Student Perspective: ENACT's Gail Miller, Metropolitan State University, Minnesota
"I had a rather limited understanding of politics and democratic institutions when I enrolled in the Advocacy for Policy Change course in spring 2017; and the extent of my political participation was voting every few years. Before taking this class, I was unaware that there are many other ways to communicate my preferences to elected officials. I believed if an election did not turn out the way I hoped, I was left to hope someone 'better' got elected next time.
"Since taking Advocacy for Policy Change, I have a much better understanding of how my state legislature functions, who the representatives are, how to access information about legislation important to me, and how to effectively communicate my preferences to the appropriate political actors. I also learned how to find local advocacy groups working on the issues I am interested in, which enabled me to build meaningful relationships with like-minded people, furthered my education on how to be an involved citizen, and further amplified my political voice.
"The strength of this course is that it blends an academic understanding of the state legislature as an institutional structure with hands-on, practical application on how to access the institution. For example, prior to this class, I did not know I could attend committee meetings and hear the discussion that went into deciding which pieces of legislation moved forward and in what form. I did not know I could sign up to testify at those meetings and tell the committee members what I thought about the bills they were considering.
"This course pushed me well outside my comfort zone, but through class discussion, clear direction, and invaluable peer review, it totally prepared me to: have a meeting with my state representative, write a letter to elected officials that clearly communicates my preferences, and utilize outside sources — advocacy groups and letters to the editor — to apply greater pressure on the legislative body.
"This course has given me a greater understanding of our political system — it all its glory and its shame. There were experiences and discussions that fed my cynicism of politics. For example, my team saw up close some of the political maneuvering and 'game-playing' that can be involved in the process when we learned the piece of legislation we were tracking had likely been a 'strategy bill' — a bill that is unlikely to be passed because it proposes extremely controversial measures but creates a path for a similar, yet less controversial bill to advance. But there were also experiences and discussions that were inspiring, and fueled my desire to further participate in the political process that can produce legislation that truly improves people’s lives.
"During this course, we had the opportunity to meet with, and talk to, state senators and representatives. It was moving to learn that many are just regular folk who essentially stumbled into the role because of their desire to develop solutions for the very real problems people in their neighborhoods live with. When I get cynical about our current political culture, I think back on those meetings and remind myself that there are compassionate, dedicated people fighting for institutions and policies that make a better society."