Advocacy Toolkit

Your Power as a Constituent
Politics are local! Senators and assembly members are very responsive to their constituents. Because they are elected, they need votes to stay in office. Their natural inclination is to get to know their voters, address local problems and understand what they can do to help.

Advocacy
The goal of our Association is to build an effective and dynamic grassroots advocacy network that will translate into positive results for practicing pharmacists so that bills that pharmacists support receive positive votes in senate and assembly committees and are then passed through both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and bills that are seen as detrimental to the practice of pharmacy are defeated. This is a step-by-step guide about building an effective grassroots network throughout the state that will have an impact on policies made in the Commonwealth.

Understanding the Legislative Process
The Massachusetts General Court is in session from January through June each year.

What is Grassroots Advocacy
Grassroots advocacy refers to efforts by individuals and organizations at the local level to influence the public policy debate at the State House. Grassroots advocacy involves constituents communicating with legislators and the public through the press, by writing letters, sending emails or faxes, or circulating petitions that will be delivered to a selected legislator or legislators. These forms of advocacy focus attention on an issue that would otherwise not be visible or well understood. They serve to convey the importance of such issues to legislators, creating an impetus for action.

The MPhA has its own built in Grassroots Action Center which allows our members, and others from the pharmacy community, to identify their legislator and using either our pre-populated letter or a customized letter of their own to send emails to their local Representatives and/or Senators.  Although an online campaign is an an important tool in generating community awareness and involvement on an issue, a follow up phone call to the Representative or Senator provides a more personal approach.

How do I request a meeting with the legislator at the State House?
Call the office. Legislators’ offices are listed on Mass.gov. Ask to speak to the legislator’s staff person who is responsible for scheduling. State that you would like to meet directly with the legislator. Ask about the meeting request procedure. Some offices prefer to take meeting requests by phone. Others will ask you to submit the request by email. In any event, you will be asked for the topic of the meeting since legislators deal with wide ranging issues. If this is an introductory meeting, you might say, ‘I’d like to discuss the community pharmacy business environment (or pharmacy practice issues).’ Mention bill number(s) if you have them. Follow the process, being sure to take note of the scheduler’s name to smooth the way for follow-up calls or other meeting requests. Allow a few weeks for the office to schedule the meeting.

What will be the agenda and timeframe for the meeting?
When the meeting is scheduled, ask about the time allotted for the meeting and who on staff (if anyone) will attend. You’ll want to keep these facts in mind. Since you have initiated the meeting, you are expected to present the topic and come prepared for the discussion. MPhA can provide materials (e.g. talking points, a copy of the legislation, memos of support or opposition). It is up to you to establish rapport and to present the materials in a way that is factual and convincing.

If the scheduler offers a meeting with the chief of staff, accept the meeting. Meetings with constituents are always reported to the elected official. Your time will not be wasted.

What are the general rules for meetings with legislators?

  • Be on time.
  • If you do not meet with the legislator directly, do not express your disappointment. The staff person will brief the legislator after your meeting. Be sure to get the card of the person you meet with or get the person’s name, title, and contact information.
  • Be prepared. Review talking points, printed materials and documents designed to be left with the legislator.
  • Stay on topic. Do not negotiate changes in the Association's position or language in the bill. If you are asked a question you cannot answer, do not guess. Say you will research the question and get back to the legislator with the response.
  • Maintain a friendly business-like manner.

We encourage you to provide feedback about the meeting to MPhA. Tell us who you met with so we can plan follow up. Follow up with a brief note thanking the legislator or staff member for the meeting. Please refrain from mentioning campaign contributions and keep in mind patient privacy and other legal obligations regarding disclosure of information.

What should I say and do in an introductory meeting with a legislator about a specific piece of legislation in the district?

  • Keep the ultimate goal in mind: A working relationship based on mutual respect that will be ongoing throughout the legislator’s tenure of office. The legislator should see you as a valuable source of reliable information and an active, engaged constituent. Introduce yourself as a pharmacist. State your home address and the name and address of the pharmacy where you practice. 
  • Establish common ground by mentioning a recent news item, a public event that included the legislator or a fact from the legislator’s bio that suggests something in common.
  • Talk about what you do. Describe the neighborhood, the healthcare problems you see, and how you, as a practicing pharmacist, have helped people in the district. 
  • Present the issue using the suggested talking points and elaborate on them with additional facts and examples from your experience. Leave behind copies of the MPHA materials as directed.
  • Establish next steps. Is the legislator ready to follow through and vote for (or against) the bill or join on as a co-sponsor? If the legislator is not ready to make a commitment, what other questions does the legislator have? Offer to follow up and/or be available for another meeting.

What is the purpose of inviting a legislator to visit behind the counter at a community pharmacy?
Grassroots lobbying is also very effective. Extend the invitation for your representative to visit your place of business. The legislator is on home turf and ready to listen to a local pharmacist who is familiar with the district and who knows voters.

Legislators discuss and vote on issues dealing with a wide range of topics -- crime, taxes, water, cemeteries, hospitals, insurance, schools, opiates, etc. Most have little working knowledge of what pharmacists know and what pharmacists do. Many rely on personal experiences to inform their votes. Just a few have been behind the counter. Those who visit a pharmacy have come away with a greater appreciation of pharmacists and a better understanding of pharmacy issues. In short, the experience pays dividends.

How would I prepare for a legislator’s visit at a community pharmacy?
Such visits are not for everyone. Most often the invitation is extended by the owner of an independent pharmacy who has developed a successful working relationship over time with a state senator or assembly member.

Planning and considerations:
Thank you for your interest in advocacy. With your help, MPhA is building a strong network of voices throughout the Commonwealth with a message that will be heard loud and clear in the State House!