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INTRODUCTION

These resources are provided to assist people to participate in social action ministry. They are drawn from a number of experienced sources, all of which are acknowledged.

While we may have good intentions and desire social change based on the values of the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching, human history tells us that this does not come easily or quickly. Often it is a matter of being in for the long haul and of developing the skills needed to influence positive outcomes. Often this happens as action unfolds, on the run! Further, in today's world, public policy is often the mechanism for effecting social change. This involves engagement with the political process in many social democracies, including Australia. For effective participation in the political process, citizens require skills.

These resources are targeted at assisting people to acquire some of the skills needed to participate in social change processes and/or to refresh skills. We hope that people will find it a useful collection of resources to support social action.

Thanks to Michele Bourke who put this together. This was part of a project of gathering resources to augment and support people engaged in social action ministry. Other supports include a data-base of political contacts and electorates information. These are available from the Social Action Office. Thanks also to Dee Hunt for desk-topping and making this document user-friendly.

We hope that this compilation of resources will be helpful. Feedback is welcome.

Social Action Office Team
February 2000

(Graphic by Grace de Jesus-Sievert, ClipArt Vol.1 No.1, Isis International, Manila 1995)

HOW TO VISIT A POLITICIAN

Visiting a politician is one of the most powerful things you can do. It carries much more weight than signing a petition, sending a postcard or making a phone call, or even sending a letter. It's not difficult to visit an elected local member, yet very few people in Australia have done it. To make your visit as successful as possible, here are some suggestions:

Before the Visit

Organise others who are concerned about the issue/concern to form a delegation to meet with your local member. It is good to visit the local member in a group. A maximum of three people is appropriate.

Ensure that you know the local member's names, electorate, and party.

Contact your local member's office. Tell the office how many will be attending, the names of each person in the delegation and the group/s they represent (if applicable). Clarify the likely length of the meeting. Half an hour is normal meeting length.

If appropriate and if time permits prepare a package of information to send to the local member prior to the delegation meeting. The information package may include the names of each person in the delegation, the group/s they represent and material relating to the issue/s you wish to discuss and recommendations for action.

Ensure that before the meeting all members of your delegation are clear about the points to be raised, who will raise them and the action you would like the local member to take. Appoint someone to be responsible for introducing delegation members to the politician and keeping time in the meeting.

Ensure that all delegation members know where the meeting is to be held as well as parking arrangements or bus/train locations. If necessary check that the meeting venue is accessible to people with a physical disability. Ask delegation members to meet outside the venue at least 15 minutes prior to the scheduled meeting time.

On the Day of the Meeting

Arrive early at the meeting venue. This will give you time to clarify the points to be raised and who will raise them.

(Dress appropriately. Politicians may react negatively to anyone dressed in a messy, radical or unkempt way. This may turn them against your cause, regardless of the worth of your ideas.)

Be friendly, polite and patient and don't get side-tracked. Remember your outline and objectives and make sure you get to raise the issues you intended to raise. Find out their views on the issue - this is important. Ask them how their work is going. Be nice don't just push your own concerns.

Ask the local member what they would be prepared to do. It is very important that you are able to draw a commitment from the local member what action they would be prepared to take. Some suggestions include: make a public statement; talk to a minister on your behalf; write a letter raising your concerns; ask a question in Parliament; raise the issue at a party meeting.

At the end of the meeting thank the local member for the visit and leave some information. Regardless of the outcome, thank them again for the opportunity to meet with them and to air your concerns. Leave a copy of the information about your concerns and recommendations for action.

After the Visit

Get together delegation members and debrief about the meeting with your local member.

Organise for a member of your delegation to write a letter of thanks for the meeting to your local member.

Follow up with the elected member and make sure he/she honours any commitment to you. If you don't hear anything within a reasonable time period, phone or write, and keep on it until it is resolved.

If the visit to your local member is part of a broader campaign where others are meeting with their local members in other electorates, communicate with the contact person who is organising the lobbying campaign and provide feedback about your delegations visit. This feedback is essential for a successful strategic campaign.

Get ready for the next visit to your local member. Now that lobbying has been shown to be a lot easier than you first thought, remember that it gets easier every time you do it.

(Adapted from "How to Visit a Politician" NET ACT - A Project of Catholic Social Justice Welfare and Educational Agencies)

HOW TO ACCESS AND WORK WITH BUREAUCRACIES

The easiest way to get information is to ask for it. Ring the Department or organisation in question and ask for the public relations person or the information officer. Ask for any information they have and specifically information regarding the structure of the organisation.

If you have a particular inquiry ask who would be the relevant person to speak to. Remember too that reports must be available either in libraries or directories. Ask any librarian for clues.

Personalise the process. A large bureaucracy makes it easier for people to hide. You must not allow the people you are dealing with to do it!

If you are given a name, keep it. If you are not given a name ask the person for it. Address phone calls and letters to a particular person by name as well as title where possible.

Aim for the top. Unless you are sure of who the responsible person is and feel confident that addressing that person will achieve results, approach the Minister, Head of Department or company Chairman directly.

An effective way of 'covering your basis' is to address the letter to the Minister and send photocopies to the relevant lower level bureaucrats. Or vice versa, address your correspondence to the bureaucrat and send copies to the Minister and the Head of Department with a brief cover note. Also note at the bottom of the original letter, to whom copies are being sent. (you can do this simply by putting 'cc' and the names/titles of the people receiving copies).

Do not be put off. Do not accept vague explanations. Insist on details in writing. If a promise is made but the letter doesn't arrive or the response is unsatisfactory, contact the person responsible again. If you feel that the person you are addressing is not in a position to help, write or speak to the person in charge of that section.

If you do not understand an explanation, say so and ask that it be clarifies. Continue to do so until either you do understand or you realise it is a hoax.

If possible make sure your own requests are specific.

Be polite but insistent. Abuse is counter-productive. It is often most appropriate to suggest to the person 'out front' that you realise they are not personally to blame and that you can appreciate their likely discomfort about the situation but... then explain your need, make your request.

Address your concerns to the right person. Generally speaking, receptionists and clerks are not responsible for policy decisions. Your concern about an issue may be justified but it is most effectively channelled into action aimed at influencing the decision-makers.

(Taken from "Changing You and I and Us - A Guide to Social Action" - Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Sydney 1985)

Kathy Thornton rsm, NETWORK USA

WRITING TO A POLITICIAN
- PROTOCOLS AND SAMPLE LETTERS

Protocols

'Correct' style is less important than careful presentation. However, if you are worried about how to write a letter, just drop in at your local library and borrow an English grammar book; the librarian will be able to help you find one.

If you feel only a little uncertain, the following tips might be enough to see you through:

  1. There are no hard and fast rules on how to address officials and bureaucrats as practice and personal preferences vary.'
  2. Heads of State, such as Presidents, may be addressed as 'Your Excellency'.
  3. Prime Ministers and other Ministers are generally addressed as 'Dear Prime Minister' - 'Dear Minister' or simply as 'Dear Mr' or 'Dear Ms'.
  4. Ambassadors and High Commissioners always seem to be addressed as 'Your Excellency'.
  5. All other diplomats are simply 'Dear Sir' or 'Dear Madam'.
  6. For bureaucrats, executives and other officials you can open your letter with 'Dear Sir' or 'Dear Madam' or simply by name ('Dear Mr...' or 'Dear Ms...')
  7. To end your letter, you can use the simply 'Yours truly' 'Yours faithfully', or 'Yours sincerely' without fear of error.
  8. Always write on the basis that the government, company or official you are writing to is open to reason and discussion.
  9. If there is something positive to say, say it.
  10. It is always worth saying who you are and, of course, why you are writing.
  11. Be brief. On occasions a simple one or two line letter will be adequate.
  12. Whenever possible include a request that necessitates a response.

(Taken from "Changing You and I and Us - A Guide to Social Action" - Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Sydney 1985)

Sample Letter 1

25 May 1999

Dear Mr Beattie

I live in the electorate of Mt Ommaney and I wish congratulate your government on its commitment to job creation and to the reduction of unemployment in Queensland. The recent Issues Paper People and Places: a profile of growing disadvantage in Queensland, presents a disturbing picture of growing disadvantage in Queensland and highlights the impact of housing costs on poverty rates.

While I support your Government's emphasis on jobs, jobs alone will not overcome the difficulties faced by the many Queenslanders who live below the poverty line.

I believe that suitable, secure and affordable housing, along with jobs that provide a living wage, are essential ingredients in overcoming socio-economic disadvantage in this State. It is imperative that the Queensland Government maintain a commitment to developing public housing stock for low-income people as this State is below the national average in public stock as a proportion of total housing stock. There are an increasing number of vulnerable people with complex needs in our society and housing support services must be expanded to ensure that these people can maintain affordable tenancies.

I acknowledge that Government resources are stretched, but I urge your government to make provision of suitable, secure and affordable housing a priority in the forthcoming 1999 State Budget. I also urge your government to adopt more cooperative and creative inter-departmental programs to deal more effectively with growing social need.

I look forward to seeing a State Budget for 1999 which reflects your Government's pre-election commitment to bring 'social rationalism' into balance with 'economic rationalism' and which reflects a 'whole of government' approach to the significant problem of growing social and economic disadvantage in Queensland.

Yours sincerely

Sample Letter 2

Dear Senator Woodley

I urge the Democrats to consider the impact of any form of Goods and Services Tax on those people who are the most economically disadvantaged in our community.

While I acknowledge your attempts to reduce the negative impacts on the poor by exempting food from the GST I believe that the tax to be imposed on services will also hit hardest those people who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Thank you for considering my concerns.

Yours sincerely

WORKING WITH THE MEDIA

Writing a Media Release

The best way to attract the attention of all forms of media is by a well-written media release. A media release is relatively easy to write if you follow a few simple guidelines.

Your Media Release must answer the questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? And How? Aim to answer these questions concisely in the first paragraph.

Ten key style elements:

  1. Create an attention-grabbing headline.
  2. Be clear. Be brief. Try to restrict yourself to one page.
  3. Use short sentences/paragraphs. Use double spacing.
  4. Use positive words and phrases.
  5. Clearly date the release.
  6. Attribute all statements to the organisation or to a particular person. The media are unable to use newsworthy quotes unless sourced.
  7. News media love quotable quotes, sayings or comments which stand out for their originality and simplicity.
  8. Emphasise the local angle.
  9. Avoid cliches. No religious or church jargon. End the release with a contact person (preferably two contact names), listing business and after-hours phone numbers. They MUST be there if the phone rings!
  10. If you are contacting the Catholic media, they would appreciate an accompanying clearly-labelled photograph.
In addition:
  • Keep language simple and easy to read.
  • It is essential that the contact person is competent, confident and able to provide accurate, immediate information.
  • If the event is "news" and you wish live coverage by press or television, send your Media Release 48 hours prior to the event.

The distribution and timing of the release should be keyed to the deadlines of the media that are to receive it.

(Taken from the article entitled How to write a Media Release in 'Australian Religious')

Sample Press Release

PRESS RELEASE

Church Solidarity with MUA Families in Brisbane

"The Church cannot ignore the fundamental human rights issues involved in the current waterfront dispute" Ms Coralie Kingston of the Social Action Office, Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes said today.

She said that the fact that a company can shift millions of dollars worth of assets and then claim not to have the resources to pay its workforce, arguably, may be legal but it is not moral. It is an unprecedented attack upon workers and sets a dangerous precedent in employee-employer relationships in this country. The basic right to work cannot just be taken from people in this way.

"This shows just how important trade unions are in protecting the jobs of ordinary Australians" Ms Kingston said.

Church groups in Brisbane will host a solidarity gathering in support of MUA workers and their families on 27 April from 7.30 pm at St Mary's Catholic Church, South Brisbane. This is intended to give the MUA workers and their families the opportunity to tell their side of the story and to balance the Reith-Corrigan-McGauchie public relations exercise which has cast these workers in negative working class stereotypes.

For further comment:
Ms Coralie Kingston, Social Action Office (07) 3891 5866
Mr Gary Everett, Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (07) ...

Who to Contact

The best person to contact for coverage of a news story depends on the type of media:

  • A large newspaper: The Chief of Staff or a specialists editor, such as Sports Editor.
  • Local and regional newspapers: The Editor or Assistant Editor.
  • Television and radio news: The News Director.
  • Radio talk-back programmes: The Producer or Research Officer.
  • Television Current Affairs: The news Director for a general news story, otherwise the Producer or Research Officer.

Approximately two hundred releases per day are sent to each individual media outlet. Ninety percent of them go in the bin, therefore a media release should never be just sent - it should always be preceded by and followed up with a personal contact direct to the addressee.

(Taken from Notes for Workshop on Media at the National Vocations Conference, presented by Maureen McDaniell)

Graffiti - West End, Brisbane


Writing a Letter to the Editor - Guidelines and Sample Letter

Guidelines

  • Identify two or three points you wish to make
  • Write in short simple sentences
  • Try to limit what you are saying to around 300 words

Sample Letter

2 November 1999

The Editor
The Courier-Mail

Fax: 3666 6690

Dear Editor

I commend your newspaper for its recent coverage of environmental issues such as vegetation clearance, land salinity and habitat loss. These matters affect us all, not just people on the land. They are relevant also for the well-being of future generations. With the information provided to us in recent editions of The Courier-Mail we can no longer claim ignorance.

As a society we all need to work together to find solutions to the crises facing the environment. We also expect our State Government to give strong leadership in this and urge that this be forthcoming especially in relation to vegetation clearance which is occurring in Queensland at an alarming rate.

Yours sincerely

(signed)

Sister Pauline Coll sgs
Social Action Office

Talk-back Radio - Seven Easy Steps to Action

  1. On your way to the phone, work out the one or two points that you want to make. Jot down some catchy ways of saying it.

  2. The first challenge is to get on. Perseverance is the key. Talk-back is a hit and miss affair really - just keep pushing the redial button.

  3. You've got the dial tone - they are answering. Usually you will get the producer first. They will screen you by asking what comment you want to make. If you sound interesting and coherent, they will put you through to the presenter and flash up some of your key words on the screen in the studio. So - be passionate or coolly analytical - whatever is appropriate - but be interesting.

  4. The producer will also tell you to turn your radio off so they don't get 'feedback' - that screechy noise. You must do this or you'll be off-air before you start. If you want to record your moment of glory, put a tape in and turn the volume right down.

  5. Speak clearly right into the mouthpiece - your telephone handset doesn't reproduce the voice all that clearly, so you need to help the technology along.

  6. Right! You're on and going hell for leather, and blast it, the announcer's just interrupted you and the brilliant flow of rhetoric. With the technology used, the moment the announcer speaks into the microphone, a little instrument called the 'ducker' cuts you out and only the announcer's voice can be heard by listeners.

  7. All you need to do is stop speaking, listen to what the announcer is saying to you, and either continue your line of thought if that's appropriate or answer their question once they have stopped speaking. Unfortunately you can't interrupt the announcer while they are speaking. But you do still have some control. You don't have to answer questions you don't want to - just say something like 'that's a very good point - but first let me tell you about (whatever you want)'.

(Taken from Notes for Workshop on Media at the National Vocations Conference, presented by Maureen McDaniell)

Some General Tips for Working with the Media

  • People are more interesting than policy statements. In working out how to raise an issue with the media, remember that people are more interesting than issues. Most media organisations are trying to appeal to a mass audience - and the general public is more interested in people than intellectual debate. People with an interesting personal story or accounts of people-centred events are more likely to make the media than policy statements.

  • Think visually. The press and television are visual media and decisions on which stories to run and which not to run are made both on the content and the photographs or television footage which comes with them. When you promote a story to a media outlet, think of the visual images which can help to back it up. Let the media outlet know if you can provide a photo opportunity.

  • Organise an event. Consider organising some form of "media event" - a people-focused event that may make an interesting newspaper photograph or television footage. Perhaps involving young people in street theatre, staging a protest, organising a vigil, organising an unusual kind of meal (a meagre rice meal to make a point about hunger), presenting an unusual petition.

  • Timing of a media event is crucial. Be aware of the way in which your local media operates, because this will give you a clue to the best time to organise an event. The general wisdom is that, when dealing with the major metropolitan media, quiet days like Sundays are best. In the main regional centres with TV news and daily newspapers, weekday mornings are best (to give plenty of time to make the evening TV news bulletin). Where only weekly newspapers exist, the quietest times are in the day or two after the last publication has been published (to give plenty of time for the article to be written for the next publication).

  • Respect deadlines. Find out about the deadlines of various media organisations (ring and ask) and respect these deadlines. If you want something published, don't leave your run too late.

  • Think locally. Media statements spelling out an organisation's view can work - particularly if the opinion is interesting and controversial and has a clear "local flavour". To have a local flavour, it must be clearly the action of local people (with local people being quoted) and/or related to local circumstances. Never forget the parochial nature of the suburban, regional and country media. If it doesn't have a local angle, it generally won't be used.

  • Provide background. Always try to provide a media release or background information. Even if an interview takes place, the media release gives the journalist some accurate quotes, an understanding of the points you are making and the correct names of people and organisations.

  • Fax first and then phone. In the initial contact, fax the information first and follow it up with a phone call. Remember that faxes in a busy newsroom can easily go astray, go to the wrong person or go to someone less inclined to act. A follow-up phone call will also give you a fair idea of whether the particular media organisation is likely to give you any coverage.

  • Make contact. Personal contact can make the difference of whether your media release or event gets coverage or not. Faxes and letters draw responses sometimes but follow-up phone calls greatly increase the chance of publication or broadcasting. If you don't know who to speak to, ask when you ring up.

  • Remember the breadth of the media. Don't be limited in your choice of media to approach. Send you media releases and invitations to events to all media in your area. Coverage can potentially come from: metropolitan and regional daily newspapers, smaller country town newspapers, free weekly papers in suburban areas and larger towns, diocesan church newspapers, ABC and commercial radio news services, radio talk-back and current affairs programs, community radio (local, Christian, ethnic and alternative stations), TV news and current affairs programs. If you don't know all of your local media, find an up-to-date media guide (always available in local libraries if you can't find one elsewhere).

  • Borrow good ideas from others. If you are unsure about how to write a media release, don't be afraid of copying others. Collect any examples of media releases or press clippings which you regard as effective in their communication - and copy the style. Keep sentences short and to the point. Don't be afraid of making controversial statements (as long as they are appropriate). Controversial or imaginative comments are more likely to be published - and to capture the attention of the general public.

  • Send a letter to the editor. Letters to the editor are an excellent way of getting across a point of view on a particular issue. Many newspaper surveys have shown that the letters pages are among the most widely read sections of the paper (often the most widely read section). To have a hope of getting a letter published in a major metropolitan daily, your letter needs to be very timely (e-mail and fax are the best ways to send a letter in response to emerging issues) and very pithy. Many regional, country and suburban newspapers publish most of the letters they receive - but some local papers want to restrict letter to issues with a local angle. Where this is the case, find a way of relating the issue to the local situation.

  • Don't forget radio talk-back programs. If you are sending media releases to radio stations, make sure that both the news journalists and the radio presenters receive it. If you are trying to interest a radio presenter in an interview, make sure that you have a competent and willing interviewee lined up. The talk-back format of many local ABC stations and some commercial stations provide good opportunities for organisations keen to get their views across. These talk-back programs need a variety of interesting issues to cover. Your topic might just grab a radio presenter's attention.

  • Remember regional differences. If you are working across a Diocese, be aware of the regional differences in the local media. For instance, the local Diocese of Wollongong, has four district regions in which the media operate - based on the towns of Wollongong, Campbelltown, Nowra and Bowral. As Wollongong is the base of the two local TV stations and the main daily newspapers, it is the best location for major media events. However, to get coverage in the other regions, the event or statements to be promoted need to be localised. Having a regional spokesperson in each of the regions greatly increases the chances of an issue being covered - as does localising the information.

  • Take your own photos for small papers - but not for larger ones. Provide photos for small publications and think of photo opportunities for others. Newspapers which employ photographers always give preference to photos taken by their own photographic staff. (Photographers quickly complain where their photos are overlooked in favour of contributed photos.) But remember that the media (particularly the suburban and regional media) doesn't work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Between 9am and 5pm weekdays is usually the best time to organise a photo.

  • Ask for help. Seek advice from people who know about the media - especially local media officers and any journalists you know.

(Adapted from the handout by Paul Power, Wollongong Diocesan Justice, Development and Welfare Network, November 1998)

PREPARING A BROCHURE OR LEAFLET

Some helpful hints for designing a brochure or leaflet to promote your group and/or campaign:

USE ...

  • Short words
  • Short sentences
  • Familiar words
  • A positive approach
  • Concrete terms
  • Simple typeface (font) 10-12 point type size
  • Dark print on light background colour
  • An expert or publicly known person to endorse message
  • Less than 3 different typefaces (fonts)
  • Moderate line length (not less than newspaper column)
  • Paragraphs (not all one block of text)
  • Titles (at top of text)
  • Headings (for paragraphs)
  • Pictures and graphics and place near relevant text
  • Realistic illustrations

AVOID ...

  • Ambiguity
  • Roman numerals
  • Negative statements
  • Probability statements
  • Blocks of Italics (one word alone is OK)

(Adapted from The Development of a Checklist of Content and Design Characteristics for Printed Health Education Materials by Christine L Paul, Selina Redman and Robert W Sanson-Fisher, in "Health Promotion Journal of Australia" 1997; 7(3): 153-9)

SAMPLE OF A POSTCARD CAMPAIGN

RELEVANT WEBSITES

sao.clriq.org.au/ Social Action Office
www.qld.gov.au/ Gateway to the Queensland Government Internet Resources
www.parliament.qld.gov.au/ Parliament of Queensland
www.ecq.qld.gov.au/ Electoral Commission of Queensland
www.aph.gov.au/ Parliament of Australia
www.wel.org.au/ Women's Electoral Lobby Australia Inc
www.netaction.org/training/ The Virtual Activist
www.green.net.au/activism/ Internet Resources for Australian Activists
www.democrats.org.au/ Australian Democrats
www.greens.org.au/ Australian Greens
www.alp.org.au/ Australian Labor Party
www.liberal.org.au/ Liberal Party of Australia
www.qld.nationals.org.au The National Party of Australia - Queensland
www.oxfam.org.au/ Community Aid Abroad - Oxfam Australia
www.amnesty.org.au/ Amnesty International Australia
www.acfid.asn.au/ Australian Council for International Development (ACFID)

 

The Social Action Office acknowledges the sources from which most of the material in this document came.

 

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