At every level of government, lawmakers are weighing decisions that impact the future of our planet, from how to tackle the local waste stream to what to include in national climate policy. And as a climate activist, you have many opportunities to make a case for why these issues matter. After all, in our democracy, it’s an elected official’s job to listen to their constituents—regardless of their appetite for public discourse. Here’s how to make an impression and help lay the groundwork for change.
Show up at local town hall meetings.
When it comes to getting involved in the legislative process, your opinion tends to carry the most weight in your own congressional district. So keep on top of these public forums hosted by your members of Congress; they’re meant to give your community a voice in the national agenda.
If it’s an in-person meeting, printed signs will help you attract more attention for your cause. (If you’re short on time, NRDC offers a selection of printable signs that you can download and bring with you to the meeting.) On the appointed day, be sure to show up (or log in) on time. Always be civil and respectful, and reinforce any comments or questions you agree with by applauding to help demonstrate broad consensus on the given issue.
Even if there are no politicians in attendance—some members of Congress curtail public meetings if they fear facing angry constituents—it doesn’t negate the importance of a town hall. These events may still attract media attention, which prevents unresponsive elected officials from looking the other way.
Take advantage of opportunities to state your case.
To make a big impression on the people at the podium, you’ll want to prepare in advance. For starters, reach out to allies in your community and prepare your talking points together—you’re much more likely to get your question answered or your comment recognized if multiple people voice the same one. Here are some key basics you’ll want to include in your talking points:
- Your name and where you live
- Any pertinent affiliations that inform the perspective you have to share (for example, being a member of NRDC or a local community group)
- A quick description of the problem you’re facing and its impacts on you, your family, and your community or the local environment
- A question about how your elected officials will address the problem
Try your best to keep your speech to a minute or less in length. Be sure to practice reading and delivering it, so you make the most of your floor time. Lastly, don’t forget to thank your member of government for listening!
Attend public hearings.
In some cases, to introduce or repeal legislation, government agencies are required by law to hold hearings to gather public input. Agencies may also voluntarily schedule these events because of the nature of a rule they have proposed or in response to public input they’ve already received. Hearings may be local in nature, concerning a city’s plan for sustainably rebuilding after a major storm, for example. Or they might pertain to national policy and be organized by bodies as powerful as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and concern federal regulations on power plants or fuel economy.
To testify at a public hearing, you’ll need to sign up. You may be able to do so in advance, in which case your best bet is to call the organizing body behind the hearing (be it city hall or the EPA). You can also inquire whether written comments will be accepted and if so, how you can share them in advance. If it’s an in-person meeting, the clerk may tell you that they won’t take sign-ups until the day of the hearing—in which case it’s very important to show up early. Note that in many cases, expert witnesses and public officials will testify first, followed by people representing organizations, followed by individuals—so be prepared to be patient.
Submit public comments.
A public comment period is another legally mandated process that often precedes the implementation of a new rule or modification of an existing one. It often runs concurrently with a set of public hearings on the same topic. Government agencies usually must give the public at least 30 days to submit their arguments in support of or against a given rule. If commenters come out in droves and voice overwhelming opposition, the agency may decide to modify its proposed rule. In other words, this is your moment!
The EPA provides a cheat sheet that will help you craft an effective comment. In brief, make sure you read and understand the rule first, then base your support or opposition with sound reasoning, scientific evidence (if you can find it), and a personal note of how you will be impacted by its repeal or implementation.
Join NRDC’s community to receive emails or text messages about when and where you can make your voice heard. We’ll send you information about town halls and public hearings taking place in your area, as well as open public comment periods on climate-related policies. You’ll also receive petitions, updates on key environmental battles, and reminders to call your elected officials. When you’re ready to take things to the next level, you’ll learn how to host activist events in your own community, such as through phone-banking, fundraisers, or postcard-writing campaigns. Together with a group, you can generate significantly more action than you can on your own.