If you wish to get started in advocacy and citizen lobbying, this is for you. An easy, self study program to get you started. Join us-Be the change you wish to see in the world.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi

Igniting the spark

I remember my first visit to a Senator’s office in Washington, DC.

Over the previous twenty years, I had been to my state’s capitol in Harrisburg and the regional offices of my legislators on many occasions. I had made more phone calls than I could count and even had a few published Letters to the Editor and op/ed pieces under my belt. My passion for advocacy sparked, I joined [email protected] and went to their DC summit. Attendees received intense advocacy training from the UN Foundation before meeting with our legislators.

In the senator’s lobby there was a counter between us and 4-5 staffers, each with a computer and a phone. Early for our appointment, we waited there approximately 15-20 minutes. Most of the time when you call a legislator’s office, any legislator, you get a staffer. They take messages and your information and then usually they repeat back to you what you said, to make sure they get the message right. While we waited, they received nonstop calls centering largely on a single message. This message? Do not pass any measures tightening anything on gun control. I could not believe the volume of people calling in to voice their opinion on this.

I don’t know if the immense volume of calls was the coordinated effort of a specific organization or simply because of high emotions (a mere two months after the horrible shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School). Whatever the motivation, those who took the time to call the Senator were adamant Second Amendment supporters who did not want any legislation passed that would restrict their gun rights. None.

If you shake your head and wonder why more stringent gun legislation wasn’t passed after such a tragedy—that’s why. While there is big money in lobbying for 2A, the voices calling into that office were undeniably numerous.

If you wish to get started in advocacy and citizen lobbying, this is for you. An easy, self study program to get you started. Join us-Be the change you wish to see in the world.

I’m making it stupid-easy to learn

It was that very day that I became committed to doing anything and everything that I could to make sure that my cause is also heard.

The cause that I am passionate about is kids, specifically kids with disabilities or who are disadvantaged (economics, etc.). I made a silent promise to myself and my kids that I would do whatever it takes to make sure that our opinions and challenges are known. It made me realize that we had to do better in the disability community to rally and motivate and educate each other.

That’s what brought me here. After doing this for a few years and speaking with close friends, I asked why they don’t get involved more. Most are just too nervous. It’s out of their comfort zone. Afraid of looking stupid, not having the time, there are many barriers to participation. I wanted to do this easy program to give beginners a primer. Knowing is half the battle, right?

Another thing I learned at that first [email protected] Summit–I have to make it stupid-easy. Kristin van Ogtrop from Real Simple Magazine was one of our speakers and she gave us that term. “If you want people to join you, you have to make it stupid-easy for them to do.” No, I’m not at all calling any of you stupid. I’m just making it stupid easy to learn how to lobby and get started in the process. If I make the information hard to get, you won’t do it. And that’s not what I want.

Find, don’t force, your passion

I didn’t find my passion. It found me. That’s often how it works. I have a son with special needs so that is how I ended up on this journey. His education was at a local non-profit, which introduced me to people, which introduced me to a certification course for Special Ed Advocacy…which landed me here. Now I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.

Why is Al Gore passionate about the environment and Bill & Melinda Gates passionate about helping developing nations? Why is Kristin van Ogrop passionate about childhood vaccines? Who knows? I know we could research it and probably find answers on the internet as I’m sure they’ve been asked at some point. What is their personal story and connection to these topics? Where does your personal story lead you?

One observation I’ve noticed in lobbying and advocacy is that most {effective} people stick to 1-2 topics. Think about it. We all have that Facebook friend who is posting about homeless cats one day, homeless people the next and then Alzheimer’s and then GMOs or who knows what else, right? Do you take them seriously or scroll right past, assuming that this is their ’cause du jour?’ We also all probably have another Facebook friend who is angry and vague. Statements like “this country is headed in the wrong the direction!” and “Our rights are being taken away!” Am I right? Do you have one of those?

What do you think their response would be if you asked them a pointed, in depth and intelligent question about it? Do you think they’d know? Or are they just grabbing and sharing shocking headlines? For the angry, vague person-have you tried asking them to be specific? I have. It’s kind of funny, isn’t it? They are so angry, but they cannot tell you specifically what they are angry about. In both scenarios, do you think that either person is an effective advocate or influential to their cause?

To be an effective advocate, you need to know so much about your topic. When it’s your passion, you don’t mind reading and learning about it. You have to be an expert to be effective. If you are going to be talking with legislators, writing letters to newspapers, having social conversations about your topic….you have to know your topic, inside and out. You have to know the history of legislation for that topic. You have to know who the key players are and who is against it, who is for it. What are the barriers to passing that legislation? The current status of that legislation. The list goes on and on.

And quite frankly, it’s darned near impossible to know all that about several different topics. Even our legislators can’t, which is why they hire different staffers to know all the data for different interests.

If you focus on just one area it helps to establish you as an expert or go-to person for that topic. You will start to be seen as a resource for information on that topic, and that helps give you more reach and influence. When you think about people who are experts about climate change…you likely think of Al Gore. Providing water and vaccines to developing countries…Bill and Melinda Gates.

Of course many areas overlap and that cannot be avoided. Many issues affect other issues. I focus on special education, but I also participate in some efforts that help eliminate poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and access to health care. I’ve even lobbied for the EITC and SNAP because they help lift families out of poverty. If a child is hungry, sick or homeless, they can’t learn. But when it comes to kids and special education, I know that I am a resource to many people. I help many people with specific advice on these issues, and that helps me influence them when it comes our legislative issues. A person may love dogs, but might lobby for issues such and breed bans, puppy mills, spay and neuter laws and so on.

If people know you jump on the latest trend or bandwagon, they trust your opinions less. If you are not passionate about something, it will show. If it is forced, it won’t feel genuine.

Let your true you shine through!

Find, don’t force your passion. Think about what grabs you. What events in your life have influenced who you are becoming, your opinions, and your values? What is your story?


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Unit 1 Assignment

You can write these for personal reference to look at later, or just answer them in your head.

  1. What are you passionate about? What grabs you? What do you love? What do you find yourself reading and talking about, often?
  2. What are the societal problems in that area? What specific changes would you like to see being made? (IE-not just “make it better”)
  3. What, in your opinion, are the current barriers to that change happening, right now, today?
  4. What personal story do you have that relates to this issue?
  5. How does this issue affect your or your family personally?
  6. How does this issue affect our society as a whole? What are the long term implications (in your opinion) if the changes that you wish to see do not occur?

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If you wish to get started in advocacy and citizen lobbying, this is for you. An easy, self study program to get you started. Join us-Be the change you wish to see in the world.
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