The first time that Sharon Mason went to the State Capitol to advocate with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, here’s how she felt: “I had butterflies, I feared that I didn’t have enough expertise to talk to my legislators, I was somewhat intimidated by the largess and grandeur of my surroundings…and I didn’t even know where I was supposed to park.”
Now, Sharon regularly updates her legislators on the latest affordable housing news throughout the legislative session. She’s brought friends to the Capitol who are now passionate advocates as well. And she definitely knows where to park.
Sharon and her husband, Barry, have been supporters of Twin Cities Habitat for decades. One or both have organized volunteer groups, participated in global village trips, served on the Board of Directors (Barry was Chair), and more. So when Twin Cities Habitat explored adding an advocacy program in 2009, Sharon was immediately interested.
She attended a Homes for All conference and learned that affordable homeownership is just one slice of the spectrum of affordable housing. The spectrum stretches from preventing homelessness and emergency shelters to affordable homeownership, with options in between like transitional housing and affordable rentals. Homes for All brings together folks from that entire spectrum to advocate for policies that benefit everyone. It’s a powerful strategy.
Sharon’s been an advocate for about ten years now, and recently joined the Advocacy Committee of the Twin Cities Habitat Board of Directors. What inspires her to keep at it?
“I carry with me a belief in the importance and credibility of our message and policy requests, and I have a conviction that my being there matters. I have a willingness to move out of my comfort zone, and I have an opportunity to stand up for what I believe in, which is this: everyone deserves the opportunity to have a roof over their head, and beyond that, it’s totally unconscionable that working families cannot afford housing in our community.”
Sharon adds that "we have a powerful message, and it's important that to be able to share it with legislators."
Sharon has three goals for meeting with her legislators that every advocate can follow. The point is to meet with, call, and email your legislator so that when they see you they:
- Know who you are (their constituent)
- Know what you represent (affordable housing)
- Can count on you for follow-up
“You have to keep in mind that your legislators want to hear from their constituents,” Sharon explains. “You don’t have to be perfect. They want to know ‘Why does this matter to you? Why are you sitting in my office today?’ That’s the thing about being a volunteer—I’m not being paid, no one is forcing me—I’m going because it’s important to me. Legislators really perk up and listen to that. Advocates really provide a fabulous service to their elected representatives.”
Habitat on the Hill
Going to the Capitol might seem daunting, but Sharon highly recommends attending Habitat on the Hill – MN, especially if you’re new to advocacy. The 2018 Habitat on the Hill is Thursday, April 26, and consists of a program and training in the morning, followed by you and your neighbors visiting your legislators. Sometimes you can meet in their offices, sometimes you have a quick hallway meeting, but either way they’ll likely be happy to see you. Plus, you get some cool Habitat swag and a free lunch.
Sharon remembers her first Habitat on the Hill: “Coming out of our orientation in the morning, I found that I was prepared to talk to my reps, I was trained, and I was given materials that explained to our legislators what we were asking them to do. I was confident because I knew that if I couldn’t answer a question, there were people behind me who could follow up.”
Sharon loves the chance to be with people who share her passion for affordable housing and Habitat’s mission.
One of Sharon's favorite memories at the Capitol is finding out from Representative Alice Hausman that the 2014 bonding bill would include $100 million for affordable housing. The left picture above shows that exact moment (Sharon's on the right edge of the photo).
Sharon’s pro tips
All you really need to bring to Habitat on the Hill is your passion for affordable housing. But Sharon does have a few more pro tips for advocacy at the Capitol:
- Do figure out where you’ll park beforehand so it’s not a distraction (the Light Rail Train stops near as well).
- Be ready for an appointment to be rescheduled or canceled—things move fast at the Capitol, and some flexibility always helps.
- Always get a photo taken with you and your legislator—try to get it on your phone and theirs, and then share to social media and tag them. Legislators love photo opps with constituents!
- Bring a granola bar or snack in case you need it.
- Try to go to a hearing related to your issue—it’s cool to see decision-making in action.
- Overall, be passionate about your cause and let it show!