January 23, 2013

Knocking on the door: A student’s guide to effective lobbying

By Rae Hodge–

As the legislature in Frankfort prepares to open its doors for the 2013 session beginning Feb. 5, grassroots organizations and student activists are revving up for another year of rallying and marching. Participation in the democratic process, however, doesn’t always take the loudest form. One of the most overlooked forms of student engagement in politics is citizen lobbying.

While the word “lobbyist” often conjures the image of a mercenary corporate lawyer feeding a crooked politician hundred dollars between the pages of a bill, citizen lobbying brings the voices of constituents to the office doors of elected officials. The word itself arises from a time when average people would wait outside of the legislative chambers for politicians to exit and who, having only a brief time to talk while walking to their offices, would use the length of the lobby to persuade their representatives to vote a bill up or down.

Today, citizen lobbyists show up in droves to the offices of the Capitol in Frankfort, frequently on scheduled “lobbying days,” forming long lines in front of patient secretaries, all hoping to get a few minutes in the legislator’s office. The majority actually get their time. These are groups who offer no bribes to their elected official, only votes. And they’ve got plenty. For citizen lobbying to compete with corporate lobbying, small groups have to band together and wield their numbers.

Grassroots organizations around campus and the city offer these tips to get you started with lobbying effectively:

1. When you arrive to the legislator’s office, behave courteously to both staff and the legislator. Remaining respectful in your interactions will ensure the door to communication remains open. Use “please,” “thank you,” “sir” and “ma’am” — southern manners suit you best in these situations.

2. Know your facts. If you want a legislator to vote against a bill, have as much information about the bill as possible. Given the number of bills that flow through the Capitol, it is likely that your representative may not have ever heard of the one you’re trying to convince him or her not to vote for.

3. Explain what types of groups have an interest in this bill. Do you know a bill will adversely affect a large number of this representative’s constituent? If so, make those numbers known to the legislator.

4. Keep it brief. You saw that line, didn’t you?

5. Don’t get discouraged. There will be times that a legislator will slip out the back door, duck a phone call or break their promises to you. Keep at it. There will always be a greater number of those who patiently listen to your concerns, vote with your group and remember your name as they speak to their fellow legislators about your cause.

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Photo: Flickr/Sarah Elizabeth Simpson

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