Sometimes it takes not just elected leaders, but regular people like you and me to make change. For example, if you want to stand up against Ringling Bros. Circus using cruel bull hooks on elephants in your city, or if you’d like to change the practices at your local zoo, make your thoughts known to your local city council. There are special structures set up specifically so that your city council leaders can listen to what citizens want. You can make “public comments” at your local City Council meetings and your comments may sway the way that City Council members think about and vote on certain issues.
Going to a local council meeting and sharing your views can not only help spread awareness about a cause the members might not be aware of, but it also connects you to important people in your area. It’s always nice to have people in positions of power believe in your cause! And who knows, knowing people in high places could lead you to high places in your own career too!
Speaking in front of a crowd of adults can be very nerve-wracking, but it can also be a very, VERY rewarding experience. Here are some steps on how to prep to speak in front of your city council.
1. Go to Your City Council’s Website for Info on How to Present
Your city council’s website will have all the information you need about upcoming meetings including date, location, the meeting’s agenda, and any other specific instructions about the open meeting portion of the assembly including the amount of time individuals are allowed to speak.
2. Pick a Strategic Date & Invite Other Cause Supporters
It’s important to properly plan out when you want to address your topic at a meeting. Will the councilmembers be discussing your particular measure on a certain night? Knowing this ahead of time allows you to rally other like-minded people and organizations who will back you and support you. Reach out to groups like PETA and In Defense of Animals to come to the meeting and speak also.
3. Do Your Research
Research your topic thoroughly so that the City Council members will feel that you are presenting them with credible facts and persuasive arguments. What issues do you want to bring forth at the meeting? Does your town need better laws protecting animals? Are you trying to prevent the circus coming to town? Have you heard that someone is hoarding animals illegally in their home? Know the facts from both sides of the argument so that you can make your side sound better. Also, make sure to research ahead of time to see what the city council has within their power to do to help. Are they the right people to present your issues to or is there another avenue you need to approach?
4. Jot Down Your Key Points ~ and Practice!
Once you know what you want to discuss during the open forum of the meeting, start writing down some key points. It’s less nerve-wracking to get in front of a room full of strangers when you already have an outline of what you want to discuss. Don’t worry about writing paragraphs – just jot down key words and phrases that will help you remember what you want to say.
You should plan on speaking for 1-2 minutes. Start by saying who you are and what standing you have to speak (you’re a student at Big Oak High School and a local citizen who cares about treating animals right). Then talk about what the problem is. Tell a very short story that demonstrates the issue and will evoke some emotion in your listeners and then back it up with facts and figures. Tell the Council what you think needs to be done and ask the Council members for a specific action on their part (e.g. to vote “yes” on XYZ proposal). Thank them for their time and consideration.
5. Fill Out a Speaker’s Card
If your city requests it, before the meeting begins, fill out a speaker’s card. Many meetings have people do this for time management purposes and to keep things orderly. Fill out your information and then find a good seat.
6. Take a Deep Breath
Listen to other people’s concerns and issues throughout the meeting. Take a deep breath and don’t focus on being nervous – focus on how good it will feel to have people hear your concerns.
When it’s time to speak, thank the city council for allowing you to speak. Focus on speaking clearly and calmly so everyone in the room can hear you. When your time limit is called, you can return to your seat and relax! Give yourself a pat on the back for being brave enough to speak to a group! It takes a lot of courage to stand up for what you believe in.
For Your Inspiration: Examples of Speaking To City Council
Interested in speaking out? To help inspire you, below is a video of Juliette speaking at the LA City Council and also examples of a speech and a letter to a City Council.
- Article: Juliette’s efforts pay off: LA City council declares Elephant Awareness Day
- Speech Example: Juliette’s friend Patty Shenker shares her speech to the LA City Council
- Can’t make it in person? Write the City Council a letter! Here is a letter example from PETA