Become an Upstander!

Volunteer Opportunities
in partnership with
Jewish Volunteer Connection

Voter Education: Getting Involved

Posted on May 22nd, 2020 by

We’ve covered requesting an absentee ballot, how to educate yourself to prepare to vote, and even what to do at the polling place. But what if you want to be more involved in the political process, not just at the voting booth? Or maybe there’s a particular issue or law that you want people to pay attention to. Getting involved in local politics, through advocacy work, is an amazing way to amplify your voice and the needs of your community. And it’s easier than most people think!

Advocacy and lobbying can be done individually, as anyone can call their representatives, send letters and emails, and even appear in at meetings, such as town halls or legislative sessions. If you’re not sure where to start with your advocacy work, there are lots of groups that provide guidance and organization, based on who they represent, certain issues, or another unifying feature. You can start by connecting people from your synagogue or church, who may be working together to advocate for the local community. Or there may be specific issues that have brought people together, such as development over a particular part of your neighborhood. If you follow and support certain national organizations, like the ACLU, there are often local chapters that are doing lobbying work to ensure the rights of the people they protect. As you research these avenues, you may find an organization that fits closely with your beliefs and values. Finding a support network this way, as you embark into advocacy is incredibly helpful, as they have the resources and know-how to help you use your voice effectively.

Working together with a group or organization is essential for coordinating your efforts and being efficient. Here Callie Cochan, Phil Casponeschi, and Edward Rosenfeld hold up signs supporting Equal Opportunity in Employment. JMM 1998.147.004.001

Whether you have guidance from an organization or not, letting your local legislators know what is incredibly important. Local leaders especially are mindful of their constituents, as they know that their next election depends on the opinions of the people and can be determined by a very small margin. Keeping their constituents happy and secure in their choice of leader is a legislator’s responsibility, and so they want to hear what you need from them. This can be done in a few different ways.

Local politicians are always looking for support from their constituents. That gives you the power to influence their decisions! In this image, women from Baltimore county hold signs showing their support of their governor. JMM 2012.054.116.044

You can always email your representatives directly. Their email addresses should be listed on your state’s government website. If you live in Maryland, you can find the State Senate emails here and the State House of Delegates’ emails here. You can also use that website to find the County Council from your area and their contact information. Emails are useful for people who are uncomfortable speaking on the phone or who cannot send physical letters to their representatives. However, sending an email is not as effective as these other methods, as it can easily be ignored, especially if the representative has a lot of emails in their inbox.

Calling a representative’s office is a really direct way to communicate what you want them to do. When making a phone call, try to connect to a person, rather than leaving a voicemail. Like an email, a voicemail is easier to ignore than a live person on the line. When reaching the office, ask for the representative, rather than speaking to an aide, so that they can hear from you directly. If that isn’t possible, make sure to speak to an aide who is working on the issues you’re concerned with. Making a phone call like this can daunting for some, but remember, taking these calls and considering your concerns is your representative’s job. This is what they were elected for, and they are obligated to listen to you.

If calling is not for you, but you still want to make an impact, handwriting a letter is another effective way to get your voice heard. When you write your letter, make sure to plan out time for it to get mailed to your representative, especially if you are addressing an upcoming vote. You can always drop the letter off directly (just make sure to check local guidelines on access to government buildings, especially during this time). A handwritten letter makes a statement of the time and effort you put into addressing the issue. It shows that you really care and will take the time to share your concerns.

Two men sit at a table writing. Getting your friends to also write letters can make your position even stronger! JMM 1993.052.183

A combination of those three methods is a great way to reach out to your local representative. When communicating in any way to local government, remember a few tips. Make sure to prepare your message before calling or sending it along. The action you want them to take should be clear, such as asking them not to vote on a bill, and you should add your personal connection to the issue. Let them know why it’s so important that they don’t vote on the bill. If you have trouble with creating a message, you can ask the local organization that you’re working with, as they’re sure to come up with a form letter that people can use and adapt to fit their personal story.

Also, remember to focus your messaging on your representatives. Your opinion won’t be as impactful to legislators outside your district or area, so it’s not worth putting your energy towards changing their actions. However, there are some exceptions to this, such as when there is a big, national law being voted on. Work with local and national organizations, to find out where you can make the most impact but stay focused on local issues.

To take it a step further, you can show up in person (or in a virtual meeting) to show legislators you care. Attending town halls and other similar meetings are a great way to find out more about a legislator’s plans for the upcoming political session and to ask them questions or to take action. When preparing to attend a town hall, work with the local organizing groups, so that you’re not going alone. A crowd of people, maybe all wearing the same color or the same shirt, asking about a particular issue will place a lot of pressure on a representative to listen to them. You should also prepare your questions ahead of time, again, making it clear what action you want the representative to take. Keep the questions short and clear, while still adding your personal spin. Keeping it personal will make the legislator see how important the issue is to you and that they need to consider your feelings.

There are lots of other ways to get more involved in politics, such as writing op-eds, attending protests, and donating money. Hopefully, this is just the start of your involvement in your community and the future you want to see!


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

Posted on February 29th, 2012 by

A blog post by Amy Smith, Development Coordinator

On February 27 and 28, I had the opportunity to represent the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Council of American Jewish Museums at the 2012 Museums Advocacy Day.  Presented by the American Association of Museums, this advocacy event brought museum professionals, lay leaders, volunteers, and supporters from all over the country to Capitol Hill to lobby for federal funding for the Office of Museum Services through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Amy Smith at the Georgetown University Hotel & Conference Center holding her Museums Advocacy Day schedule.

On Monday, I attend a series of workshops about how to lobby for museums and learned about the critical issues facing museums today.  The primary issue AAM focused on this year was IMLS; they wanted delegates to support funding of at least $35 million in FY13 for the IMLS Office of Museum Services.  Second, they wanted the delegates to know that museums have a huge impact on the economy, contributing $20 billion to the economy each year and providing 400,000 jobs.  Third, they opposed President Obama’s FY13 budget proposal that would limit the deductibility of charitable gifts, thereby hurting museums and other nonprofits.  Finally, since museums are critical partners in education, they wanted to make the delegates aware of our educational programs and the fact that museums partner with school districts to teach the curriculum.

February 27 Museums Advocacy Day training session at Georgetown University Hotel.

After the instruction on Monday, on Tuesday I was ready to lobby!  From Maryland, I met with staff members from the offices of Senator Ben Cardin, Senator Barbara Mikulski, Representative John Sarbanes, and Representative Elijah Cummings.  Since I was representing CAJM, headquartered at the Center for Judaic Studies in Denver, Colorado, I also had meetings scheduled with Senator Mark Udall, Representative Diana DeGette, and Senator Michael Bennet.  These meetings were scheduled back to back, and it was exhausting to run around the Capitol, from building to building.  But, the weather was beautiful, and it was an invigorating experience.

Amy Smith standing in front of the Capitol.

The location and structure of each meeting varied; some were literally small group meetings of two or three people in the hallway outside the delegates’ office.  As a side note, Research Historian Deb Weiner shared with me that lobbying actually comes from the custom of influence-seekers gathering outside legislative chambers: http:///  And I thought we were giving new meaning to the word lobbying!

Other meetings were much larger.  The one with Senator Cardin’s office (first meeting of the morning, I should add) involved 20 people sitting around a conference table, where each person had enough time only to introduce themselves.  In this meeting, JMM docent Robyn Hughes argued that museums have a huge impact on education, and therefore should be able to compete for these funds.  For example, she elaborated on the JMM’s Student Immigrant Stories program where JMM staffers go into area high schools and facilitate storytelling with ESL students who have recently immigrated to the U.S.  Eventually these students are able to tell their stories in front of their classmates and community organizations.  As we were wrapping up, the legislative aid fondly remembered visiting the JMM for a staff retreat a couple of years ago, so I consider that a success.

Tom Smith waiting outside the office of Senator Ben Cardin for our meeting with his legislative aid.

Robyn Hughes and Amy Smith at Museums Advocacy Day

Other meetings were much more intimate.  Since I was representing CAJM, I also had the privilege of meeting with Colorado delegates.  The most rewarding was the meeting with Sally Mayes at Senator Bennet’s office in the Russell Senate Office Building, and not just because my group ran into Senator Bennet in the elevator.  This was my last meeting of the day, and by that time I had practiced articulating my case quite a few times.  I talked briefly about the JMM’s annual Summer Teachers’ Institute, a professional development program where we educate teachers on how to teach the Holocaust to their students.  My husband Tom talked about economic impact, and how his small technology startup company works with organizations that receive IMLS funding.  The meeting was refreshing because Ms. Mayes was so engaged in the conversation, which made it easy for everyone to tell their stories.

I met some amazing people from Colorado – Glo Cunningham, Director of Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum; Andrea Miller, Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums, and Megan Bell, a graduate student at the University of Buffalo who was there to support her home state of Colorado.

Museums Advocacy Day was an extremely rewarding experience.  It was my first time lobbying on Capitol Hill, and I got the opportunity to meet and connect with some really interesting museum professionals.  I’ll definitely be back next year.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland