Organizing Your Association To Lobby
The most effective special interest groups use a “key contact” system. A key contact is a person who volunteers to build a relationship with a specific politician and carry the message from the organization to that politician.
As a key contact for your organization, it would be a busy year if you were asked to contact your elected official more than ten times. That means, unless things are really hopping, you might be asked to make ten phone calls or write ten letters. That’s it. Figuring a maximum of one-half hour each, you have invested five hours.
Most key contacts write fewer than four letters and make fewer than four calls or personal contacts in a year. Even if you double or triple it, you aren’t risking overload. Aren’t you willing to commit five to fifteen hours in the next twelve months to achieve your political goals?
If everyone who has a stake in your issue would commit those few hours, you would be unstoppable. You would have an unbeatable political machine. That’s without even leaving your home or office. As for going to the capital, it can be useful and fun, but it’s not necessary.
In fact, when you become a volunteer advocate for your association, your best work is done at home in the district. You can drink coffee with your elected official, attend meetings you were going to anyway such as chamber or civic club events, invite the politician to see the place where your issue plays out. It could be a park that needs funding, your workplace, a hospital emergency room or anyplace you can show how people are affected by your issue. These contacts are powerful when they are arranged by constituents in the home district. Throughout this book you can see how elected officials are moved by this kind of experience. You don’t need to invest time or travel. Lots of good work can happen at times and places that you are doing other things.
As we researched the reasons average citizens don’t get involved in lobbying, one fear came up time and time again that surprised me. “The buildings.” I chuckled the first time I heard this. But then as my focus group work proceeded, it became obvious-the buildings are a factor in alienating people. As I said, you don’t have to go to the capitol or other government buildings, but there are times when it’s useful. You will find it’s fun. (Political fluency note: Capital, with an “a” is the city, Sacramento; capitol, with an “o” is the building with a dome on top.)
To get over that intimidation factor I started asking the question, “What is it about the buildings?” Finally it came to me: Our capitol buildings were designed to intimidate. The United States Capitol and yours in Sacramento are modeled after Greek and Roman architecture in the neoclassical style. Those Greeks and Romans weren’t building customer friendly malls to attract lots of people. They were building temples to the gods. They were designed to inspire awe and intimidate ordinary people.
Picture the challenge. You walk through meticulously groomed park-like grounds, up a long flight of stairs, through tall stone columns and huge doors into elaborately decorated high-ceilinged rooms. That’s if you make it through security without getting busted.
(As an aside to give comfort to those of us who live in California, if you live in New Jersey, this does not apply. The capitol looks like a seedy store. It’s intimidating, but mostly because it looks like a haven for muggers. In New Mexico, they call it the roundhouse. It is. But I digress.)
One woman told me she walked into the capitol in Albany, New York, and had to fight off the impulse to kneel and genuflect-she felt as though she had walked into a cathedral. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the architecture, as well as the hustle and bustle and confusion.
So, if it’s any help, most of us who don’t work there every day are somewhat intimidated by the buildings. The answer is to walk in like a customer who is welcome. As long as you use common courtesy and etiquette, you will find a lot of friendly people who will help you. It won’t take long to overcome your fear.