ac·tiv·ism – Noun
Definition: The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.
Notice the definition of activism mentions more than political change here. The social change is one of the largest battle fronts we as vapers must focus on each and every day. I recently read a blog post on vaping that I feel is the most important thing we as vapers must all realize. I must give credit to the ‘Queen Vapes’ for this quote: “When you started vaping, you became part of a Cause. No, you probably did not realize it. You were probably just looking for an alternative to tobacco. Maybe you had a friend that sold you on the concept of Vaping. Or perhaps you were just fed up with the cost of tobacco cigarettes. Regardless of how you arrived, you became part of a large Community of people you may never meet, never know their names, and may have only one thing in common with… Vaping.”
It is on the social front where we as vapers can have the most impact and the highest results. Look at some of the larger ‘political’ battles of recent years and you will realize that it was only in the public social arena did those battles actually get fought and won. Sure the government was involved and in the end signed ‘this or that’ into law. But it was in the face of the public that those who were involved did their most notable work and won the hearts and minds of ‘John Q Public’. This my friends, is where each and every one of us needs to put our efforts and where we will see the biggest wins.
There will come a time however where you must put on your boxing gloves and go 10 rounds with our elected leaders due to some new crazy proposed law. It might be due to vaping, tobacco tax or any other number of things which you care passionately about. To stay on topic though, I’m going to focus in on Tobacco Harm Reduction and Electronic Cigarettes. So without any further fanfare, I’d like to offer some tips to help you along your journey of THR/E-Cig activism.
How to detect legislature:
- Set up news feeds on your local legislature to monitor for news articles from your congressmen and senators to pick up on their upcoming pet projects. Monitor weekly.
- Attend political town halls sponsored by all parties. Listen to the feedback from the public and elected leaders to try and predict their actions.
- Monthly but especially beginning in October, monitor your state legislature website for bills. Many states hold special sessions so understand when this may occur in your state. Keywords: Tobacco, Nicotine, Air, Children, Cigarette, Electronic Cigarette, E-Cigarette. Bills can come in many forms including: clean air, taxation, ‘protecting the children’, etc so look closely. Click here for details on all states: http://www.multistate.com/content/sessionmap
- November (or earlier if your state begins before this): Check once a week
- January through the full legislative session: Check every 1-2 days. Bills can be held back on purpose to limit public input or get hung up in pre-committee work so it’s important to regularly monitor.
What to do if you find new legislature:
- Contact CASAA, American Vaping Association or The Vaping Militia for an assessment of the bill.
- If it is a true bill with impact, a Call to Action (CTA) will be created. Time to go on the defense (or offense if it’s a supportable bill)
- Contact all your local vendors and alert them to the pending bill.
- Start a social media campaign
- Twitter – find the bill sponsor and committee members and tag them in your posts but remain professional
- Facebook – Many elected leaders have FB pages. Tag them in your posts. Include your local media in the tags as well to gain visibility
- G+ – LOTS of vapers are on this so it’s a great way to crowdsource your cause.
- Always link back to the CTA but remain VERY professional. Remember, if it’s on the internet ANYONE will be able to see it. Don’t say something that you don’t want to come back and bite you on.
- Pay attention to the talking points the advocacy organization offers. Keep your letters succinct and on point. Long letters get skipped, short letters with bullets attract.
- Write a follow-up thank you letter. More on this later.
- PICK UP THE PHONE! Your elected leaders are accustomed to getting phone calls from the public and it is part of their job. This is good practice for the speech you wrote in the above point. Keep your conversation brief but stay factual and don’t stray but be prepared for questions – a leader who truly cares what the public thinks will ask questions.
- Write letters to the editor to your local papers. Most must be between 250-500 words max so the previous point is critical.
- Contact political / health reporters at your newspaper, radio and TV stations to offer yourself or your spokesperson for interviews
- Contact online vape shows / bloggers to offer yourself or your spokesperson for interviews
- Research sponsor of bill and committee members (prior bill involvement, funding sources, media articles, day job profession, etc). This information may be useful – report any interesting findings to the advocacy groups and incorporate into your speech if applicable.
- Host a public vape meet at a vape friendly location if possible. Invite all media, bill sponsor and other elected leaders even if not involved in the bill approval process.
At the Committee Hearing
- Testimonies should be delivered verbally and in writing. Oral testimony is very powerful, especially when the testifier speaks directly instead of reading from their written testimony. Be sure to leave a written copy of your remarks with staff for the board members to review at a later time. Attach any supporting evidence for all statements you make – studies, reports, news articles, etc.
- Dress professionally. Business casual is acceptable for the public but remember you are in a highly professional setting where $600 suits are common. The nicer you look, the more respect you will be granted.
- This may irritate a few and many may disagree but flashy or large jewelry don’t help the cause of a public activist speaking in a professional setting such as this. This would include ear gauges, facial piercings, etc.
- If possible, make sure you arrive 30 minutes early to compose yourself and your thoughts and to meet up with others also attending.
- Coordinate ahead of time your top 3 speakers. Line up more in case time permits.
- If possible, solicit testimony from the medical industry in support. This can be in the form of physical testimony or a notarized statement.
- Remain professional at all times and refrain from using vulgar language and slang terms. This is a very professional environment and you will be treated in the same manner as you treat the committee members.
- If the media is present, try and arrange for your speakers to make public statements. The more media coverage you can get the better and interviews at the hearing go a long way towards a positive public perception of your cause.
- Pay attention! There is much being said and even the small comments can be important. Also make note of who votes in favor or against the proposed bill. If possible, record the session from when you arrive to when you walk out. Sometimes you may get stopped in the hall for a chat and you’ll want that information as reference later.
After the testimony
Once you leave the hearing, your work isn’t completed. There are several other things you need to do.
- Before you ‘shut down’ for the night, pull out your thank you letter and INDIVIDUALLY send to each member of the committee that voted in your favor. Thank you note should always be individually addressed.
- Report back to your advocacy organization contact what occurred at the meeting (post-mortem).
- Any other follow-up steps will be discussed at that time.