Education. Taxes. Healthcare. Zoning ordinances. Roads. Benefits.

Your elected officials make a lot of decisions that affect your life at the local, state and federal levels. And you have the power to influence their decisions – whether it’s through your personal story, your expertise or your persistence.

The 2021 legislative session has already begun in many Southern states, and others will be starting in the next several weeks. So how do you make your voice heard?

Step One: Identify your elected official

Your local government should publicly list contact information for city and county officials, but it can be confusing to identify your leaders in state and federal governments. Resources like openstates.org can help you identify your state legislators’ contact information.

Step Two: Identify the decision makers

If you’ve got a topic you are passionate about, it helps to know who is in charge.

For example: Looking for a statewide solution to an education problem? Then you may need to contact the Alabama Board of Education, or the Senate Education Policy Committee, or the same committee in the House.

If you don’t know which committee you need to contact, you can find information on legislative committees in your state through a web search. (Search something like “Tennessee legislative committees”). Scrolling through the list of committees can help you understand which committee you should contact. (Committees—like laws—vary by state, so not every state will have the same committees).

Step Three: Identify relevant legislation

The Alabama legislature posts the status and text of each bill here. You can search prefiled bills or find bills by relevant committee. You can identify co-sponsors and view the status of each bill.

Services like LegiScan also track bills in every state in the U.S. You can track bills’ progress and get the details about who filed the bills.

Step Four: Make your voice heard

This is the most important step. Pick up the phone or shoot an email and make your voice heard. Before contacting your legislature pause for a minute and collect your thoughts. Why are you passionate about this issue? What’s the most important takeaway? You want to lead with the most relevant information.

Step five: Find allies

There’s a good chance other people think the way you do and it’s easier to make a difference if you find a group of likeminded people. Whether it’s on social media or in a local club meeting, find people who share your views and encourage them to reach out to their elected officials too.

Step six: Keep it up

Government is a constantly evolving process. If your elected officials disappoint you on a vote, challenge them. A bad law can be fixed by a good bill next year. You may not get immediate results but keep in mind that actions you take now could be felt many years down the line.

Step seven: Stay informed

Reckon strives to keep you informed about the world around you. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Or sign up for our weekly newsletter. And we want to hear from you. What are the issues that keep you up at night and what questions can we help answer? Email us at reckon@al.com.

Reckon Editor John Hammontree contributed to this report.