As the pandemic decreases chances to safely lobby legislators in person, the University of Minnesota student government is moving its advocacy efforts online.
The Minnesota Student Association’s Government and Legislative Affairs (GLA) team bought UJoin, an advocacy and email management service, that enables organizations to create grassroots campaigns that are hosted on UJoin or embedded on their own websites.
Through the software, MSA will use a bill tracker to monitor local, state or federal bills impacting students as they are introduced. The tracker can also be used to follow the progress of initiatives as they travel through the different levels of University administration.
“So the plan is to embed the bill tracker into the MSA website so that the work that GLA is doing is more accessible to the student body, just because the legislative process at the federal and state level can be really confusing,” said Sam Parmekar, MSA’s state government coordinator. “We want to make the work that we’re doing as transparent and accessible as possible to the student body.”
Additionally, the software provides students background information on bills and templates for students to email their representatives and senators about MSA initiatives.
MSA first used the software in late December to advocate for federal COVID-19 relief for dependent college students. With the help of student governments across the Big Ten universities, MSA was able to create a widespread social media campaign.
“We were able to contact senators across 20 states, which was really great for our first time ever using it officially,” said GLA director Bri Sislo-Schutta. “So it was a good, I’d say, test run for how the software should work.”
In a typical year, the GLA team would go to Minnesota’s Capitol and Washington D.C. with fellow students. Despite the challenges brought by COVID-19, the GLA team foresees that it will use the software beyond the pandemic to make it convenient for students to engage with MSA’s campaigns.
While engagement has to be high, Sislo-Schutta said a single story has the potential to convey an issue and sway state legislators.
“I think there’s so many factors that go into that, but really that advocacy piece and really telling your story, and being able to share why issues are important to you as a student to an elected official does go a long way, in my opinion,” she said.