Monday, June 23, 2014

Lobbying 101: Soothing the Nerves

Here, at the 2014 RESULTS International Conference, the energy is ramping up as expert speakers on poverty and advocacy rev up our emotions and we get closer and closer to Lobby Day. Lobby Day is when RESULTS volunteer activists will descend upon Capitol Hill to insist (professionally and respectfully, but urgently!) that our elected officials take action to end poverty in the U.S. and around the world.

As nerves and butterflies abound among new activists, I offer my favorite pieces of advice I've heard at our conference today from RESULTS' Grassroots Manager Ken Patterson and Senior Legislative Director John Fawcett. I've been advocating for several years now, but I still have that surge of adrenaline before I step through the office door of each member of Congress I visit. Now, I'm a lobby adrenaline junkie. But back when I first started, I was so terrified that the words could hardly come out. Here are some thoughts to soothe those fluttery butterflies in your tummy!

Offering advice to my Rep. Jan Schakowksy
about global health policy
Get in touch with your inner supervisor
When was the last time you had a job where someone hired you and said, "Congratulations! Now just go and do what you want and I'll check back with you in 2 years." Never? It doesn't usually work like that and it shouldn't work that way for our U.S. representatives and senators either. NEWSFLASH: Your elected officials work for YOU! Or, they are supposed to anyway. If you are not there as a concerned citizen and volunteer lobbyist to give them their job assignments, then who is? Are they just going rogue and following their own agenda without citizens holding them accountable? Is someone else occupying your seat in the office? Paid lobbyists and special interests are always happy to fill whatever gap we might leave. You have a right to be in those congressional offices to give assignments, advice, and constructive criticism like any good boss would.

Jack Ndegwa is soft-spoken, but he's in touch with his outrage
about the situation in his home country of Kenya
Get in touch with your outrage
Poverty is an absurdity of life. It's crazy that it happens in such a wealthy nation as the U.S. It's ridiculous how many people are needlessly suffering. It's an abomination that so many of them are children all over the world who will never live to see age 5. Don't go livid with rage in your lobby meetings, but do use it in a healthy way to replace your fear with anger. In this case, fear and anger don't lead to the Dark Side. In controlled doses, they can lead to empowerment and lives saved.

Think about what is at risk
What is really at risk for you in a lobby meeting? Weigh your own fears with what is at stake if you DON'T speak out. "I'll forget what I'm saying" "I won't be eloquent" "I'll be embarrassed" That is pretty much the extent of the worst case scenario in lobbying. Our present in the United States is not like the past civil rights era of Martin Luther King Jr. where community organizers could find their homes burned or be physically beaten for speaking out. What is at risk for the world if you don't speak up? Children in poverty will grow up uneducated. Infants will die of polio and rotovirus. Americans in poverty will lose precious tax breaks they can't afford to lose. When you compare your temporary emotional discomfort against what happens when people don't speak up for poverty programs, our fears seem small.

Remember who are are doing this for
Unless you are living in poverty yourself or living with HIV in an impoverished nation, the things you are asking for are not for you. This isn't about you. You aren't going in to the office asking a single thing for yourself. This alone makes you a relatively precious commodity on Capitol Hill. If you are in poverty or living in an impoverished nation, it's still about more people than only's about everyone you love and then thousands or millions more. There are people depending on you to speak truth to power...even if your voice shakes. You are the right person in the right place. Make the most out of the opportunity!