Friday, January 23, 2015

Resources for Advocacy Season

It’s that time of year again, when the Wilson Building becomes abuzz with councilmembers and advocates meeting over issue areas, testifying at hearings, and deliberating on budget priorities. The DC Budget Season is particularly exciting though, because this is a time when community members can provide valuable input into how their city spends their tax dollars.

At the same time, these next few months can be a bit confusing, so we wrote this blog to help answer any lingering questions and offer resources to understand the DC Budget Season and how you can be involved.

Can anyone testify?

You must be a resident of the District of Columbia or work for an organization within the District of Columbia to testify. 
The Committee Chair will set the time limit for testimonies at the begin of the hearing, but often times, you get 2-3 minutes to testify. Although for some hearings, if you are representing an organization, you can get up to 5 minutes. If there are two people connected to your organization signed up to testify, however, the councilmember may choose to split your allotted time. Before testifying, you can check with the councilmember's staff to determine the length of your public testimony.  
Do note though, while you may have a limited time to speak on record, your written testimony may be any length. Written testimonies are very important for the councilmember to have on record so they can refer to it when questioning agency staff and use it as a resource to propose budget marks to council colleagues. Remember to bring 15 copies of your testimony to provide to the committee chairperson and committee members for their records.

How do you sign-up to testify?

You can call the councilmember's office, email the committee staffer, or sign-up online.  
On the day of the hearing, an official agenda with the list of people testifying is published on the DC Council website. From there, you can see whether you will be testifying near the beginning, middle, or end of the hearing so you can plan your day accordingly. Just be cautious, as committee chairs can jump around the agenda when people are absent, late, or added.

How should your testimony be structured?

Some of the most compelling testimonies are from community members who share their personal stories with councilmembers. Watch this powerful testimony of a young DC mom: (skip to 7:47). 
As advocates, we have the data sets and policy recommendations to really backup personal stories with concrete solutions. To make your testimony more robust, however, we recommend adding one recommendation to the end of your story which you can find in our Advocacy Agenda of 2015.

The general structure of a testimony would be:
  • Thank the Chairperson of the committee and the other councilmember’s in the room.
  • State your name and what Ward you live in and why you are testifying. 
  • Tell a piece of your story that will capture the councilmembers’ attention.
  • Explain why one recommendation resonates with your experience. 
  • Re-thank the Chairperson for listening to your testimony. 


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