Previously, we looked at the importance of confrontation, now we'll start looking at some tips on how to do it effectively.
Step number one: know yourself and your opposition
Over two thousand years ago, the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote in the Art of War, "Know thy enemy as well as thyself". And it’s just as true when it comes to political activism as it is to military operations.
When it comes to grassroots lobbying, there is power in numbers. And numbers are found in quality grassroots organization.
The thing that makes phone calls and letters so effective is that they are short and quick means of relaying your message. Changing the mind of your officials may not be accomplished with one phone call or one letter. However, a thousand phone calls or letters voicing similar opinions will have a major impact on how most representatives will vote on any given issue.
Once you have taken the time to contact an elected official on an issue, the most important aspect of basic lobbying is multiplication. For instance, finding at least ten others to call or write their elected officials as well.
While the term “grassroots” refers to the average activist or constituent in an elected officials district, “grasstops” refers to community leaders. Individuals that are fairly well known in their community - and/or by the elected official. These are people that an elected official knows can have an outsized impact in their area, (whether it's a geographic area like a precinct, city or county, or in an area of interest).
In other words, these people are the "Mr. Bigs" in their area.
At its most elemental, grassroots lobbying is about communication. And the more personal the communication the better. And when it comes to elected officials, hearing from their constituents - firsthand and in person - is about the most effective form of communication there is.
This means that, in order to be more successful, you should try to enable as much of that type of "firsthand" communication Here are a few ideas to consider.
When it comes to effective grassroots lobbying, there really is no substitute for meeting with an elected official personally - and getting others who think like you do to do so as well. That being the case, you need to take such meetings seriously.
You should treat them just like any other business meeting, (or at least the ones you prepare for!). Senators, representatives and legislators all have an obligation to vote in the best interest of your community. Likewise, you have a responsibility to tell them what the best interests of your community are.
In order to do it right and have the greatest impact, consider the following nine tips for personal meetings with elected officials or their staff:
Last time we took a look at some tips on personal letters. This time, it's phone calls and meetings.
The first tip on phone calls is "when" to call. In other words, if you're lobbying on a specific piece of legislation, (especially trying to coordinate the lobbying of a group of people)), phone calls are best used late in the process, such as right before a vote. This lets the legislators know that the people are watching.
On our last look at the lobbying buffet I reviewed some tips on petitions and post cards. Next up?
Lobbying with personal letters
Personal letters rank higher on the scale when it comes to having an impact, but they’re harder to come by.
Letters can be very effective in helping you voice your concerns, as they let you get in more information than a post card. The printed word also enables the legislator to better understand their constituents’ opinions and to gauge passion. They flag important issues for the legislator in advance and provide a written record to review. However, most people don’t take the time to write them.
Following up on the last entry reviewing the items on the Grassroots lobbying Buffet, we'll start looking at each of the methods you can use to bring pressure on elected officials. Generally speaking, we'll start at the bottom in terms of impact and work our way up.
Petitions have a one-time impact – when they are delivered. The number of signatures tends to be discounted as just a “thick enclosure” that accompanies the cover letter you present along with them. Petitions are generally better suited to building lists for your organization than for lobbying, (but list building is important too!).
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