Write Your Own Op-Ed
One way you can take action for your campaign is to write or recruit an advocate to write an op-ed for your local newspaper, magazine, blog, community, or school newsletter. Look for an advocate who is credible on the topic and well-known in your community to sign your op-ed, as they will likely draw in more readers for the publication. A recognized person in the community, a person with a strong personal story, or an expert in the issue area is a good place to start.
An op-ed is a written opinion editorial published in a local, regional, or national media outlet. Sometimes it’s a personal, emotional story—other times the facts are presented straightforward. Many people like to read op-eds because community ideas are important, and they can’t get those same opinions in objective journalism. When you write about your cause publicly, you’re spreading awareness to decision makers, journalists, and members of your community, giving them the chance to learn more about the issue, form their own opinions about your cause, and, ideally, take steps to get involved.
Before you get started on your own story, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Your op-ed can be either emotional or rational. It all depends on the story you want to tell. Emotional op-eds encourage readers to care about what the author cares about and uses personal touches to emphasize why this is important to the signer. An op-ed can express the urgency of the issue by using words like, “can’t,” “refuse,” “never,” and “now.”
- A rational introduction often includes statistics and logical explanations for why your issue is important. An example sentence for that kind of piece might sound like this: “Many people in America benefit from the laws put in place by their local elected officials as they directly address their community’s needs. But the ability of local governments to pass these kinds of laws is now at risk.”
- A strong headline is concise, gives the readers a preview of what you’re going to say, and also makes them curious enough to read your op-ed. You should include a great headline but know the paper may choose their own.
- When choosing an influential signer, try to identify someone who is well known in your community and credible on the topic, like someone from the city or county public health department, a doctor, researcher, or elected official, and who can help you gain attention or earn a placement in a high-profile publication. Make sure to include the signer’s contact information—name, title, organization (if needed), e-mail, and phone number—in case the editors want to contact you/the signer.
Below are a few examples of published op-eds that focus on preemption.
- The Sacramento Bee: We’ve Seen Some Cynical Moves to Protect Profits, but This Soda Tax Ban is a New Low
- Washington Post: Corporatism is Infringing on Your Backyard Like Never Before
- Washington Post: We are Maryland County Executives. We Support the $15 Minimum Wage — as a Floor
- Penn Live: The Soda Tax Preemption Bill Gives Big Sugar a Break at Our Kids’ Expense
- Courier Journal: Local Issues are Better Handled by Local Lawmakers, Not Big Government
- Courier Journal: Conservatives, Stop Claiming You Believe in Local Control
Do you think your community is ready to learn more about preemption and the issues you’re working on in an op-ed? Let’s get started by breaking down the sample op-ed below.
- It’s important to make your key points early and often so that your reader understands why this is meaningful for them.
Ex. Local Laws Can Lead National Conversations
Ex. Janis Smith
Good ideas start locally. Our local leaders need the ability to build on state policies that protect our health. However, our [STATE] state legislators are attempting to hold our communities back.
- Where you can, be sure to include your state, town, county, or the specific community that you want to reach.
A bill is currently being considered by the [STATE] state legislature will prevent local leaders from passing laws that would positively impact our health and well-being. If passed, [BILL NUMBER] would [INFORMATION ABOUT THE BILL AND WHAT IS BEING PREEMPTED]
[PARAGRAPH SUPPORTING THE POLICY BEING PREEMPTED AND PROVIDING BACKGROUND ON THE ISSUE LOCALLY]
- Remember to include a link somewhere in the piece so that your readers know how to join your movement or create a campaign of their own.
Apart from the merits of [ISSUE BEING PREEMPTED], the precedent set by [BILL NUMBER] of state leaders blocking communities from meeting their own needs is bad for [STATE]’s residents and can hurt communities most where the need is the greatest.
- Keep your op-ed to 500 words max so that your important points aren’t cut during the editing process.
- Before you begin writing, check the word-length parameters of the outlet. These can vary, and you want to make sure that your important points aren’t cut during the editing process.
- Write an op-ed to a specific paper. If they don’t accept it you can think about another target, edit and try again but do not send the same op-ed to more than one paper!
Local policies can change the conversation on important issues. For example, nearly 30 years ago, San Louis Obisbo–a mid-sized city in southwest California–became the first city to pass a law ensuring smoke-free air in public buildings. Since then, 36 states and more than 5,000 municipalities in the United States have passed some type of smoke-free air laws, which are proven to reduce exposure to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. When our local policymakers can lead the way, their creative and innovative solutions can eventually impact the entire country in a positive way.
State leaders have an important role to play in our health and I’m proud of the progress [STATE] has made on issues such as [INSERT POSITIVE STATEWIDE POLICIES]. However, our local leaders should be able to build on this progress and legislation like [BILL NUMBER] prevents them from putting the needs of their constituents first.
Creating a healthy and equitable [STATE] requires work and effort on all of our leaders at every level of government. Everyone should be able to benefit from smart and effective policies. Call your state legislators today and urge them to oppose [BILL NUMBER] in order to preserve our local leaders’ ability to do their job.