Before you complain, make sure it’s not your fault.
Our form of government – representative self-government – relies on the feedback and involvement of citizens in order to actually “represent” them. That means you help government operate more effectively (for you!) by contacting elected officials on a regular basis – whether they like it or not.
But when it comes to contacting elected officials, just remember the old adage that “it’s not what you say, but how you say it”.
How you say something can be just as important as what you say. As Hubert Humphrey put it, “The right to be speak does not necessarily include the right to be taken seriously”. If you have something important to say about government, take the time to say it in the most effective way possible.
Effective Lobbying Plays on How They Think
To understand how to lobby effectively it helps to get inside the mind of an elected official, (despite how scary that may seem with some politicians). Generally they’re overly concerned with their next election, which means they’re constantly trying to get a handle on what voters think.
That’s where effective lobbying – (and YOU) – comes in.
The Tip of the Iceberg
Many legislators get a sense of their district through what could be called the “iceberg phenomenon”. They represent thousands of people and, since they can’t get to know them all, they tend to look at people they come in contact with as representing “the tip of an iceberg” – and they don’t want to be the Titanic. For example, if twenty people write their office asking them to vote against a particular bill, they think that there must be hundreds more who feel the same way but just didn’t write.
As a grassroots activist, this gives you a tremendous opportunity. By joining together with others in a combined effort, you can have an impact that far exceeds your numbers.
A natural consequence of the iceberg phenomenon is that the more spontaneous the contact, the greater the impact.
If a grassroots campaign looks orchestrated, (such as a petition drive), it may tend to be discounted. The town hall meeting and the grocery store illustrate the point. If three people ask a question about tax increases during the open-ended question and answer time at a town hall meeting, a legislator will think that a lot of people are concerned. But if three people stop them in the grocery store to ask about tax increases, they think “everyone” must be talking about it.
Personal is Better
The more personal the contact is, the more effective it will be. For example, a stack of thirty postcards can be viewed as just “pieces of paper’, but thirty people at a meeting, (or showing up at their office), creates a more vivid and lasting impression.
Make it personal, but be polite.
Of course this doesn’t mean that if you engage in effective lobbying, then everything government does will suddenly start swinging your way, especially since there are other opinions out there besides yours. But it does mean that YOURS will at least be heard…and be added to those of people who think like you do.
Don’t make it easy for them to ignore your views.
Have any thoughts or lobbying experiences of your own to share? Add them in the comments section below.