Becoming a Citizen Lobbyist, a Why-To
On the eve of MNLeg session 2020, it seemed like the right time to revisit thoughts on being a citizen lobbyist.
Last year, I brought you the first three installments in our series:
Part 1: How to get started and what to do before you ever have a meeting
Part 2: Meeting with a legislator
Part 3: Getting a bill authored
Part 4 (suspense! coming soon!): Getting a bill through committees
I promise the fourth installment is in the works. Before then, however, it's prudent to backup and consider the why of it all -- why take on citizen lobbying? Why spend your time and energy talking to legislators or joining an advocacy group that's addressing an issue en masse?
The most obvious answer, of course, is because you care. Like it or not, our values are mirrored in the policies of our government. Changing, adding, or deleting what exists in codified law is one of the most powerful ways to see what you care about reflected in our state. If what you care about isn't there, or isn't adequately represented there, showing a legislator you care about it is a great reason to advocate.
Another great reason to be a citizen lobbyist is because it works. Legislators are people, too, and they want to know what their constituents care about. Helping them understand issues and solutions is an effective way to shepherd change.
Finally, interacting with your government is a key part of how this country is designed to work. Taking advantage of the systems that were built to ensure our representatives actually, literally represent us is about as American as it gets. You are entitled to representation and allowed to have your voice heard -- so use it.
Now that you're fired up, a couple last things to remember:
- You don't have to be an expert on anything other than what you believe in. It's certainly going to help if you have a position you can backup with credible information or proof of interest from other constituents; but don't feel like you have to know everything about everything or come to a legislator with a drafted piece of legislation. Your job is to be an invested citizen; their job is to represent you. (Check out our first citizen lobbying post for some helpful tips on how you can be ready and confident.)
- Be prepared for the length of time it can take to see change happen. Government is built to work slowly and methodically. We can debate the usefulness of this at some other time, but for now, just know that that's how it is. You will almost certainly encounter roadblocks, losses, and frustration. Knowing this and staying focused in the face of setbacks will make the endeavor more palatable. It's also a good reason to check out advocacy organizations that share your beliefs. Working with a team rather than going it alone can help you keep up morale.
- Votes matter. Every seat at the Minnesota legislature is up for election this November. And, because we have a census which will lead to redistricting, every seat is also up for election in November 2022. Vote now, vote then, and vote every opportunity in between. It's the best way to ensure your views are represented accurately at the legislature and at every other level of government that represents you.
More tips to come (soon!). Reach out anytime with questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And a very happy start of session to all celebrating tomorrow!