The CapCon Guide: How to be an effective citizen-advocate in Michigan

Things are changing fast in Michigan. Here’s how to make your mark on the state

“Everything happening in Lansing and Washington, D.C., seems like such a mess. What can I do to actually make a difference?”

The Mackinac Center and Michigan Capitol Confidential receive emails and phone calls like that regularly. Here’s some advice on how to be an effective citizen-advocate.

Focus on the issues you care about

The two worst advocates are 1) the person who does nothing and 2) the person who weighs in on everything. You don’t want to be either of these. It’s important to figure out what, among your beliefs, are the most important ones, and then advocate them – even if just among your family and friends.

You don’t want to be the person shouting about everything. Think about the family member or friend who has opinions on every issue, each one just as strong as the last. That’s not very persuasive. In the same way, calling or emailing your lawmaker about every issue under the sun isn’t very persuasive.

So the first order of business of getting involved in advocacy work is to find the issues you care about and then prioritize them. Don’t spend your time being an advocate on an issue that is far down the list of what you care about. And don’t weigh in on everything.

Join a larger group

It’s easier than ever to find a group that shares your values. Maybe you’ve served in the military and are concerned about veterans issues. Find a VFW chapter. Are you a contractor or construction worker? Check out Associated Builders and Contractors. Business owner? Look into the Chamber of Commerce. Involved in real estate? Join the local planning commission or Realtors association.

You may not feel heard in Lansing, but Lansing listens to interest groups and associations. Whatever issue you care about, there’s probably an interest group representing it. You can influence that group.

There are also several grass roots activist groups. Opportunity Michigan, Michigan Freedom Fund and Americans for Prosperity-Michigan focus on a range of free-market policy issues, and they can keep you informed about the most important issues in Michigan.

Understand the tools that are available … and use them

Phone calls. Emails. Facebook messages. Twitter. You don’t need to use all of them, but you should be using at least some of them. Someone will read every message you send to your lawmaker – and authentic messages delivered by voters from the district have a very good chance of being read by lawmakers themselves. So look up your lawmakers’ contact information (Google will give you their Facebook and Twitter pages) and send them a note!

State lawmakers also have in-person coffee hours and staffers who read the local newspapers. Go talk to them in the flesh, or write a letter to the editor about something you care about.

Put your money, and your time, where your mouth is

Got a politician you love? Write a check. Got one whose policy priorities are way off from your own? Donate to the opposing candidate. If you don’t have the money to do that, donate your time, whether for or against. But be smart and be strategic. Find out if the politician stands a chance of losing, or if reelection is all but guaranteed.

Be principled and informed

Here are some principles for relating to your elected officials, courtesy of a Mackinac Center toolkit from the Tea Party era:

  • Don’t be impressed by the “nice guy.”
  • Don’t presume virtue in party labels.
  • Get to know your lawmakers’ voting records.

The Mackinac Center and Michigan Capitol Confidential are here to simplify issues for Michigan voters and residents.

You know where we stand – for a smaller government that doesn’t play favorites between different citizens or groups.

We promise to continue blowing the whistle on attempts to raise taxes, force people into unions, give billions to chosen corporations and expand the state budget by an explosive amount.

We don’t engage in clickbait issues or unimportant or partisan fights that are often the sideshow to the real issues.

So if you are looking for what’s really going on in Lansing, we aren’t a bad place to start.

Jarrett Skorup is vice president for marketing and communications at the Mackinac Center. Email him at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.