How to Lobby Your State Government as a Citizen
Last week, my mom took me to the Texas Capitol to show me how to lobby for myself. My mom was a lobbyist in Texas for many years, with friends on both sides of the aisle. Here's what I learned:
- •You don't have to be important to show upI was so nervous feeling like I didn't have a good reason to be there, a good reason for anyone to listen to me. But my mom explained, legislators pretty much ONLY listen to the people who show up in person. Which is pretty concerning if you're on the left. The right is SUPER organized and not lazy and can often afford big time lobbyists and they show up A LOT.
- •Look up your representatives before going and write down their office numbers. Look up the heads of committees that will hear about legislation you're interested in, and write down their office numbers, too.Check out a map of your capitol and plan your route. The Texas capitol is huge and it was a trek but it was worth going in person to representatives' offices and being heard.
- •If you want to Lobby on a specific issue, email ahead of time.This gets you a sit-down with a staffer or, if they're a newly elected official, sometimes your representative. They have to hear you out on the issues. Be respectful and stay calm but you can make an impassioned case. Even better if you can make a financial case, or tell an anecdote about how you personally will be affected.
- •Make small talk with everyone and bring business cards.The best connections I got were people we met in the halls. Don't take any of the back stairwells, take the main elevators and main stairs. This is how you interact with the big wigs. And I forgot business cards so I had to scramble every time I wanted to leave my info with someone. Even still, I met a group who needed someone like me to testify at a hearing. I met a lobbyist who got us an important meeting. Werk.
- •Find out who the lobbyists are on issues you care about, look up their picture, and look for them in the hallways.See above point. It's okay to be creepy, these people are being paid to change your government.
- •Hit up the cafeteria.This was BY FAR the best place to network. Get a table in the middle, as close to a main walkway or cash register as you can. Everyone goes to the cafeteria at some point in the day.
- •Go early in the session and try to meet all the brand-new representatives and Senators.Before committees are assigned, legislators have less on their plate and can make more time to hear from constituents. Go, let them know who you are, what's important to you, and that you're willing to show up.
- •Sign up for email lists.If you've read the Indivisible guide, you know that the way the Tea Party took over the Republican Party is by showing up at in-district town halls, openings, photo ops, and events and calling out representatives on their actions, embarrassing them in front of the press and taking over that photo op. Reps don't usually publicly announce these kinds of things but they will put them in their email newsletter. So go to the offices of EVERYONE, especially the opposition, and ask to be on the list.
- •Show up to hearings.This is HUGE and another great reason to get on the email lists. You don't have to testify at a hearing (although the hearing cannot legally end until everyone testifies, so you have a right to), but you can attend, sign in, and (very important!!!) write whether you are for or against the legislation. This can keep bad legislation from ever getting out of the committee if you get enough people on your side to go with you!
- •Tell your story and be open to sharing it.It feels a little sales-y, but if you are being personally affected by proposed legislation, find a way to get your story down to an elevator pitch. Then share it, *followed with exactly what you are asking legislators to do* with everyone you meet. You're fishing for someone that can help you or put you in touch with the right people.
- •Lastly, RUN FOR OFFICE!State house and senate seats are a much easier reach than bigger elections! You can do it! Your voice is important and we need you!
- •In short, federal news and Trump is distracting, but all of this craziness STARTS at the state level. The first step to a better government is taking back state governments and teaching the electorate how to be more directly involved with what they do.
- •***These are intended to be general guidelines! Check your state's laws and regulations on lobbying and best practices first!