Image of mountains with text that reads: 2021 General Assembly, Environmental Action Series

Environmental Action Series: How to engage with your legislators

Our priority legislation to reduce plastic pollution and bring clean cars to Virginia is moving quickly through the General Assembly. No matter the outcome, we know our work doesn’t stop here. 

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Elly Boehmer
State Director

Author: Elly Boehmer

State Director

(847) 775-9778

Started on staff: 2016
B.A., University of Vermont

A former canvass director and organizer with Impact, Elly now directs Environment Virginia's efforts to promote clean air, clean water and open spaces in Virginia. Elly lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she enjoys gardening, photography, hiking and rollerblading with her dog.

Our priority legislation to reduce plastic pollution and bring clean cars to Virginia is moving quickly through the General Assembly. No matter the outcome, we know our work doesn’t stop here. 

First, we’ve accomplished a lot during our General Assembly Environmental Action Series. We’ve sent emails to our state senators and made photo petitions in support of HB 1965, the bill to establish Advanced Clean Car Standards in Virginia. We’ve also sent handwritten letters and social media posts to our state senators in support of HB 1902, the bill to ban single-use polystyrene foam, and HB 1959, the bill to ban the intentional release of balloons.

When it comes to advocating for climate and the environment, there are so many ways to reach our legislators about the issues that matter most. Below you will find a comprehensive list of tactics you can use to reach your legislators and be a more engaged activist on the issues that matter most to you. The tactics are great to use in order. Our golden rule - just ask first!

  1. Find who represents you! 

This website will find who your legislators are on the state and federal levels by plugging in your address: https://whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov/

  1. Write A Letter

Handwritten letters can be effective because they are personal, and are read often by legislators. The goal here, beyond asking a legislator to support a specific bill or issue, should be to include a personal story or anecdote to give some context. Whatever personal connection you may have, embrace it and use it to help communicate your appeal! All you’ll need is a piece of paper, envelope, and a stamp.

  1. Have A Meeting

Holding a meeting with your legislator gives you the opportunity to have a conversation about the issue you’re concerned about. Prepare by writing notes, creating a presentation, or bringing props! Most importantly, be ready to discuss research and facts, but also connect with them on a personal level. Reach out to schedule a meeting by sending an email to your legislator about who you are and why you want to meet with them. If you don’t hear back straight away, be sure to make a follow-up call.

  1. Email Them Personally

Emails are a great way to reach your legislator, especially when they are working in a primarily virtual setting. Personal emails should be similar to a letter in that you include a personal connection to the issue to help communicate why they should support the issue. Hot tip: always include the bill number in the subject line!

  1. Call Them

Calling your legislator can be highly effective. Sometimes you can reach their legislative staff, or the legislator, and you can give them your personal testimony regarding a bill. The best way to prepare is by writing 2-4 sentences asking them to support or not support a bill, and why. Be sure to know the bill number because that’s how many of these calls are tracked.

  1. Write an LTE

Letters to the Editor are one of the most widely read parts of the paper which allows us to educate people and influence decision makers by getting our opinions printed. Elected officials also read a lot of LTEs to learn more about public opinion on the issues. Most LTEs should be around 250 words, but each newspaper posts their LTE submission instructions on their website. A great way to make sure it gets published is by following up with a phone call to the opinion editor!

  1. Engage on Social Media

Social media is a primary way to communicate with our decision makers. Since our legislators are working in a primarily virtual setting, social media is a strong grassroots tool you can use to advocate an issue. Social media can be powerful in numbers, so get your friends, family, or organization involved. Be sure to tag your legislator, and use relevant hashtags! You can add impact to your posts by linking an article, adding photos, posting a video testimony of yourself, or posting a photo petition.

  1. Attend their Events

Your legislator will probably hold events, such as a town hall or an issue-based public hearing. As your elected official, they want to hear from you! Go to their events, and be sure to ask questions. When it’s your turn to ask a question, introduce yourself, briefly explain how the issue connects to you, and give your question.

  1. Sign a Petition

Petitions are power in numbers. Each petition should outline the problem, and call on a solution. Sign a petition in support of an issue that matters to you, and then be sure to share it with your friends, family, or social media. You can also build a bigger buzz for the cause by making a photo petition! Make a poster about the solution, take a picture holding it with your friends and family, and send it to the organization leading the petition! Putting a face to the fight can make a huge impact.

  1. Written Comments on Bills

Legislatures will have a comment forum for legislation on their website. When you know a bill is going to be put to a vote, it’s great to write a comment about why you support, or don’t support, the legislation. Be sure to include context about how the issue impacts you!

  1. Testify on Bills

You can sign up to testify on a bill during a legislative meeting, such as a committee meeting. Showing up to give your story in support or against a bill makes a huge impact - especially when you can tell your story about how the issue impacts you. Be sure to write out your testimony and practice your delivery so you can be prepared. You can register to testify on the legislature’s website.

  1. Send a Thank You

The best way to encourage your legislator to make the best decisions as your representative is by thanking them when they do so. You can email them or send a thank you note when they vote in support of your advocacy! This will not only encourage them, but will also help you build a relationship with your elected official.

  1. Engage with an Organization

Organizations are working to build relationships with your legislators on a regular basis. They serve as a resource, provide experts on the issues, and represent the public that share the same perspectives. Engage with an organization by donating, volunteering, or partnering up with them to speak to a legislator. As a member-based organization, Environment Virginia is so appreciative when our members engage with us on critical environmental issues. We welcome you to reach out if you want to get more involved!

Elly Boehmer
State Director

Author: Elly Boehmer

State Director

(847) 775-9778

Started on staff: 2016
B.A., University of Vermont

A former canvass director and organizer with Impact, Elly now directs Environment Virginia's efforts to promote clean air, clean water and open spaces in Virginia. Elly lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she enjoys gardening, photography, hiking and rollerblading with her dog.