In recent decades, “lobbyist” has become a bad word. But for me, it’s a title I wear proudly. I don’t spend millions of dollars trying to bribe my legislators into voting my way or skirting the laws, or writing new laws to benefit my income. I educate myself on issues that are important to me and I take the time to make my concerns known to my legislators. Not enough citizens do it and it is your right.
“Here sir, the people govern.”
Sure, it doesn’t always feel that way, but that is what our forefathers had in mind. Yep, not all sunshine and victory dances…it’s a slow process and many times we lose. It is David v Goliath, the big corporations outnumber us, outspend us and out-influence us much of the time. But only if we let them. I am by no means a lobbying expert, but I have gone out there and pounded the pavement several times and each time I learn something. Here is some of what I’ve learned.
Citizen Lobbying is important
Each time I go and present what is important to me, usually there is an opposing view. Many times, the legislative offices remind me of this. For example, I recently told an office about my concerns about lessened accountability that the school districts could have, as it pertains to restraints, seclusion and students with autism. I was told, “I hear what you’re saying, but you have to remember that we also get Principals’ and Superintendents’ Associations in here, telling us they need more leeway in using them.”
Uh huh, you read that right. Little ole me is giving a conflicting message to what some professional lobbying groups are saying. They are out there. They are taking the time to get to DC and voice their concerns…we need to do this too. If not you, who? Get yourself motivated to go out and make a difference, otherwise only one side of the story gets told.
I also was told by several offices that many times, a legislator wants to support something but has to say “Gee, I like this bill, but to be honest, I haven’t heard from any of my constituents about this, so….” If it’s important to you, speak up!
Citizen Lobbying is valued
Twice I was thanked and commended for coming in to speak with them, just as me. I heard “So often we get these lobbying groups in, and they are told what to say…it’s refreshing to have a mom who is motivated about her concerns make the effort to see us.” They want to hear from us. Sure, they want to get re-elected too, but they have to know what their constituents want–they may not have heard the other point of view. You do have power.
Preach to the choir
You will quickly learn which of your legislators support your point of view and those who don’t. You will also learn if the state or district you are in, is in your favor or not. Be prepared to hear “no” and opposing points of view. Don’t be shaken–after all, I know some awesome moms who regularly walk into the offices of Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell! Imagine how nerve-wracking that could be for a constituent who leans left and supports global issues and aid programs. They need to hear from you even if you are outnumbered.
I was in Senator Casey’s office and I said “Well I’ll wrap up with a thank you, because Senator Casey already supports a lot of causes that are important to me, I feel like I’m preaching to the choir.” Both staffers quickly reminded me that they most often only hear from people when it’s negative, when it’s a problem, when Senator Casey has already voted on something to voice their disapproval.
Make the nay-sayers your supporters, and the supporters Champions for your cause!
Citizen Lobbying is available to everyone
Anyone can and should do this. If you can’t get to DC, call. Write a letter. Send an email, send a tweet, post a comment on their Facebook page. You can do this. Take baby steps until you are comfortable and before you know it, you’ll also be itching to go to DC and go “up on the Hill.” If it makes you feel better to have someone with you, join a group that also supports your cause.
Like anything else, be informed and be professional. You can call someone, don’t take it to stalking. A well-written 1-page letter that is concise is better than a crazy manifesto. Contact, but be reasonable. Be specific.
There are several campus movements right now around the country, trying to energize and engage future leaders. I’ve worked side by side with some of them and it’s exciting to see their enthusiasm. It doesn’t have to be scary, just pick your cause, educate yourself, find out what pending legislation is out there about it, and contact your legislators.