Why meet my elected rep?
There are lots of different priorities that influence the decisions our representatives make on council or in Parliament. There are lots of people behind the scenes who are unelected such as policy makers, advisors and lobby groups. The media stories of the day can influence how they think their decisions will be seen.
But these elected representatives are people who also want to do (or be seen to be doing) the right thing. They often took on their role wanting to make some kind of positive difference. They and their office staff are looking for feedback and public input, which they can then use to justify their decisions.
Not only can they be convinced with the power of lived experiences, they are also influenced by public pressure, and want to be re-elected.
An elected representative has a responsibility to represent us and our views. As citizens we also have a responsibility to engage, and together, keep them accountable to the community.
Meeting a politician isn’t a replacement for activism. It’s a way to use existing levers in our democratic processes. We need to try every avenue, and a meeting could simply find out where barriers lie, that then needs other tactics to shift.
By meeting your rep you can:
- Get to know each other as people, so they know you and your interests
- Find out where they stand on an issue
- Advocate for a single issue, such as ending the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser
- Find out what is blocking the action you seek
- Seek action or commitments, and promise actions
Committed engagement from voters and community members can be effective, Personal messages have integrity. Hearing the same concern and messages from many different sources, not just policy makers, advocates, or specialists can show decision makers the depth of feeling in their electorate.
You may be part of a local community group; or campaigning with friends for better public transport; or you may be supporting a Greenpeace campaign, or another group. You may wish for better decision making for everything to do with city planning and infrastructure that looks after the health of the soil, water and wildlife!
Tips on meeting an elected representative
Before the meeting
- Email or phone the office to ask for a meeting, and for what reason
- Think of the questions you’d like to ask
- Highlight the main points you’d like to get across
- Have a clear request
- Invite a friend to along to support you
- If you are going to the meeting as a group ensure:
- You all have a shared understanding of the issue
- For clarity, split up each topic or point between the group, so you know who will be talking about which point.
During the meeting
- Be yourself! Look to build trust and rapport together as people, even if you have different positions on an issue
- Ask questions and listen to their point of view
- Provide any information or perspective from your community they may not have access to
- Ask for a specific action, and try to get a commitment.
After the meeting
- Send any supporting materials about the issue, and follow up with any actions you said you would do.
- Write or email to thank the MP for meeting with you, and outline what you discussed.
- Don’t let them forget any promises they made, and follow up again in the future!
In Aotearoa we have city, district and regional councils. We also have ‘unitary councils’, such as Auckland Council. Some ways to lobby your council could be:
- Go along to watch a Council meeting and find out how their processes work (every council will do things differently). Check the agendas of upcoming meetings to see if there is anything related to your issue you’d like to follow. Start finding out more about the councillors and where they stand on different environmental issues.
- Every three years there are local elections. Once candidates have announced they’re running for election, ask them for a meeting. Go along with a friend, ask questions to find out what they already know, and if they have a position on your issue. Ask them to take a public position if they haven’t already.
- Go to public meetings and ask councillors a question – will the speakers support your issue?
- Grow and present a petition to target – a petition can show the wishes of hundreds of people on an issue. It can lead to a meeting to talk about the issue, ask questions, and gauge where the Council stands, and what barriers still exist to get the outcome you seek. You can ask petition signers to email the elected representatives with a question you provide, to show the issue is important to wide group of people.
Over five months, the community groups Save our Sands and Friends of Pakiri attracted public support to try to stop new consents for sand extraction from the Pakiri and Mangawhai coast, which is eroding the beaches.
In New Zealand’s MMP voting system we vote for a political party and a local candidate. The winning candidate represents our region in Parliament and we can ask them to represent our views there.
By presenting a petition you can have an issue considered by the Petitions Select Committee. They may consider it themselves, or recommend it to another relevant select committee, or ask for a response from the Minister.
The Environment Select Committee looks at Parliamentary topics related to conservation, environment, and climate change. You can sign up for alerts for the latest news on what they are working on, and follow their live meetings streamed on their Facebook page here.
Have a question? Email the Greenpeace crew at [email protected]