How to get involved with the political process

A lot of Nova Scotians who got to take part in Vandana Shiva’s visit to our province last weekend have gotten pretty energized about strengthening food security in our communities, our province, our country and our world.  However, many of us are unsure how to influence political decisions that can help bring change.  It’s pretty easy to become frustrated and disillusioned.

The Food Action Committee recently got a great lesson on how to get your message across to politicians, and we’d like to share some of these tips.  Megan Leslie, NDP Member of Parliament for Halifax, met with the Food Action Committee on January 16, 2012 to address questions that members had about politics, food action and other areas of interest.  It was an empowering meeting that gave us a few new tricks we can put up our sleeve to help affect government policy.

Here are some of the things that came out the meeting.

Politicians are generalists, not experts

Because politicians know a little bit about a lot of things, you need to keep them in the know. Because you live in your community,  you are an expert on what is going on. You know what happens, what the issues are and what is affecting you. So it is important to tell them what is going on.  Don’t forget to mention what you think should be done about the issue (and make it reasonable).  Representatives don’t have all the answers –  you may need to help them out a bit.

How to get your message through to your representatives:

Write letters – Writing letters is a good way of letting politicians know what’s up. It doesn’t really matter if they are hand written, snail mailed or e-mailed. They will still read them. You can send individually written letters which will be individually read. However, form letters, or pre-written postcards can also be effective. If an MP receives a mass of 800 letters they know it’s a subject that a lot of constituents care about.

Pick up the Phone – Call your local representative’s office, and chat them up. Ask them if whatever is important to you is on the agenda, and if not, ask if they can make that happen.

Organize a petition – There are many ways to petition and yes, they do work!   Read more about petitions here.

Organize a briefing meeting – Invite your representatives along with other members of the community and brief them on the issue. This will give you a chance to get the word out with pizzazz and reach a number of people at the same time.  This also gives the community as chance to engage in a more public dialogue.

Once your representative is informed, keep up the pressure!

Use the media to rally around your issue. Petitions, motions and a barrage of letters can create energy in a community that politicians tend to notice.  Write letters to your local media, get the greater community involved. The more people and the bigger the issue seems the more politicians will pay attention to it.  Don’t forget to follow up with your representative, and ask them what they plan to do about the issue.

We want to offer up a big thank you to Megan for coming to talk to the FAC, as well as her intern Winnie, and the FAC members who organized the meeting. If anybody knows any other politicians in the area to invite to more meetings, please do!  Let’s get more involved with the political process!

By Steph Boulton and Alison Froese Stoddard

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