The Transformative Power of Citizen Advocacy

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Learn about citizen advocacy from CCL’s Advisory Board Member Sam Daley-Harris for a training that will demonstrate the advantages we hold as citizens in transforming our government and the policies we adopt. Listen to the stories from CCLers across the country–from Destiny Loyd in Florida and Krystal Ford in New York to Grant Couch in Colorado–as we demonstrate how citizens can build meaningful, long-term relationships with their congressional office.

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Related Trainings
The Transformative Power of Citizen Advocacy is part of the Working With Congress series.
TOC and Guide Section
 
Citizen Lobbyist

Marshall Saunders, the founder of CCL makes a great case for what it means to be an engaged and active citizen.

Marshalls’ aha moment was when he realized that “Ordinary people like you and me have to organize, educate ourselves, give up our hopelessness and powerlessness, and gain the skills to be effective with our government.”

We live in a country where citizen engagement is valued and encouraged. The word “lobbying” may carry with it some negative connotations stemming from the practice of paid, professional lobbying. However, for us, as citizens, it’s not only our right but our duty to be engaged and to express our voice. Remember politicians don’t create political will, they respond to it.

There are lots of folks in CCL who have first-hand knowledge of how they’ve become a more effective citizen. Ask others about their experiences

The Role of Citizen Lobbyist

There’s a simple reason why we have the stereotypes associated with lobbying and why companies pay so much for lobbyists. It works! Successful lobbyists, whether they are a professional paid or a passionate citizen, develop relationships. And, fortunately, you don't need millions of dollars to develop relationships.

So what’s the role of citizens? It’s not possible for a member of Congress or their staff to know every detail about various policies. They rely on others to inform them. That’s what citizens do and one reason we meet with them.

The other thing to consider is this: if we are not meeting with them then who is? Paid lobbyists meet with the office frequently so should we. Lobbying is simply expressing your voice and making the case for what you want Congress to do.

Types of Constituents

When setting a legislator’s daily agenda, constituents always figure prominently. Any constituent who makes the effort to travel to Washington almost always will get a meeting with a member of Congress or his staff. A survey of congressional staffers from the Congressional Management Foundation finds that constituents who are able to express an interest, not just an opinion, have more influence.

There are two types of constituents and they are not always given equal weight:

  • Those with an opinion
  • Those with an interest and a personal story

If a constituent stands up at a town hall meeting and says, “I think we should reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” that's a constituent with an opinion and the congressman/woman will file that in one part of his/her brain. But if the same constituent says, “I think we should reduce our greenhouse gas emissions because my 3-year old daughter has respiratory problems,” the congressman/woman files it in a completely different compartment. The person has a much stronger bond to the legislator, and the congressman/woman has a much greater obligation to integrate her concerns into the decision-making process.

Constituents with a genuine interest and a story are more likely to have influence than those who are telling or voicing their opinion.

Constituent Advantages

What are the differences between citizen lobbying and professional lobbying, and where do citizens have an advantage?

Paid Lobbyist:

  • Hired guns
  • May or may not have an opinion
  • Frequently in D.C.
  • Rarely in the district

Citizen Lobbyist:

  • Constituents
  • Have and interest and are likely more passionate
  • Occasionally in D.C.
  • Always in the district
Building Relationships

In Dale Carnegie training you’re taught the best way to “win friends and influence people” is to understand someone else’s problems and interests, so it’s important for us to understand how to influence someone.

  1. Get to know your legislator and staff. As an advocate you’ll be much more powerful if by starting a conversation by asking about a congressman’s kid who just went to college, or mention that you saw her picture in the newspaper recently at a ribbon cutting or congratulating them on a recent legislative accomplishment.
  2. Become a trusted adviser or policy expert. Remember, part of the reason that lobbyists are so successful at their job is because they know the issues. They become trusted advisers or policy experts. We can do that as well! We have specific information regarding how our policy will impact their state or district. No one else has that information!
  3. Communicate frequently. Every congressional office knows those in-district advocates who stay on top of issues and don’t hesitate to offer help or advice on how a legislator should vote. Keeping in regular contact with your legislators provides a valuable service to legislators and staff, and keeps them accountable to voters.
  4. Show up, be visible. Attend town halls and/or local events where the staff or the member of Congress is expected to attend.
  5. Demonstrate respect, appreciation and gratitude. Finally, the CCL way, is to always operate with respect, appreciation and gratitude. It’s not just a slogan, it’s the cornerstone of who we are and how you build relationships.
Meetings with no Constituents

First and foremost, congressional offices want to meet with constituents. According to congressional staffers, in-person visits from constituents are the most influential way to communicate with a Senator or Representative who is undecided on an issue.

If you're in a meeting with no constituents we have information for the office about how our policy will impact their district. If you think about it, paid lobbyists are not constituents either. However, they are always meeting with staffers and member of Congress. You are there to act like a policy adviser.

Additionally, mention that we have constituents or supporters in the district and it can be difficult getting off work and traveling to D.C.

Two important considerations for meeting without a constituent present:

  1. .As a non-constituent you have a duty (sacred trust) to complement or enhance the relationship so the constituents can pick up where you left off. Bolster the relationship of the constituents.
  2. If there are no constituents in the meeting assume the role of someone who represents the constituents’ interests.
Most Valuable Tool

The most valuable gift a lobbyist gives a member of Congress isn’t a campaign contribution—it’s a detailed analysis of how a particular issue affects the lawmaker’s district or state. Some state associations, nonprofits and corporate leaders may offer this data, but many do not.

We can say with certainty that very few people beyond our own volunteer network are identifying and researching how a carbon eee and dividend type policy affects our legislator’s constituents.

This is our most valuable tool, we have the information and are trained on how to communicate and deliver it.

Know and Share about Local Impacts

The Congressional Management Foundation reminds us that citizen advocates are most influential when they provide personalized and local information to Congress. For example, in one of their studies they found that:

  • 91% of congressional staffers they surveyed said it is helpful to have ‘information about the impact the bill/issue would have on the district or state.’ However, only 9% report they receive that information frequently.
  • Similarly, 79% said a personal story from a constituent related to the bill/issue would be helpful, but only 18% report they receive it frequently.
Storytelling

While we all know at times we might have trouble remembering facts, it’s less often we forget a good story. That’s why we’re most effective in our advocacy if we appeal to the heart, as well as the head and interests of the legislator.

For transformative stories from the field of CCL volunteers working with their member of Congress check out the the "Watch" tab above. See the video behind CCL's MI Traverse City chapter working to enroll their member of Congress on the Climate Solutions Caucus and CCL's training The Power of Storytelling or click the watch or listen tab to hear three stories of building relationships from CCL volunteers.

Length
Press play to start the video (58m 47s)
https://vimeo.com/album/5674172
Video Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.

Introductions and Agenda
(from beginning)

RESULTS background  (Sam's Story)
(5:45) 

Our Sense of Powerlessness
(17:35)

Making A Difference
(21:46)

The Role of Citizens (Destiny's Story)
(29:29)

Building Relationships (Krystal's Story)
(41:19) 

Sharing Our Stories (Grant's Story)
(49:52)

Instructor(s)
  • Sam Daley-Harris
  • Destiny Loyd
  • Krystal Ford
  • Grant Couch
Downloads

Download the PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation.

Download the video.
Audio length
Press play to start the audio (58m 47s)
Audio embed code
Audio Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.

Introductions and Agenda
(from beginning)

RESULTS background  (Sam's Story)
(5:45) 

Our Sense of Powerlessness
(17:35)

Making A Difference
(21:46)

The Role of Citizens (Destiny's Story)
(29:29)

Building Relationships (Krystal's Story)
(41:19) 

Sharing Our Stories (Grant's Story)
(49:52)

 

Instructor(s)
  • Sam Daley-Harris
  • Destiny Loyd
  • Krystal Ford
  • Grant Couch
Go Deeper
Review research from the Congressional Management Foundation.
Discussion Topic
To Print
Instructions for printing this page on Community.
Category
Training
Topics
Lobbying Congress
Format
Audio / Video, Presentation
File Type
Google Slides, PowerPoint (.pptx)
Training Resources
The resources above are specific to this training, see all resources associated with Working with Congress.