Personal Stories in Public Policy Advocacy
by Max Beck
As part of my internship with Philadelphia's Faith and Spiritual Affairs Unit I was able to participate in a day long workshop on public policy advocacy. The particular focus of the workshop was the importance of integrating personal stories in discussions with legislators. Those interested in public policy advocacy must realize that the best way to get one's point across is to speak with your elected representative. This task can seem intimidating and nerve racking, but one must understand that the representative is there to serve his or her constituents. Part of the representative's duties is to consider the public policy for which one is advocating. Now at times there may instances when one does not have a particular policy, but has a particular issues he or she may believe the representative should consider. This is where personal stories can come into play. Telling personal stories to one's representative will give the representative a unique perspective that may aid him or her in developing policy.
Integrating personal stories into public policy advocacy often gives credibility and a face to the issue being addressed. Conveying personal stories to one's legislator in face to face interaction also shows a level of commitment. Legislators often get scripted phone call and signed form letters. Therefore, personal story telling becomes a powerful method of advocating for change.
Public policy advocacy that involves personal stories must not always involve oneself. The stories one offers to legislators can be about a friend or a family member. If the stories are about someone other than oneself, it is important to respect the person of whose story one is telling. This means retaining the person's identity and things of that nature if requested. Regardless of whose story one is telling it is important that one feels an attachment to the story. This is important because one wants to show genuine interest and passion toward the subject one is advocating for in the presence of the legislator.
Another thing to keep in mind when one speaks with a legislator is the fact that they are often more personable than one might imagine. Legislators are individuals that seek to connect with the people they represent. One of the most effective ways of making a connection is sharing personal stories with one legislator. While the stories ought to be constructive in terms of public policy, they must also open up the opportunity for one to learn about one's legislator and vice versa. It is often the case that a legislator will a story he or she may share as well. When the legislator becomes connected to his or her constituents through personal stories the better sense he or she will have in serving the community.
In the end, personal stories can and ought to integrate in conversations with legislators. Being skilled in the arena of politics is an arduous task that is not for everyone. However, everyone has a story that can be told of one's self or of another. Story telling is a powerful tool and it is needed more in advocacy. Contributing to the democratic process in this way will be important toward forming communities in which their needs are met.