Lobbying visits can take several forms. One is a meeting with the decision maker. Another is public testimony at a hearing or meeting. A third is an event that you stage to get the decision maker’s attention.
Lobbying should be one part of an overall strategy to win people over. This includes persuading your neighbors, other activists, members of the media, and people across the district, state, or country. Your decision makers are more likely to pay attention if they know you are making waves elsewhere and there are many other people who stand with you and are ready to take up the fight.
We’ve already discussed how to initiate a relationship with a legislator or policy maker. If you’ve got a campaign in motion, now’s the time to deepen that relationship.
Make a follow-up visit. Perhaps now you have some allies on your side, a one-pager to leave with your decision maker, or more evidence on how the problem is hurting your town and will continue to get worse unless they take action.
You are working up to a slam dunk lobbying visit, which you should time to coincide with a vote to address the problem, a direct action your allies have organized, a tragic event like a shooting or accident, or a recent report demonstrating that the situation has become dire. The more informed you are, the more effective the meetings with your decision makers will be.
Again, be concrete about what you’re asking for. Take some time to think through what barriers your decision maker is up against. Call before your visit and find out what they advocate, what their objections to your solution may be. Have answers to the concerns with some of their constituents or party members may voice. Can you frame your ask as a win-win solution?
Remember, decision makers are people too. If you’ve had the opportunity to talk to them outside of the office or over a span of several years, they’ll probably be less guarded. They’ll be less likely to view you as an adversary and more as a recognized player in the game.
And above all, do not forget about the power of a good story.
Take this example. (Watch the video.) One Public Citizen intern with asthma was upset at people smoking at dorms, bars, and classrooms at the University Texas. After getting nowhere with the faculty senate and UT governing bodies in trying to get a “no smoking” ban passed, he showed up at a UT Board meeting in his blue jeans and tie-dyed shirt.
When they asked for public comment, he stood up, held up his inhaler, and explained how, since coming to UT and being around cigarette smoke, he needed to use his inhaler several times a day where he’d only used it for emergencies when he’d lived at home.
He looked around and one of the Board members said, “I’ll make that motion.” To his surprise, a majority of the Board was ready to support the motion.
The next meeting, he returned in a shirt and tie. The resolution for a No Smoking Ban passed. The lesson? Don’t be afraid to tell your own story. Telling people how an issue has affected you is often way more effective than telling them what they should do. Just be honest, and make sure you have evidence – bring a prop even – to back up your point.