After being arrested in 1963, following a protest, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, in which one of the things he wrote was:
“In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiations; self-purification; and direct action.”These words of wisdom have resonated, over the past 47 years, in countless ways and undoubtedly had a ripple impact on the approaches utilized by people attempting to create systemic change.
Preparation Required Prior to Action
In order to make an effective campaign for change, it is imperative that one has all the facts in place. Those who are well informed of all varying perspectives and positions tend to do far better in the negotiation phases of the process.
How does one ensure that they are adequately prepared to commence the lobbying, advocacy or educating? For starters, do your homework. Don’t presume that you can wing a meeting based solely on your personal opinion or experiences because chances are whomever it is you are trying to work with to create the change will know that you’ve come unprepared. Then your credibility becomes questionable and your efforts to effectively persuade diminish in impact.
World Wide Web
- The Library of Congress’ Thomas. This is a comprehensive site to get information on legislation.
- The United States House of Representatives. This is an opportunity to research the voting record of each Representative.
- The United States Senate. This is an opportunity to research the voting record of each Senator.
- FactCheck.org. This is a website from the Annenberg Public Policy Center and they track certain issues to determine how much of the information that is being conveyed is factual.
- Congress Pro
- Real Time Congress
Equally as important is to be prepared for all questions possible. When I was lobbying for H.R. 2515—the Domestic Violence Leave Act (which would amend the Family Medical Leave Act to include Domestic Violence as a provision)—I met with members of the House Education & Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protection. I found it quite fascinating how, for the most part, when I met with Democratic Congressional offices their questions and discussion were more focused on wondering whether their office had sponsored the bill or not and had expressed deep concern for the safety and welfare of the American people as individuals. Whereas, when I met with the Republican Congressional offices, their questions and discussion were more focused on how the passage of this legislation would impact the businesses, and exactly how much would it cost the business to support such legislation by granting FMLA leave to attend to Domestic Violence situations.
My point here is: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.
The Significance of Credibility
Edward Murrow, an American broadcast journalist, once said that “to be persuasive, we must be believable; to be believable, we must be credible; to be credible, we must be truthful.” I cannot stress enough how imperative it is we live our lives with integrity and honor—to always be honest about what we say and do—because it will define us in many regards.
Whenever we are agents of change in action, through lobbying or other means, we must always remain truthful—even if it is difficult. Because once a person is not truthful, their credibility is shot. Then it is practically moot to try to sell your case. People might be willing to meet with you, but they’ll only do it out of courtesy (if even!), but they definitely won’t listen to a word of what you’re saying because it has absolutely no weight. The simple solution to avoid such predicaments is to be honest.
The 30 Laws of Lobbying
- Trust is everything. What kills trust is a lack of truthfulness, exaggerations, excessive spin beyond simply framing things positively, and omitting key facts or factors. Always be completely honest, even when it’s hard. Your word is your bond. Trust is the lifeblood of politics. It’s okay to say you don’t know if you don’t know. Professionally, all you have in the long-term is your reputation and your integrity.
- All politics is local. Where they stand depends on where they sit. Every member of Congress is motivated by the same thing: getting re-elected. Nothing trumps the power of the constituency. Local issues and perspectives can drive public policy and strongly influence viewpoints.
- All politics is personal. Never underestimate the power of personal persuasion and the value of personal relationships. Technology will never replace the benefits of face-to-face conversations. Technology will never vote, people always will.
- Never threaten. This goes for subtle or veiled threats as well. Threats only make people increase their resolve against your views or agenda.
- Never assume. Always verify each position directly with the policymaker and never take anything or anyone for granted. Positions can change based on time, circumstance, and the specific nature of the issue or situation.
- No “quid pro quos.” Bribing a public official is a felony. Be familiar with the ethics rules that apply to public officials and never do anything to encourage or cause a policymaker to violate ethics standards or laws.
- Resist the temptation to gossip. Washington is a much smaller town than it seems. Today’s friend may be tomorrow’s opponent. Words have a mysterious way of getting back to people.
- Safeguard the confidences of others as carefully as you would your own. Apply the newspaper test: Never put anything in writing, including email, that you don’t want to read on the front cover of the newspaper.
- What goes around comes around…even though it may take some time. Do not be disheartened when people seem to get away with unethical behavior.
- Keep a check on the way you view those you represent. Just as an elected representative’s power is derived by the consent of the governed, a lobbyist’s power is derived from those whom they represent and their consent is needed on an ongoing basis. You are in your position to represent, not to expand your power base as a free agent.
- Be kind to everyone. The Golden Rule works on the Hill. It’s not always apparent who actually wields the most influence and who might in the future. Today’s receptionist is tomorrow’s chief of staff. Today, a congressional staff member answers the phones. Tomorrow, that staff may answer the Senator’s question on an issue important to you.
- When in doubt, check it out. Address your ambiguities, because policymakers, those whom you represent, the media, or your competition might! Don’t disseminate information that you haven’t verified. More people have been burned by not verifying information than would care to admit it.
- Stay above reproach. Guard your reputation by avoiding not only the substance but the appearance of wrongdoing. Be strict in complying with the letter and spirit of lobbying and ethics laws, and remember that laws and professional standards are a floor, not a ceiling.
- Avoid personal attacks. Never ascribe motives or call names. Don’t assume to know someone’s motivation. Name-calling will diminish your credibility, especially with those who have not yet decided on your issue. The goal is to win on the issue, not to make enemies or make people look bad.
- Always have backup. Anticipate the unexpected. Be prepared to go to Plan-B for your lobbying strategy, your meeting plans, and your technology.
- Make planning a priority. No one ever plans to fail, but many fail to plan. Use down time to update your goals and action plans. Know your issue well enough for the most difficult questions and know your opposition. Knowledge is power. Become a student of the person you are trying to persuade.
- Allow for Murphy’s Law. If something can go wrong it will and usually it will at the worst possible moment.
- Everything is always more complicated than it seems. Simple tasks can take longer and require more resources than originally intended. We lobby in an age of “the increasing complexity of everything” (a phrase dubbed by Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan)
- Be proactive. Don’t wait until problems pop up to take proper care of priorities. This includes legislative plans, compliance with disclosure reporting and ethics laws, technology, and relationships!
- Inform policymakers of the opposition’s position as you communicate your own. They’ll hear it anyway, so you might as well frame it for them before you shoot it down.
- Be respectful. Arrive at meetings on time or early. Briefings should be brief. Poor time management communicates lack of value and respect. Know when to stop. Always say thank you.
- Use the power of momentum. Success can breed success and one success can lead to another.
- Develop and motivate those you represent. It’s not just about the numbers. It’s about passion, commitment, and multiplying converts.
- Train, develop relations, and recruit year-round. Both in season and out of season, what players do on and off the field will reap dividends on the field when the big vote is announced.
- Timing is everything. Evaluate not just what to do, but when. What is the best time to push the issue or communicate with an individual considering various legislative cycles, work schedules, and circumstances?
- Break the barrier. When contacting a legislative office, never give a screener (such as a receptionist or an appointment secretary) a chance to say no. Find out which staff person currently has responsibility for your issue area and get to know him or her.
- Sound policy is sound politics. Even the best strategy can’t compensate for poor policy. Would it work in the real world?
- Admit your mistakes right away. Accept responsibility and offer to make amends. No one is perfect. In matters large and small, the cover-up can be worse than the crime. Practice humility.
- Guard against cynicism. Enthusiasm is contagious, but so is cynicism. There is no shortage of cynics. Resolve to be a part of the solution.
- Keep it all in perspective. Never lose your sense of humor. Don’t forget about the people who will still be in your life ten years from now. The people who didn’t return your calls before you came to Washington probably won’t after you leave.
TO BE CONTINUED. Creating systemic change: Part II will be posted on 11/29.
ABOUT ERIN ESPOSITO
Erin Esposito is the Executive Director of Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims (ASADV) in Rochester, NY. She is also the current Chair of the NTID Alumni Association Board of Directors.