Activism and Advocacy: Speaking at City Council Meetings
the420times | Apr 17, 2012 | Comments 0
By Sarah Diesel
It’s easy to find the next city council meeting, you can likely visit your city’s website to find out when, where and what time the next meeting occurs — as well as the agendas. Sometimes an agenda item may involve medical cannabis, but most of the time you are speaking during the “public comment” portion of the meeting. This is a specified time during open meetings of the city council for comments from individuals from the community — and these opportunies also usually carry a time limit for speaking! In fact, the Brown Act requires local legislative bodies, such as city councils, to provide an opportunity in regular meetings for members of the public to address it on any non-agenda item generally considered to be a municipal affair and within the jurisdiction of the Council. Only items not on the agenda may be addressed during this period.
How to prepare and address your city council:
1) Research, research, research. Does your local government have the power do what you want them to do? Gather as many facts as you can, with any citations, to present to the council.
2) Write a two minute and a one minute version of your speech — you never know how much time you’ll be alloted. Make your comments both personal and meaningful. Practice reading both timed versions out loud and in front of a mirror or to a friend (a tape recorder works great too). Time yourself so you don’t go over the allotted time given. If you are nervous, reading straight from your prepared remarks could be more effective. People who don’t prepare or bring a note card with talking points can sometimes blank out with the, sometimes intimidating, council starring at them from their chairs.
3) Go to your city hall early and fill out what’s usually called a “speaker’s card,” if one is required. Finding parking and the correct place you are speaking at can take some time, so arriving early is the best advice I can give. Moreover, if you are late, you could miss public comment and then not be allowed to speak. Recently, some Los Angeles activists showed up 20 minutes late to the LA City Council meeting and completely missed the 15 minutes of public comment. And, since medical cannabis was not on the agenda, they weren’t able to speak at all. Don’t let this happen to you or those you represent. If there is an agenda item regarding your concern, you can speak during that subject usually before the council discusses it. Do not discuss medical cannabis during public comment if it is on the agenda. They will stop you and tell you to fill out a speaker card for the appropriate agenda item. On the speaker card you fill out your name and any other information they request (to be honest, I’ve always only put my name and they accepted it). Also, they will ask you for the agenda item you will be speaking to or write “public comment.” Usually they have photocopies of the agenda next to the speaker’s card so you can find out the agenda item you are speaking on.
4) Sit through the meeting until you are called up for comments. Throughout the meeting you will usually feel relaxed and confident — but the moment you know you are going to be speaking soon, you might get butterflies in your tummy and you might start quivering. This is very normal, especially for first-timers. The more you speak in front of people the easier it will become.
5) Go up to the podium confidently when called. Thank whichever person called you, putting their title (mayor, council member) before their last name.
6) Introduce yourself. State your full name. You are speaking on the public record and identifying yourself is part of the requirement for making public comment.
7) Say your comment; why you are there and why you feel personal about it. This is obviously the most important part, so the former step’s significance was mainly getting yourself used to hearing your voice amplified. Speak clearly and forcefully, but be respectful and avoid personal attacks on council members. Make eye contact with each of the council members as you speak. Be succinct, realizing you will usually have no more than two minutes to speak, but cover all the points you want to make.
8) Thank the city council when you are done making your comments.
By having as many cannabis activists in attendance at a city council meeting will not only give you more confidence when speaking, but it will show the city council that there are numerous people being affected by their decisions. There is strength in numbers.
Best of luck cannabis activists!