In light of tonight’s Ventura City Council Meeting, which will be addressing a proposed reusable bag ordinance, I thought I’d put up the first of what I hope will be several How To posts for Ventura County Surfrider Activists.

How to Attend a City Council Meeting

First, find out where to go. Our Links page can get you started for most cities in Ventura County. Once you find the city’s website, you may have to do some digging to get the location. For example, here are the directions to Ventura City Hall. You’ll notice that it’s a jpg file, which makes it inaccessible to some people. Leave yourself enough time to contact the City or a friend to make sure you end up in the right place.

Second, know what you’re going to say—if anything. That’s right, you can go to a council meeting to support a cause you believe in without doing any public speaking! If you keep track of your cause through Facebook or other means, you may find that your fellow activists are marking themselves in some way, such as wearing blue shirts. Using this marker is the first way you can help without speaking. Whether or not there is a “team uniform”, one of the activists who speaks before the council may ask any supporters in the room to identify themselves. That’s your moment—stand up or raise your hand. Congratulations, you’ve made your opinion known to your elected representatives!

If you do want to express your opinion in your own words, there are a couple of options that might present themselves. Some council meetings offer the chance to submit comment cards. If you prefer the written word, this option’s for you. The other option is to volunteer to speak. You will most likely have to submit a speaker card to get in line for the podium. If you’re uncomfortable with writing, or extremely passionate about an issue, it is okay to make yourself heard! The City Council is here to represent you and your fellow residents.

Surfrider supporter at a podium. Credit: S. Iverson

Surfrider activist Larry Manson speaks to a crowd

Tips for preparing remarks:

1) Know your subject well. You don’t have to be perfect (if the city needs to hear from professional experts, they can hire them), but you should be well-informed on your cause.

2) Find out the rules. How do you get in line to speak? How long are you permitted to speak? Can you use visual aids?

3) Keep track of time. Meetings and hearings generally focus on more than one issue. This means you may not want to sit through the entire thing. Find out when your cause is on the agenda so that you don’t miss it.

4) Dress the part. If your role in the community is what’s important, dress to fit that role. If you’re not sure what to wear, business casual is always okay. Whatever you wear, try to be clean and tidy.

5) Be polite and interesting. Greet the council (e.g. “Good evening”), and keep your remarks to the point. The object is not to beat the other side in terms of total minutes spoken. It’s to create the most impact on your audience.

6) Breathe.

7) Make it personal. Emphasize that you’re a local. You are a taxpayer, a voter, a business owner, a laborer, a teacher, a student, a parent, a surfer. You play an important role in your community, and the cause you are passionate about plays an important part in your life.

Good luck!