We take it for granted that we have the right to blame the government for everything and to try to get the government to fix everything. But step back a moment. Where do you get the right to lobby? Most people eventually answer, “It’s in the Constitution.”
Of course. After thinking for a while, you might have said it is in the Bill of Rights, perhaps freedom of speech. Although you are close, it’s more specific than that. Remember the First Amendment to the Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Your right to lobby is spelled out: “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” That means a lot more than adding your name to a list at a table in a mall or online.
You remember from history class how the Bill of Rights- the First Ten Amendments-came to be written. Our ancestors had just come through a long and bloody war (about eight years) and had created the Articles of Confederation to bring the states together. That didn’t work, so they came back and wrote the Constitution. But some states wouldn’t sign until they added the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment.
It’s obvious, given what they had been through and what Europe had been through, that religion, press, assembly and speech would merit protection. So why did they put your right to lobby in with freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly? Because they had not had that right. Historically, the king in England ruled by divine right and could not be questioned. The citizens did not have the right to petition for a redress of grievances. The Founders understood that only if the people had the right to complain-constantly-would government have to listen and respond.
This right is one of the founding principles of democracy that separates us from a lot of the rest of the world. This is one reason people from around the world want to come here. It is one reason why I urge you to make lobbying a part of your personal and professional plans and goals. I go even further. You not only have the right to lobby, it is your obligation, your responsibility. It’s important for you to let your government know what you want and don’t want. It’s a way of repaying those people who, 200+ years ago, gave us everything we have today. It’s a way of making sure that those who come behind us enjoy the same privileges we do. When you work through an advocacy organization for your cause, you are making this democracy work the way the Founders envisioned.
One of my goals in life is to get all Americans to contact the people they vote for. I am convinced if we can do that, we can solve every problem that faces us. Though I may not be able to get every single American energized enough to write a letter or make a phone call, I hope you will. I hope you will become one of those people who make democracy work. It all starts with your attitude-about politics, politicians and yourself.