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Utah Legislature: Democracy Day draws activists to Capitol

They learn ins and outs of the political process on the Hill

SALT LAKE CITY — Robin Addison wants to make a difference.

She works at Layton's Family Connection Center, a nonprofit agency that serves low-income families, but on Monday she took her work to halls of the Utah Capitol. Addison joined hundreds of other "citizen advocates" as they prepared to make their issues heard at the 2010 Legislature.

Democracy Day brought together a coalition of legislators and advocacy groups, including the AARP and the Utah Community Action Partnership, to educate citizens on ways to get involved and have an impact at the Legislature.

"I came to find out how to make a change for people who don't have food and shelter," Addison said.

Since the economic recession began, she said she has seen a dramatic increase in homeless Utahns who need help, and she hopes lawmakers will hear her message.

The event, which challenged participants to "speak out, speak up, take action," provided Addison and others a chance to meet their representatives.

Lt. Gov. Greg Bell told the gathering that lawmakers seek to represent Utahns.

"Representatives aren't here by accident," he said.

Citizen advocacy has led to major social changes in the U.S., said speaker Nancy Amidei, a teacher at the University of Washington.

"You have something that everyone in elected office wants — your vote," she said. And using that vote is important, Amidei said. "Today, in this state, a lot of people need your voice."

Beyond inspiration, Amidei and others offered practical tips for lobbying in the halls of the Capitol, including wearing a colorful name tag and writing notes.

The event was useful for legislators as well, said Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City.

"It was inspiring to see citizens who (took) time to be involved in the process," he said. "It's very helpful for legislators when people get involved."

As for Addison, she said the event gave her the tools and, perhaps more importantly, the confidence needed to approach lawmakers.

"This has given me the drive to take action and actually participate," she said.

e-mail: jsmith@desnews.com