• Ana Ramón • IDRA Newsletter • September 2020 •
COVID-19 will make traditional ways of advocating in the Texas legislature nearly impossible. While the details of how the legislature will function when it opens in January are still unknown (even to many legislators and staff), there likely will be a drastic decrease in the ability of the general public to interact with policymakers.
Traditional opportunities for providing formal and informal public comment on an issue include testifying at hearings and visiting policymakers’ offices. This year, such options will be limited and primarily offered through virtual platforms. The COVID-19-related restrictions placed on the legislative process will heighten the ever-present concern about limited access to decision makers and traditional gatekeepers.
The legislature might limit the scope of issues it addresses during the session (the Texas Legislature is only constitutionally required to pass a budget each session). Policymakers may feel less inclined to carry legislation brought to them by constituents and advocacy groups.
The Power of People
Despite these limitations, state-level advocacy will still be a powerful tool to bring forth important changes to education policies, particularly when students, parents and communities are involved. Three key strategies to ensure involvement of students, families and others impacted by policies include robust digital advocacy, direct actions and network building.
Advocates can help bridge newly-formed communication barriers by reconfiguring traditional efforts through digital platforms and strategies. Digital advocacy encompasses messaging, social media, organizing and communication. We must build upon existing digital efforts and platforms and provide additional tools to voice our concerns to elected officials. This could include tweeting at your state representative or senator on a specific bill and asking them to oppose or support a piece of legislation important to you.
Advocates may still interact with the legislative process through direct action. Some activities, like community days of action, clearly must incorporate social distancing measures and adhere to other in-person restrictions. But these can still be highly effective in influencing decision makers around shared concerns. Most recently, community organizations have started hosting their own community town halls online to help facilitate conversations on critical issues. Some invite elected officials to join the conversation and listen to debate longer than they would have in traditional hearings. This highlights how digital tools can both help more individuals reach their elected officials and work past barriers brought on by COVID-19.
Finally, existing networks and relationships will provide pathways to communicate our concerns with key legislative targets. Using these relationships and continuing to grow diverse, cross-sector networks will help send direct messages to decision makers. For example, the Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition (TLEEC) is a collaborative of organizations and individuals with the mission to improve the quality of public education for all children, with a focus on racial equity. Especially with the upcoming session likely to have very limited opportunities to share opinions on legislation, working in a coalition can help unify members and increase the strength of their message. For example, with interim charges now transitioning into online spaces and out of the traditional committee hearings, more advocacy organizations are asking groups to co-sign testimony and submit letters, which can streamline coalition member efforts and the information shared with legislators.
Collectively, we can employ these strategies to help center the power of people during the next legislative session to ensure equity in our state education system. For more information on IDRA’s advocacy efforts or TLEEC reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ana Ramón is IDRA’s deputy director of advocacy. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at email@example.com.
[©2020, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2020 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]