SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Many things that were once taken for granted have been transformed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where people once worked in offices or cubicles, many are now working remotely to avoid the chance of contracting or spreading the virus. So what does one do if they seek to lobby their local legislator in Albany face to face as has been done for many years in the past?
The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County confronted that problem as the larger state-wide organization got closer to finalizing the issues membership wanted to advocate for at the state Capitol.
As this year’s lobby day drew closer the members realized they faced a dilemma, how to speak to legislators as a group when the Legislative Office Building was closed to the public and legislators and their staffs may be working remotely anyway.
The question was how to find a new way to advocate. Believing others may be facing the same problem the organization has scheduled a virtual workshop for 7 p.m. Feb. 2 to hear from two people who have thought long and hard about the process of advocacy.
The workshop, “Advocating in the Time of COVID” will provide people with tactics to help overcome many of the obstacles of lobbying through a pandemic. Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) will talk about ways individuals can influence legislation while Jennifer Wilson, deputy director of the League of Women Voters of NYS (LWVNY), will explain the League’s legislative agenda for 2021 and her take on how to get legislators’ attention.
Clifton Park resident Francine Rodger, a member of the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County, used to present a program on lobbying for the group’s membership when it was done face to face. Now that has all changed.
“The presence of COVID doesn’t mean you can’t do it,” she said earlier this week, “it just means we have to find a new way of doing it. Maybe the answer is having virtual meetings with constituents.”
Rodger’s said the idea of bringing in Horner to hear what he’s been doing came from League of Women Voters of Saratoga County co-president Barbra Thomas.
“I contacted Blair and Jennifer because we’d been involved in something similar; we were looking at ways that agencies could continue to advocate for their positions when there are so many restrictions at the state level,” Thomas said. “When so many legislators and their staffs are working remotely you have to think of other ways you can get your point across.”
Thomas said she isn’t certain the two speakers will focus specifically on using virtual meetings in the workshop but wanted their input so others could hear what Horner and Wilson are doing in the way of overcoming the lack of face to face contact.
“I want them to present what they’re doing, how they’re managing before the legislators as well as the governor,” Thomas said. “I know they’re doing some of it. I know Blair has done some remote testimony and Jennifer is doing some of it with the budget. I don’t know the details but I expect we’ll get them in the workshop.”
The ideas on how to overcome the hurdle of having no face to face advocacy have been varied. Thomas said during one brainstorming session several League members suggested members hold signs stating issues of importance while standing in front of well-known landmarks and mailing them to their local legislators.
“The thought was they would get the pictures, see the landmarks, and know we were constituents and think, hey, these folks care about this issue,” she said. “It’s a way to get their attention. We’re trying to figure out ways people can make meaningful contact with their representatives.”
To take part in the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County’s 7 p.m. Feb. 2 virtual workshop one must be registered.
You can register in advance for this meeting at this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0qdeirpz4jHN1lSk9EX5HYem7LkTiyJwY3.
If there are any problems with the link, this is an alternative method: Register in advance for this meeting at the League of Women Voters website, https://lwvsaratoga.org. Click on the Events page.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information and a Zoom link to join the meeting.