Thoughts from “Effective Citizen Lobbying, Inside & Outside the Statehouse” Panel

Last week, I participated in a panel at the Environmental Action Conference 2011. The session’s title was Effective Citizen Lobbying, Inside & Outside the Statehouse. My assignment was to talk about what tactics a group can use from outside the statehouse to support a lobbyist working inside the statehouse.

Activists can help support the lobbyists by expressing collective power outside the statehouse in strategic and targeted ways, to add strength to the lobbyist’s work inside the building. It is very important to think through all tactics before implementing them. Groups should work with their lobbyist to develop coordinated strategy that builds their power over time for maximum effectiveness. Remember, no tactic is always the right thing, and no tactic is always the wrong thing. It all depends on the situation and the people involved. Every tactic that is used should be part of an overall campaign strategy with clear goals and objectives.

Here are a just few examples of tactics that groups can use to support their lobbyist’s work. Of course, the possibilities are endless – and creativity can get you attention when you need it most. Just remember to always ask yourself, “What is our goal? How will the tactic we are considering achieve our goal?”

Calls to Legislators – a group can put out a call to action for people to call the statehouse and leave a message for their legislator(s). Calls can be very effective if used at the right time – when something is actually happening inside the statehouse – and when there is a specific request (vote yes/no). People calling should only call their own legislators and should know the bill number they are calling about.

Letters to Legislators – a group can ask people write letters to their legislator(s) at the statehouse or at the legislators’ homes. Letters are a good way to have people ask their legislators to support a bill when nothing specific is happening. Writing a letter lets people tell their story and put their personal flair on their communication. Remember that legislators are in the statehouse Tue-Fri, and home Sat-Monday. Many don’t see their home mail when they are at the statehouse. Make sure people include their contact information in the letter. A return address is important, as well as contact info inside the letter.

Letters to the Editor – Letters to the Editor (LTEs) are a good way to show the legislators that there is support (or opposition) in their community on a specific issue. LTEs are also a good way to get a media outlet to begin paying attention to your issue if they have not been covering it. LTEs also help to find more people who are interested in your issue, especially if your LTE writers include a way to get involved in the letter.

Rallies/Press Events – Holding a rally or hosting a press event can bring attention to an issue and show support for it in the community. Plan press events carefully so they achieve the effect you want. Think about the headline you’d like to read, the photo you want to see, and the caption below the photo. Set up the event to make sure you get the story you want. Rallies are a way to escalate and put more pressure on elected leaders. Remember, it is difficult to sustain the energy pressure of a rally for extended periods of time, so make sure to time them carefully (Occupy Wall Street notwithstanding!). Think about your message and make sure you have consistent messaging throughout the event – speakers, signs, etc.

Visible Symbols of Support – Sometimes it is helpful to have visible symbols of support that activists can utilize both inside and outside of the statehouse – stickers, t-shirts, lawn signs, other creative things. These symbols can help by showing legislators there is support throughout their community, identifying supporters inside the statehouse, helping activists to identify each other for mutual support, and giving people creative ways to show that they are on your team.