For most issues at the Capitol, having a lobbyist is a successful strategy. But it's the grassroots advocacy that can make or break any deal at the legislature.
The best lobbyists coordinate a grassroots advocacy campaign to supplement their efforts. Even issues and organizations that have no lobbyist are successful with a campaign of citizen advocacy.
Citizen advocacy can be an intimidating thought for the citizens involved. But it shouldn't be. Legislators are elected to represent the best interests of their citizens, so it is important for them to hear from their constituents. Arm yourself with a knowledge of the process – the Oregon legislative website is an excellent resource.
Here are some tips for effective citizen advocacy:
- Be honest and be yourself. You're going to the Capitol to talk about an issue you care about deeply. Show your passion. You'll be surprised to find legislators are just as dedicated to their state as your are!
- Join up with a coalition that advocates for the same issues. There is strength in numbers at the legislature. Meet with legislators in small groups. It helps to let legislators know how many people care.
- Stay positive. We tend not to get involved until something is so bad that it needs to be changed. Even if you are trying to right a wrong, use positive language. Instead of pointing out how bad something is, offer solutions. Tell your legislator how things will be better once they change.
- Remember: Legislators are people, too. They don't get paid much to be in Salem, so they aren't there for the money. They are there because they care about the Oregonians who live in their districts, and like you, they saw problems they wanted to fix.
- Go early and often. Get to know your legislators before the session starts. You can get contact information for the Senate here and the House here. Call their district office and ask them to meet you for coffee. Tell them what you care about and ask questions. During session, make an appointment to see your legislator. It is okay to contact them more than once, and in some cases it is necessary to give updates or drive home a message.
- Show and tell. Bring something with you to help explain (a photo, a fact sheet or a brochure about your program). It's a great conversation piece, and most people, legislators included, learn better with visual aids. Make sure it's something you can leave behind with the legislator.
- Never underestimate the power of the staff person. Legislators hire staff to help them handle their work. Staff people become trusted advisors, so telling a staff person about your concerns is just as good as talking directly to the legislator – and sometimes it is better.
- E-mail, phone calls and letters are excellent ways to convey a message. If you can't make it to Salem, send a note, or organize a letter-writing campaign. Make sure each correspondence is unique and genuine.
- Set reasonable expectations for your efforts. The legislature is limited by politics, the budget and the law. Make sure you understand what solutions are within the scope of the legislature's powers, and be flexible and willing to compromise.