HOW TO LOBBY
“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” -- Thomas Jefferson
“Just one high quality, thoughtful communication will have more of an impact on a legislator than 10 or 20 or 100 lukewarm communications—no matter whose name is on the letterhead.”
[ adapted in part from MCFL experience, and various sources ]
Here are a few tips to keep handy when you start lobbying for life in Massachusetts. Whether you’re making a phone call or visiting your legislator in person to make your case, telling a personal story about an important issue is much more effective than any town hall mob or purely intellectual fact sheet you choose to use.
Identify yourself. Start by telling them who you are. Make sure to tell them where you live so they know you’re a constituent. (In some cases, such as those where bills are heard in special committee, this is not important. When addressing someone such as a committee chairman, simply introduce yourself as you would any other time.) Do let them know if you are a member of an organization or have a tie to some other group that may have an expert opinion or interest in this issue or law.
Be polite and professional. This is common sense. Also, ask questions first. Don’t assume your legislator opposes or supports the bill, or even knows the specifics of the bill. They see a lot of legislation. So state your views firmly and forcefully without being hostile or argumentative. Be friendly and courteous, even if/when the legislator disagrees with your position. Don’t interrupt or scream out at legislative hearings. Legislators and their staff are also more likely to be persuaded by people in business attire than people wearing cut-off jeans and flip-flops.
State a clear and concise objective. Stay focused on the purpose of your phone call or meeting, and don’t wander off in too many directions. Let them know upfront what you are asking them to do, and refer to bills by their numbers and names—such as, “I want Representative Smith to remove his sponsorship of S.B. 1209.” Be sure to explain any jargon that might be unclear, such as “judicial supervision “abortion” “so-called lethal fetal abnormalities.” Generally, limit your list to one bill or issue (although it is not unheard of to address two or three bills that are most important to you).
Explain why this issue is important to you personally. Lawmakers are interested in data and statistics, but they’re much more interested in how an issue affects their constituents personally. If you have a story to tell, it’s much more compelling than charts and graphs. If you’re talking about late-term abortions, you might be an ob-gyn, an ER doctor, or an ambulance driver; you might be the sibling, sister, parent of a woman who has undergone the grueling late-term procedure; or you may be a post-abortive woman yourself. Perhaps you’ve worked in an abortion clinic, or against sex trafficking, and have seen first-hand how violent and demeaning abortions are to women. If you’re advocating for patient’s rights legislation, it might be because you had a family member pressured to take lethal drugs when they were ill, or refused life-saving treatment because of their adverse diagnosis. If you’re a teacher or parent, you might comment on the impact removing adult supervision of 12 and 13-year-old girls seeking abortions has on them, or how you’ve had students become victims of sex traffickers, and that removing this provision leaves them in a black-hole once they’re targeted.
Don’t use form letters. Legislators want to know what you have to say, not just that you can cut and paste. They know when it’s a form letter, period. It’s okay to use talking points and language from advocacy groups, but it’s best to take that material and put it into your own words.
Use the web and email effectively. Visit legislators’ official websites before your meetings, so you can learn in advance about their background, biographical information, positions on issues, and even their pets. Phone calls are usually taken more seriously by legislative offices, so if you do send an email, you can still follow up with a phone call, too.
Never lie or mislead. The truth for women victimized by abortion is harsh enough. You don’t need to holler. You don’t need to overreact. Making up facts will always come back to haunt you. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to a question, and offer to look it up for them later. The key thing is that you’re a citizen, and you care. You are not expected to be a perfect expert.
Work with legislative staff. Lawmakers rely on their staff to meet with constituents, draft legislation, learn the issues, and make policy recommendations. Staff members are the gateway to your rep. They work on all of the issues you’re concerned about and are often as important a touchstone as your rep. Develop relationships with aides when you reach out. They will begin to view you as a source of reliable information
Listen to elected officials’ comments and questions. Let them react. Their comments and questions will give you cues on how to frame your arguments and what additional information might be useful. It is especially useful if they ask questions. You want to leave time for this. It will give you an opportunity to follow up with them after your meeting.
Thank someone who was helpful. Always thank a staff member who took the time to meet with you, and follows up with any additional information that’s needed. And if a legislator does what you’ve requested, such as co-sponsor or removes sponsorship or vote for a bill, be sure to thank him or her for taking that action. Positive reinforcement is the most effective way to develop a good relationship for future issues.
Finally, be persistent. You don’t have to be angry, obnoxious, or discourteous. You just have to be consistent. Keep asking. Keep calling. Even if your legislator disagrees, continue to call and ask for meetings, letting them know you’ll provide additional information, or would like to follow up on other aspects of the issue you’re addressing. This person is a member of your community. They are accountable to you, and the rest of your district. Let them know you -- and many others -- want to keep the communication line open for the benefit of the most vulnerable citizens in our state: our women, infants, children, and marginalized. Ask them to get back in touch with their reply.