2021 Legislative Session Halfway Point: Advocacy Tools to Raise Your Voice

Posted by on Apr 23, 2021

Here at the mid-point of the 2021 Oregon Legislative Session, we take the chance to reflect on this unusual year of virtual hearings and Zoom meetings, and the progress we have made thus far. Many of the nearly 2,500 bills introduced this session have died, meaning that they will not move forward this session to become law. The work of creating and approving the state budget for the next two years, a major item on the session to-do list, is moving into high gear. There is still a lot of advocacy left to do to share your perspective and priorities with legislators as they make decisions about how to spend money over the coming biennium. Let’s talk about what is left to do, and how you can make an impact.

We hope you have been following our partners at the GO! Project for bill lists, hearing information, testimony links, and so much more. The thousands of bills that are considered each full session are very overwhelming. It can be hard to know what the impact of each will be, and whether it will touch something that we care about. We appreciate and depend upon partners like the GO! Project to sort through these bills and let us know which ones they are tracking, and why. The weekly GO! Bulletin, which you can subscribe to, gives you links to updated bill lists, and highlights hearings for the coming week that you might want to attend.

The 2021 Oregon Legislative Session runs from January through June.

And just how do you attend a virtual hearing, you might ask? Each hearing has a link on the Oregon Legislative Information System (called OLIS for short) that will connect you to a live broadcast. If you call during the hearing broadcast, you will be able to watch in real-time as legislators hear bills, hold informational meetings, and more. If you want to go back after a hearing has ended, you can always watch the proceeding as it was recorded. Learn more about this by checking out the information and instructions available on the OLIS site.

Direct advocacy, meeting with legislators to share your thoughts on what laws and budget items matter to you in your life, is one of the most important things that each Oregonian can do. The GO! Project has put together a series of short videos to share information about advocacy. Right now, that video series can be found on YouTube.com. Find the videos by going to YouTube.com and searching for “Oregon DD Coalition.” It will take you to the Oregon DD Coalition page, which has lots of great offerings. Below is an overview of what you will find there. Click on the title of each video to watch it now:

Introduction to the GO! Project

Start off by finding out all about the organization that put this information together. The GO! Project is a product of the Oregon DD Coalition, an advocacy group made up of self-advocates, Brokerages, provider agencies, family advocates, and other community members who have come together to advocate with and for Oregonians with IDD. Cheryl Cisneros (Creating Opportunities) and her team run the GO! Project, and you will see Cheryl throughout this video series. The Oregon Support Services Association is a member of the Oregon DD Coalition. Encouraging and supporting people to tell their own stories is one of the main works of the GO! Project, and this video series is an example of how we empower people to do just that.

GO! Online Advocacy–Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Every session, the GO! Project holds Advocacy Days. These are generally in-person events at the Oregon State Capitol that include an introductory training to the legislative process (law and budget making), and why individual advocacy is important. This year, the GO! Project has modified this training to be relevant to this virtual session, and has put the training online for you to view any time you like. All four parts of this training video are linked above.

Why Advocacy Matters

Emilie, Cheryl, and Beth get to the heart of why we do this work.

Legislative Advocacy is the process of educating legislative decision-makers about the policies and funding that are important to our community, and why they are important. Without the human context for the decisions about budget and law, our elected officials cannot know how to serve the public well. The clearer and more compelling our message, the more likely they are to understand and act on our recommendations. This video shares information via a conversation with a couple of our community advocates, Beth Kessler (Oregon Council on DD) and Emilie Wylde Turner (Living Opportunities).

Creating Your Advocacy Message

Meeting virtually is like meeting in person–it helps to be prepared. Consider what you want the legislator to see and hear from you in order to get your message across. Plan out how you will deliver your message, and enlist support if you need it. Practice making calls with friends or families ahead of the meeting, so that you know your system, and what to expect. This video features Ryley Newport (Oregon Council on DD) and Kaaren Londahl (OSAC).


Preparing your story is an important part of getting ready for a legislative visit.

Preparing Your Story Your Way

Crafting the right message is key! This video includes some of our community’s true legislative all-stars sharing tips and methods from their own experience: Ryley Newport, Ross Ryan (OSAC), and Kaaren Londahl. Spending time figuring out what you want to say and how you want to say it is some of the best time you can spend as an advocate. Start with broad questions to help you find what matters most to you, or start with the legislative priorities carefully considered and crafted by the Oregon DD Coalition.

Scheduling A Legislative Visit

You have something to say! Now it’s time to make an appointment. First, you need to know who to meet with, and secure the contact information for their office. Next you’ll make the request, and set up a time and date to meet. With some planning and preparation, you can set yourself up for success. This video features Jennifer Knapp (Community Vision).

Expecting the Unexpected

Good behavior and following the rules shows respect, and puts the listener on your side from the start. Doing your homework and preparing for your visit shows you’re willing to do your part, and puts you in

Ross, Kaaren, Cheryl, and Ryley will tell you that there can always be surprises in legislative advocacy.

a better position to ask them to follow your recommendations when they do theirs. Sometimes, however, all the preparation in the world can’t force things to go as planned. Avoid getting thrown off by these bumps in the road by knowing what to expect. This video features conversation with Ryley Newport, Ross Ryan, and Kaaren Londahl.

After a Legislative Visit

You did it–you advocated for what you believe in with a legislator! Time to take stock of how it went, and figure out what you can do in terms of follow-up actions to solidify your points and end on a high note. Learn from this discussion between Jennifer Knapp and Cheryl Cisneros.

Katie and Cheryl talk about putting your best email forward.

Advocacy Via Email

Email is always a useful tool in advocacy, but we are likely to lean on it even more during this time when in-person meetings are not possible. Forming clear written advocacy takes some practice. Keep your reader in mind as you form your words, and don’t be afraid to edit or move things around to make the strongest point possible. If you tune into this video, you will hear information from me, Katie Rose (Oregon Support Services Association).