When I first emailed NH state Senator Martha Hennessey about my idea for a bill that would combat period poverty, I honestly never dreamed that it would one day be signed into law. Most people dream of making change, but young people are frequently told that it’s incredibly hard to actually make change happen.
While the task of passing SB 142 certainly was not one that I would describe as easy, I think there is a distinct difference between “hard” and “hard work” that is often overlooked. Thus, to the young people filled with ideas for how to make your community a better place, I offer you John C. Maxwell’s words of wisdom: “Dreams don’t work unless you do.”
Furthermore, to the adults surrounding these young people, I urge you to encourage their ideas, rather than dragging them down with cliches like, “You’re too young to make a difference.” First of all, there is no magical age at which people gain the ability to create change, and second of all, even if the end result doesn’t quite match the original goal, the experience gained and hard work along the way are not without benefit.
Even if someone has a great idea and encouragement from their support network, many people face the challenge of figuring out where to go from there. This can become overwhelming quite easily, especially if you are a young person with limited experiences. You know what you want to happen, but you’re not sure how to make it happen.
Here are six steps to successful advocacy:
Determine your end goal. Your idea is a baseline for what you ultimately want to happen. Before you worry about what your plan of attack will be, picture your end goal. Knowing specifically where you want your idea to go will help you figure out the smaller steps you’ll need to take to get there.
Figure out which group of representatives you’ll be addressing, if policy change is your end goal. If your idea pertains to your school, then you’ll want to talk to your school board. If it’s your city, then you’ll be communicating with your city council. If it’s your whole state, then you’ll be working with your state legislators. It’s important to make sure that you’re talking to the specific group of people who will be able to implement the policy change that you are aiming for.
Do your research. It’s important to have your idea or end goal explicitly written out or stated so you can make sure everybody understands what you want to do. Then, you want to show others that you know what you’re talking about, so it’s important to compile relevant information, such as other places that have implemented something similar to your idea, relevant statistics, financial impact, etc.
Build your case. Using your idea and your research, start thinking about ways you can get others on board. This can include personal anecdotes, stories from other people (used with permission), and a solid answer to give people who ask, “Why should I care about this?” It can also be helpful to anticipate counterarguments (such as financial burden or misinformation) and have statements already prepared so you aren’t caught off guard by opposition. Not everyone will like your idea, and that is okay.
Present your idea! Whether it’s a school board meeting or a public hearing for a bill, be ready to present your idea. This very well may include public speaking, but don’t let that deter you! Sometimes, it’s helpful to remember that you are talking about an issue or an idea and not about yourself. Plus, you can read directly off a piece of paper so you don’t forget anything, and it’s a great skill to have in your tool belt anyways.
Be flexible. Like I said earlier, the end result may not look exactly how you pictured your end goal, but that’s okay. Personally, my end goal was for menstrual hygiene products to be in every public restroom in New Hampshire, but that’s not quite how it turned out. However, do I regret the end result of menstrual hygiene products in female and gender neutral restrooms in public middle and high schools? Absolutely not. Progress is progress. Remember to be flexible with your goal and proud of your contributions.
So there you have it, six steps to turn your idea into a reality. Don’t forget the power that you have to create change, no matter your age. (Bonus of living in New Hampshire: every proposed bill has a public hearing, and you do not have to be 18 years old to attend or speak at one. Use your voice!) It might seem like a lot right now, but I assure you, your efforts will pay off. After all, dreams don’t work unless you do.
Click here to read more about SB142, which became New Hampshire law this year with the help of Caroline's advocacy.