.e HR 3590) or the bill’s name (i.e Affordable Care Act). Right now, I speak a lot about the Cogswell-Macy Act for low vision students- read more about that here.
Try to speak naturally
It’s okay to get nervous, but speaking naturally and clearly will get you far when talking to people. I often mentally go over what I will be talking about shortly before I actually talk to someone, and I have found that helps a lot.
Don’t pick a fight
This is not the time to be overly negative or to pick a fight with them over an issue, unless you want to be kicked out by security. However, it is okay to mention opposition to certain bills, laws, or issues, as long as it is respectful. Here is an example:
“I encourage you to oppose this new bill, since I would not be able to get brain surgery without the protections the current bill has in place.” – Good example
“You’re a murderer if you support this bill and I hope you get cancer and die!” – Bad example
Understand that change takes time
While it would be nice if people could move the world and get a bill or law passed immediately, or fix an issue with a policy, it’s not going to happen. Your comments are still very important, even if change seems to come slowly.
If appropriate, take a picture
If there are photo ops, take advantage of them! One of my friends has a wall of photos of them with elected officials and politicians, and I have been inspired to create something similar, since I treasure these memories so much. While I don’t always get pictures, it’s exciting to have something to remember the meeting.
Write down what you talked about
After the conversation, write down everything that you talked about for safekeeping. I also attach photos if I have any. I store this information in a OneNote notebook.
Every politician I have met in person has been extremely nice and positive towards me, and agreed with me about issues related to education, disability, and healthcare. Get involved in the political process and make your voice heard!