How to Advocate for the Bay

Clean water advocates, we need your voices to save the Bay!

CBF works at local, state, and federal levels for effective laws and regulations that will reduce pollution, restore vital natural systems like oyster reefs, forests, and wetlands, encourage smart growth in our communities, and more. These actions are not only critical to clean water but also to our health, economy, and way of life. And we can’t do this essential work without you.

From joining our Action Network to writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to attending a lobby day event in Washington, D.C., there are a variety of ways that you can make sure your elected officials know that the Bay and its rivers and streams matter to you (click on the links to learn more):


Want to know who represents you and how to contact them? Find out here.


Join Our Action Network

As simple as it might be, joining our Action Network is a great way to begin advocating for the Bay digitally. You’ll receive all the latest news and updates about our advocacy efforts and decide which clean water issues are most important to you and how you can get involved.

Spread the Word

It’s human nature to trust the words of your friends and family more than anyone else. Whether you’re sharing an informative blog post on social media or a petition with your friends and family via email, one of the easiest, most effective ways to advocate is to spread the word to the people you know the best.

Looking for informative content to share? Check out our Voices for Clean Water and Watershed Watchdogs blog series.

Take Action

We regularly update our Action Center with advocacy actions on the local, state, and federal levels. From sending a message to your representative to calling your county council member to signing a petition standing up for clean water, check out all the ways you can take action for the Bay!

Write a Letter to the Editor or Opinion Article

Writing a letter to the editor helps to frame the debate around an issue, stimulate discussion, and inform the public. Equally important, your elected officials read the paper, too. Whether you're jeering or cheering, you're leveraging the media to get attention.

Tips for writing Letters to the Editor:

  • Letters should be used to reinforce positive coverage or correct coverage that you disagree with or provide another perspective not included in the original article. 
  • They should be short, timely (submitted within a few days after publication), and make common sense.
  • Use everyday language, avoid jargon and wonk. Try to summarize the point you are making in the first few sentences and then use evidence to back it up.
  • Show people why the everyday reader should care. Letters are more effective if they include personal stories and local examples from within the newspaper’s circulation area. Make sure stories and examples directly support your point. 
  • Most publications have word limits that are usually found in the Opinion section (under how to submit a letter to the editor). Generally, word limits range from 200-350 words. 
  • Each paper has its own process to submit a letter (also found in the how to submit a letter).
  • All letters should refer, briefly, to a story published in the publication. For example:
    • RE: “Four-mile algae bloom being tracked in York River” (Sept. 4): The massive toxic algae bloom of A. monilatum in the York River is a reminder that the pollution that fuels algal blooms not only degrades the Chesapeake Bay, but also Virginia’s rivers.
    • I want to voice my support and congratulations to Rep. John Sarbanes, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and everyone who worked tirelessly to pass America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (“U.S. House passes up to $92 million in Chesapeake Bay cleanup funding; advocates expect Trump to sign," Oct. 1).
  • If relevant, letters should include why the issue is important to the writer.
  • Letters can include humor but should avoid being snarky or attacking someone personally.
  • To get a sense of what the publication is interested in, read some of the letters they have printed or posted online.

Tips for writing Opinion Articles: 

  • All publications have word limits, generally from 700-850 words. Check with the specific publication for their requirements.
  • When possible, opinion pieces should refer back to a story the newspaper covered.
  • Opinions responding to a story should be submitted within a couple of days of the publication.
  • They should provide a new or different perspective on the topic. 
  • They should be timely, and some papers require exclusivity.
  • As with letters to the editor, they can include humor, but should avoid being snarky or attacking someone personally.
  • Publications usually want a head and shoulders photo of the opinion author included with the article.
  • Opinions should include a call to action for the reader.
  • Make sure your main point/call to action is clearly stated both near the beginning and at the end of the opinion. 
  • When an impactful photo can illustrate the opinion, it is a good idea to include one. This is especially important for online editions.

What if your local paper didn’t pick up a story?

Local papers are incredibly short-staffed and environmental reporting has taken a hit even in the last couple years. Feel free to forward an AP or Reuters story to your local paper and ask it to carry more information about the environment in the future.  


Remember: The most effective advocacy is accurate, personal, concise, and polite.


Contact Your Elected Official on Social Media

In our current digital age, most if not all elected officials are using social media to share their stances on issues, campaign for re-election, and communicate with their constituents. If you want to quickly reach out to your elected officials, thank them for their action, urge them to support a cause, remind them of a letter you sent them or a meeting you had with them recently, social media is a good way to do that.

When reaching out on social media, remember:

  • Tag your elected official in the post or tweet.
    • If your account is private, your elected official might not be able to see your post or tweet. Learn how to make a post public on Facebook and to make your account public on Instagram and Twitter.
  • Comment or reply to your elected official's posts. Not only will this be seen by the elected official, but you might be able to educate and engage with other constituents on an issue that matters to you.
  • Keep your message simple and cover only one issue.
  • Write in your own words.
  • Include a relevant photo or link.

Here is an example of a post to get you started:
Thanks for all you do for clean water initiatives in the Bay region and across the country @RepDonBeyer. Will you please vote to pass the America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Act to help protect the Bay? https://www.cbf.org/blogs/save-the-bay/2020/09/congress-must-finish-work-on-popular-conservation-bill-before-time-runs-out.html

Feel free to tag CBF (@chesapeakebay on Facebook and Twitter, @chesapeakebayfoundation on Instagram) and use #SaveTheBay so that we can see your post and maybe share.

Write to Your Elected Official

Writing a letter to a elected official is a very simple way to make your voice heard and can follow the same guidelines as a meeting. Believe it or not, we hear from elected officials all the time that the old-fashioned, hand-written (or typed and signed) letter is still a very effective means of citizen lobbying. It demonstrates a sincere and personal investment in the issue.

This is an example of how to organize a letter or email to your elected official, with some examples of things that would be good for him/her to hear from you.

Introduction

  • Introduce yourself.
    "My name is… and I live in your district." (Provide other personal details you are comfortable sharing, such as what you do and where you live, and other things you may do in the community,  such as community groups to which you belong.
  • Describe the issue that you are writing about.
    "I am writing about (local river, stream and/or Bay) because it is important to me and we need your help to make it healthy again."
  • Thank them for any actions that you are aware they have taken to improve local water quality.
    "Before I go on, I just want to thank you for voting in support of legislative tools and resources to help local farmers improve the water quality in our river. I understand this will make a great impact over time."

Tell your message and your story

  • Tell them your message.
    "I am asking for your help because we want to be able to catch fish again in our river and we need your help to make that happen."
  • Tell them your personal story that explains why the issue matters to you.
    "Growing up, we used to be able to go fishing with my dad and always catch several trout in one afternoon. Now, we are lucky if we catch one. Last summer we went out on the stream several times and I caught nothing. This is not right and needs to change."
  • Tell them you know that with legislative tools and resources, local waters can become healthy again.

Closing

  • Ask them directly to work with fellow elected officials to help improve the local waters and the water that is important to you.
    "I am asking you to do everything you can to help us make our local river clean again so that one day, I can take my grandchildren fishing and there will be fish in our river, every time we go."

Basic tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep your letter short.
  • Type or write clearly.
  • Write in your own words.
  • Cover only one issue.

Calling Your Elected Official

Calling your elected official is an incredibly effective advocacy method, especially on time-sensitive issues. And there’s no need to be nervous when you call your elected official’s office, because you will most likely be talking to a staffer or intern rather than your elected official. If you are still uncomfortable about talking to someone directly, call the elected official’s office after 6 p.m. and you’ll most likely be able to leave a message. 

Similar to writing a letter to your elected official, you will want to:

  • Keep the call brief (less than a minute).
  • Mention the issue (or bill number if applicable).
  • Give your address so the staffer knows you are a constituent.

Meet with Your Elected Official or Their Staff

Meeting with a elected official face to face is the most powerful thing an advocate can do. Constituents hire (and fire) our elected officials. To do their job well, elected officials need to understand their constituents’ needs. And it is our responsibility to express our opinions directly to them. Elected officials hear from lobbyists all the time—but they also want to hear from you, their constituents.

Whether you’re meeting your town’s mayor or your congressperson in Washington, D.C., taking the time to set up a meeting, following through, and simply getting to know the elected official goes a long way. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started:

Scheduling the meeting

  • Determine who represents you by using our Find Your Representative tool
  • If you’re nervous, ask a friend or a neighbor to join you on a visit. It is helpful to have additional voices in a meeting—you can amplify your message. Find out when your elected official is free before calling to schedule your visit.  
  • Call your elected official’s district office to schedule the meeting. 
  • Let the staff person know you are a constituent, and you’d like to personally visit with your elected official. Let the staffer know what you want to discuss. (Leave a message if no one is in the office when you call and request a returned call to schedule a visit.)  
  • Once you have a meeting time, be sure you know how much time is allotted. 
  • Get the address of the office or meeting location and ask about parking options if you are unfamiliar with the location.

Preparing for the Meeting: What do you need and why?

  • MESSAGE: Think about one sentence that says what you really need. For example, "We want to be able to catch fish again in our river, and we need your help to make that happen."
  • STORY: Think about why this is important to you and remember a time when you realized this. For example, "Growing up, we used to be able to go fishing with my dad and always catch several trout in one afternoon. Now, we are lucky if we catch one. Last summer we went out on the stream several times and caught nothing. This is not right and needs to change." 

Feel free to do additional research on the issue but remember, you are already an expert! You just need to express your concerns and opinions on why protecting the environment and public health is important and what you want the elected official to do about it. Additionally, you can:

  • Familiarize yourself with the official—visit her/his website, read her/his bio, read recent articles/news coverage and social media posts to understand what she/he care about or are currently working on. Try to understand their perspective on the issues.
  • Familiarize yourself with the meeting outline below. If you prefer, practice the meeting with a friend or family member. If you are bringing a friend or neighbor with you, practice together so you both are prepared. 
  • Remember: You do not need to know all the technical details. You just need to express your concerns and opinions on why restoring and protecting clean water is important and what you want the elected official to do about it. With that said, you can get the latest policy information from CBF staff members ahead of time.

General outline for your meeting

This is an example of how a meeting might unfold, with some ideas about things that would be good for your elected official to hear from you.

  • Start with introductions
    • Introduce yourself.
      "My name is… and I live in your district." (Provide other personal details you are comfortable sharing, such as what you do and where you live, and other things you may do in the community, like being a member of CBF.)
    • Thank them for meeting.
      "Thank you for taking time to meet with me today. I would like to talk with you about (local river or stream), why it's important to me and the ways you can help it become healthy again."
    • Thank them for any actions that you are aware they have taken to improve local water quality.
      For example, did they vote to support local farmers? Or help get funding for the municipality to improve the sewer system or plant more trees so that less polluted runoff is going into local streams?
  • Say why you are there: Clean local rivers and/or streams matter to you.
    • Tell them what you need.
      "We want to be able to catch fish again in our river and we need your help to make that happen."
    • Tell them your personal story that explains why it matters to you.
      "Growing up, we used to be able to go fishing with my dad and always catch several trout in one afternoon. Now, we are lucky if we catch one. Last summer we went out on the stream several times and caught nothing. This is not right and needs to change."
    • Tell them you know that with legislative tools and resources, local waters can become healthy again.
  • Ask them for help: Ask them to work to help improve the local waters and the water that is important to you.
  • Thank them for meeting with you.

Follow up on your meeting

  • Send a thank you note afterwards. (Handwritten is especially nice, but an email is fine too.) In the note, reiterate your main point and urge the elected official again to support/oppose the item you spoke about.
  • If there are any related events in your district, invite your elected official to attend them.
  • Take a picture and post it to social media. Tag the elected official's official account.
  • If you told the elected official you would find specific answers or get specific information, do so.
  • When the elected official does the right thing on the issue, be sure to say thank you!
  • Share with CBF staff how your meeting went and what you learned in your conversation.

Watch this video from our Virginia Volunteer Day on the Hill. It has some great examples of meetings in action.


Vote for the Bay

Participating in our democracy is critical to saving the Bay. Across the watershed, communities are working hard to reduce pollution from runoff, sewage, and agriculture. But even though we’ve made important strides, the recovery is fragile. The Bay and its rivers and streams still have a long way to go to be healthy—and they need you to speak up for them with your vote.  

Share Your Clean Water Story

What does the Bay, its rivers and streams mean to you? What impact have the Bay and its local waters had on your life? We'd like to know.

Share Your Story

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