Talking to your state member of parliament (MP) might not be the most natural or comfortable action for some people.
So here are some tips to help you before, during and after your meeting.
Before the meeting
Know your why
Consider why you care about the issue of sexual violence, the importance of compassionate, trauma-informed policing and reform for Queensland’s consent laws. It really helps to write this out in a few sentences. Try and get it down to 20 words or less so that it’s memorable and rolls off your tongue easily.
You can see from my notes on the left, I wrote down:
I am here today to discuss my concerns about the outcomes that survivors of sexual assault are experiencing when they report crimes to the Queensland Police.
Take some time to think about what parts of your why you are comfortable sharing. For example, I’m comfortable sharing that I’ve been learning about this issue as part of a working party at the higher education institution where I work and that I’ve had friends who’ve been sexually assaulted in the past who were re-traumatised by court processes. I don’t share specific details, like the name of my institution or my friends’ names. These details are not necessary, and it would be a betrayal of trust if I shared my friends’ names publicly without their permission. You can read more about my why here.
To be clear: just because you are asking for a meeting about sexual violence, it does not mean that you have to talk about your own or other people’s lived experiences. The statistics are powerful enough.
Email your state member of parliament and request a meeting
Your meeting request can be a brief email. Include your name, best contact phone number, a couple of options for times when you are available to meet, as well as what the meeting will be about.
It is your member of parliament’s job to meet with and listen to their residents’ and voters’ concerns. They cannot properly represent the people in their electorate if they don’t know what issues you care about, so remember that you’re not “taking up their time”, rather you’re making their job easier by reaching out to them to share what is important to you. This reframing can help us feel brave, speak up and take up time and space – not things that women have been socialised to do. We have to work extra hard to engage in representation.
Not sure who represents you in state parliament? Find out here.
Write up talking points and take them with you
If you’re anything like me you like to feel prepared when going into unfamiliar situations. I had never made an appointment with any member of parliament before, so to help me feel ready I asked a member of the MP’s office team if there was anything in particular I could do or bring to the meeting to ensure I got the most of out the 30 minute timeslot. Although they didn’t give me any specific instructions it did help me to know that I wouldn’t be caught out by any unknown expectations.
The morning of my meeting I re-read the ABC news article Rough Justice. It was the reason that I got angry and asked for the appointment in the first place, so re-reading it reminded me why this issue is important. I wrote down some of the statistics from the article in dot points, so that I had them to hand and could share them easily during the meeting. (You can find those key statistics here.)
I took the notebook along with me and opened it to the right page as soon as I sat down at the meeting room table. (See the photograph above.) Brené Brown makes notes and takes them along when has a tough conversations. If it’s good enough for Brené, then it’s good enough for me. You can find more of Brené strategies to build courage here.
I also took an extra 15 minutes to find and read my member of state parliament’s inaugural speech to state parliament and browsed his social media and website. Having a sense of his values allowed me to frame the issue as one that he might care about. For example, equity came through as a value in his first speech to parliament, so I emphasised the inequity in this gendered issue. My member of parliament also foregrounds his role as a father in his social media posts, so concern for the next generation was another approach I knew would likely resonate. This strategy of mapping the needs and concerns of others is something I learnt from the Conflict Resolution Network, find out more about conflict mapping here.
I also made sure to mention that I understood the privilege and responsibility of being educated and having resources including time. This is something I truly believe and it was also a way to indirectly signal my MP’s privileged position, as a white, cis-male politician with authority and power. My implied meaning was that he also has a responsibility to take action on this issue but it wasn’t something that I directly or aggressively stated.
Ask yourself, what advice and help might my MP offer?
I took some time to think about what I wanted my member of parliament to do as a result of the meeting, and if there was any knowledge that he might be able to share with me that could help me in my efforts. I tried to be realistic, to think about what was the “smallest” thing I was willing to accept out of the discussion as well as what might be the “biggest” think I could hope to achieve with a conversation.
At a minimum I hoped that my MP would write a letter. I also thought it would be great if he would ask a question of the Minister for Police whilst parliament was sitting. In particular, I wanted him to follow up on whether the Minister had a concrete training plan and targets for ensuring Queensland Police Service staff feel confident enacting a trauma-informed, compassionate response to survivor’s reports of sexual assault.
I didn’t really know what else my MP might be able to do. I thought perhaps he might:
- help me identify a community space to host a meeting and advertise that meeting through his newsletter and social media channels;
- connect me with other people who are acting on this issue; and
- share useful information about the way that state parliament works such as key dates or important timelines that we could organise around to gain momentum.
In particular I wanted some insight into budget planning processes, given that police training would need to be funded if it were to be more than a dream or a dot point in the Queensland Government’s Prevent. Support. Believe Framework to address Sexual Violence.
Taking time to consider the advice and help that your member of parliament could offer, as well as their needs and concerns will help ensure you get the most out of the meeting. Taking this approach may also contribute to them feeling empowered and confident to help. You’re trying to motivate them to act so focus on what they can do in the future, rather than blaming them for past inaction.
Most importantly, time spent planning and preparing before the meeting will allow you to stay confident during the meeting.
During the meeting
Start with thank you
I thanked my state MP for being active and visible at events like the Religious Discrimination Bill Protest, for his obvious care for the community and the regular communications his office curates and shares. I explained that this proactive approach made me feel comfortable to come and talk with him and that I felt that he was someone who was approachable, who would listen and take the issue seriously.
Silence is your friend
I then explained why I care about this issue, how I had come to be involved and asked big, open questions: “How can we change this? What can we do to make sure the Premier is taking this seriously?”
I explained that I used the word “we” deliberately and that I am committed to putting my resources and time into this issue, whilst also acknowledging that it’s complex and will not be solved overnight.
Then I sat silently and waited for an answer.
I didn’t jump in and fill the silence with words. I let the silence and a little bit of discomfort hang to put some pressure on my MP to respond. It’s a trick I learnt teaching. Works (almost) every time.
I listened actively to his answer, took notes and then later in the meeting repeated back key phrases that he had used. For example, he said that it’s important that “they don’t get away with it”. The idea of keeping government accountable seemed important to him and aligned with what I believe, so I reflected that idea back to him. “I agree. It’s important that there is accountability.”
Be persistent (politely)
I was also politely persistent. At one point my state MP said something along the lines of “I don’t know how to make this sort of change.”
I replied, “I don’t think that’s true. You have been able to achieve a lot in your time in government and you have a voice in parliament.”
A question that I would ask if I were to do this again would be “When have you seen positive change? What contributed to that change occurring?” I think a positively framed question like that would have opened up some more possibilities and solution focussed thinking.
Eventually, I felt a shift and my MP agreed to write a letter and ask a question of the Minister of Police. He thanked me for bringing this issue to his attention and mentioned that having the chance to stop and reflect was really helpful to him. He mentioned that it was time for him to reach out to Legal Aid Queensland again.
He also shared what he learnt from the Australian Institute for Strangulation Prevention that victims of strangulation sometimes present as “groggy” or “drunk looking” from oxygen deprivation, which is often misinterpreted by first responders. So the conversation was reciprocal: I learnt something, as well as sharing the statistics from the ABC article and the steps we’ve taken at my higher education institution to raise awareness, train staff and students, and implement trauma-informed policy and procedures.
Remind them about self-care
I ended the meeting by thanking him for his time and reminding my state MP to take some time out for self-care. I said that spending 60 minutes thinking and talking about sexual violence is draining and heavy, so it’s important to be intentional about filling your cup back up. I mentioned that I love the stress-less tips from WayAhead and suggested they might be something good to pop on the office fridge for his staff.
For me acknowledging that we are placing a burden on someone by having this conversation is a really important step. It’s not about giving people an excuse to turn away from the discomfort of the issue, rather supporting them to identify tools that will help them engage, take action and not get burnt out.
I also think it’s really important that we role model the kind of compassion, kindness and care that we hope Queensland police and justice staff show to survivors who disclose and report sexual assaults and other forms of sexual violence.
I was really pleased that my MP brought another member of his team along to the meeting. It was great to bounce around ideas on the issue with two highly intelligent people. She asked some excellent questions that helped me clarify my goals and understand the tone I wanted Believe Queensland Women to adopt in our communications. She also helped me see that some people might characterise this as a domestic violence issue and pointed to some of the people and countries that have been advocating about consent laws and multidisciplinary support service teams. It felt good to have an ally in the room.
So a tip that I would give to others would be to buddy up with a supportive friend and ask them to go with you to your meeting. If you get a bit overwhelmed or tongue tied in the conversation they can step in and help.
After the meeting
After my meeting I took some time to sit at a café and make some notes. I wanted to reflect and learn from the experience, in case it was something I needed to do again in the future. I used the simple “What? Now what? So what?” reflective prompts to guide my reflection.
Send a summary email
When I got home that evening I spent 15 minutes writing an email to my MP, reiterating my appreciation for the meeting, summarising the main discussion points and what action steps we had agreed to during the meeting.
A few weeks later I followed up with another email, sharing the steps I had taken. This was my way of reminded my MP’s office that I was following through on our agreed actions and keeping them updated on my progress as we had agreed, thus implying that I hoped my MP would follow through on his commitment too.
Not long afterwards I received an email sharing the letter that my MP had sent a letter using the Believe Queensland Women template, which was super exciting.
You can see we celebrated and acknowledged my MP’s kindness here. What greater compliment could anyone receive than being compared to Beyoncé?
Good luck as you organise to meet with your own MP. If you need more tips, want to practice what you will say or have a good news story about meeting your MP, reach out to our team. We would love it f you tagged us in a celebratory post of your own. We are happy to chat, offer support or give you a (virtual) high five. Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org