Becoming a Citizen Lobbyist, a How-to (Part 1 - Before you ever have a meeting)
'Lobbying' can be something of a dirty word but in actuality, it's an effective way to let your representatives (you know, those people you elect to work for you) know what you care about and how they can take action to help you.
Advocacy can look like different (or a combination of) things, such as:
Moving someone closer to something you want
Working with someone who already shares your position to get them to act on something
Softening or neutralizing a position on a topic (not working as aggressively against something you want)
Especially if you’re on the defensive with an issue, this can be the best outcome available to you
To be an effective citizen lobbyist (an individual lobbying legislators to act on an issue you care about), your work begins long before you ever have that face-to-face meeting.
Here's a list to get you started so that you're setup for success:
Get to know the MN Legislature's website and where/how they share information, including social media platforms (the #mnleg Twitter hashtag is especially helpful). You can even setup an account to track bills as they move through the House and Senate so you can keep up with developments.
Speaking of social media and websites, don't forget to follow relevant legislators (including those on key committees that may address your issue), parties, and nonprofits/advocacy/interst groups related to your advocacy area. Sign up for newsletters from your representatives as well to get a feel for what's important to them and how they interact with constituents.
Think about how you want to approach the topic. Are you ready to move forward on your own or might you prefer working with a group that's active in the space? Either is fine and there are pros and cons in any direction you choose. Working alone gives you autonomy and nimbleness but also leaves everything up to you. Working with a group gives you power and momentum but also requires you work on their timetable and under their umbrella. Whichever way you go, your voice as an individual still holds power and you shouldn't be afraid to use it.
Before you engage a legislator, become an expert. To clarify, this does not mean you have to know every single thing about an issue. However, this does mean you should familiarize yourself with the history, challenges, and opportunities of an issue, as well as how your target (legislator) fits into the mix:
Get familiar with legislation introduced on the topic, both currently and in years past
Figure out what votes have been taken and where conversation stalled or met resistance
Make a list of key authors candidates
Make a list of advocates, both that agree and disagree with your position
Determine which committees have jurisdiction in the subject matter (may be more than one!)
Understand the makeup of the House/Senate and what that means for getting legislation moved
In our next post, we'll talk about planning effective advocacy activities and what to do when you engage with a legislator.