Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How to "Trick" Your Legislators into Giving You What You Want

Seven-year-olds can teach us a great deal about extracting resources from those in authority. Through today's podcast, learn their secrets for successful trick or treating — and apply them to your advocacy efforts!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Upcoming Webinar!

Be sure to register for our upcoming webinar on "Creating Your Own Advocacy Training Program"

Looking for ways to keep your advocates informed, motivated and inspired, without breaking the bank? In this session we'll look at at a variety of free online tools you can use to set up your own advocacy training program for your association They include tools for online training, setting up a social network, file sharing, setting up campaigns and action alerts, and recording podcasts and training sessions. Oh, and did I mention they're free?

I hope to "see" you online!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Grassroots and Elections / Advocacy Training Programs and More!

Want to get your grassroots geared up for the election? Learn about how to set up your own Advocacy Training program? Gear up for the New Year (yes, it is time to think about that). Well, then, check out our upcoming webinars (the link takes you to our social network site where you will find the schedule. Here's information on the next couple:

Grassroots and the Elections
October 24, 2007
Sure, 2007 is an "off-off" year, with no Presidential or U.S. Congressional races on the ballot. But plenty of state and localities will be holding elections on Nov. 6, 2007. And, believe it or not, 2008 is just around the corner! Join this webinar to gain some ideas on utilizing the grassroots in elections -- whether "off-off", "off" or "on".Click here to register

Creating Your Own Advocacy Training Program -- Using FREE Online Tools
October 30, 2007
Looking for ways to keep your advocates informed, motivated and inspired, without breaking the bank? In this session we'll look at at a variety of free online tools you can use to set up your own advocacy training program for your association They include tools for online training, setting up a social network, file sharing, setting up campaigns and action alerts, and recording podcasts and training sessions. Oh, and did I mention they're free?Click here to register

Friday, October 19, 2007

Getting Paid for Waiting: A Time Honored DC Tradition

When I first came to Washington, DC, I took a job as a receptionist / secretary / legislative assistant at a lobbying law firm. On several occassions, I was assigned the task of waiting in line to get a seat at a hearing for one of the firm's lawyers.

I recognize that doesn't sound very glamorous and, believe me, it will seem even less so when I tell you that I often had to arrive around 4:00 or 5:00am to stand outside in the freezing cold or sweltering heat (DC has two temperatures) before being let in around 6:30 or 7:00am. That's why I was thrilled when enterprising entrepreneurs created new line waiting services. Yippee! No getting up at 3:00am any more!

Alas, a recent Washington Post article notes that Senator Claire McCaskill is seeking to end this practice. She expressed outrage that well-heeled lobbyists are able to pay people to undertake the arduous task of standing in line, hence taking up seats that the "average citizen" might want to have. Her argument is that it is, after all, "the people's house."

While it doesn't impact me directly anymore (it would take a lot more than a legislative assistant salary to get me up at 3:00am), I have to say that I don't buy Senator McCaskill's argument. Frankly, I can't think of many "average citizens" that want to physically sit in on a hearing. The lines for seats come not from a competition between lobbyists and "the average joe," but rather from competition between lobbyist A and lobbyist B. I say, go ahead and let them duke it out for seats -- just so long as I don't have to wait in line for them.

In fact, in time this problem may resolve on its own. Given that most popular hearings are available through C-Span or other online venues, fewer and fewer lobbyists, much less average citizens, are actually going up to the hill for these events.

Ironically, it seems that the only "average citizens" who would be impacted by McCaskill's proposals to eliminate the practice are the line waiters themselves -- and the impact would be wholly negative. Eliminating jobs seems like something a representative of "the people's house" wouldn't really want to do.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Money / Grassroots Debate

At a recent session someone asked me if they should focus their advocacy efforts on getting political donors in to see elected officials. In other words, rather than asking "plain old constituents" to see their members of Congress, the question went, wouldn't it be better to get political donors in to visit.

On the face of it, it seems like the answer would be a resounding yes, right? Universal perception suggest that people who contribute to an elected official's campaign have more "access" to a Congressional office.

But the thing is, that's not really true. The very first filter that any elected official considers any request through (whether it's to have a meeting, cosponsor a bill or attend an event) is "how does this impact my district?" So if people want to get in to see their elected official (or, likely, a staff person), their strongest avenue of influence is their position as a constituent. If you pass the constituent test, you will be able to get in to visit with someone in the office.

How do I know? We've scheduled literally hundreds of meetings for groups coming in to Washington, DC for the annual lobby day meetings. As long as we are able to demonstrate a constituency connection, we are never turned down for a meeting.

"Yeah sure," you're thinking "but what if you want to see the Member -- you have to be a donor then, right?" Well, first of all, why would you want to meet only with the Member? The staff people handle much of the day-to-day work. If you want to get anything done it's essential to have a good relationship with them.

But even if you don't buy that, I can tell you that decisions about who the Member meets with are based on a huge range of factors, including whether the person making the request is a friend, whether there are any good "photo ops" associated with the request and, of course, the Member's schedule. I've never worked in or even been in an office where a list of donors is matched up with the meeting requests -- in fact, in most cases the staff have no idea who has contributed to the campaign.

Now, don't get me wrong. Donors are important and are a valuable component of any grassroots effort. But in my opinion, their value lies in the fact that they have demonstrated themselves to be active and involved on two important levels: they have contributed both their time AND their money to the cause. Their willingness to be active on those two fronts suggests that they might be willing (and able) to undertake the arduous process of building a relationship with the office over time -- a relationship that will get them in to see the Member or staff whenever and wherever they want.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Truth Hurts

The Washington Post recently ran an article on how people perceive and remember so-called "Myth versus fact" arguments. In the public affairs arena, we're used to creating "Myth / Reality" or "True / False" one-pagers, where we counter the "myths" argued by the other side (those scoundrels) with our own carefully developed and cultivated facts.

Turns out, however, that in talking about the myths in contrast to the "truth", we're actually perpetuating the myths! How do we know that? Well, a recent study at the University of Michigan asked participants to review a "Myth/Fact" one-pager put out by the CDC. The materials mentioned myths like "only older people need a flu vaccine" or, "the side effects from the vaccine are worse than the flu."

However, thirty minutes after reviewing the materials, people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual. So now, there's a bunch of people out there saying that they heard the CDC say that only older people need a flu vaccine when, in fact, that's the exact opposite of what the CDC was trying to say.

This study has profound implications for how folks in the public policy arena put together their materials. Perhaps its time to toss out those "Myth and Fact" one-pagers -- and just tell the truth as YOU know it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Do the Millenials Just "Not Care?"

Thomas Friedman recently presented a very thought-provoking piece in the New York Times, expressing his concern about the lack of outrage he sees with America's youth. The piece, titled "Generation Q" (for Quiet) suggests that college kids these days have a lot to be angry about -- and should be showing it more.

Friedman comments that between massive deficits, the demise of Social Security, the trashing of the environment and other mishaps of the "greediest generation" (that's us, by the way), Generation Y should be out there getting arrested, participating in protests and generally rabble-rousing to gain attention and foment change.

But, see, I'm not so sure they aren't out there burning their bras -- they're just doing it in a different way. Boomers like Friedman (and, to some extent, me, although I'm in that gray Boomer / Gen X area) don't really understand the power of social networking techniques to create change. Generation Y is showing us new ways to be effective advocates, through a combination of online and offline approaches. We see their influence in the Save Darfur efforts, in the work being done on the environment and in how presidential candidates are running their campaigns.

Just because they aren't out there looting and pillaging doesn't mean they don't care. In fact, we have a lot to learn from how Generation "Q" speaks up!

Anyway, I've written a letter to the editor on this -- if it's printed, I'll let you know!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Who's Changing the World?

Politics Online has released its list of the Top 10 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics. I wish we were on it, but alas, no. That said, there are some pretty cool organizations doing some pretty cool things, like:

Get Up Australia! Through this site, normal, everyday Australians (Australites?) can advocate on issues they care about. People can get involved in campaigns from whether the Australian Federal Government should spend money on advertising to Climate Change. The interface is very easy to use and it's a pretty compelling approach.

National Democratic Institute and text-messaging: From the site "the National Democratic Institute is a pioneer in applying SMS-messaging to citizens' efforts to safeguards their elections. With NDI assistance, civic groups across three continents have utilized cell phones to quickly capture information on turnout, polling and results. " Hmm, seems that texting isn't just for the kids any more (LOL)

Gov2U: The Greeks are doing again with this whole "participatory democracy" idea. The inventors of democracy are taking it to a whole new level with e-democracy approaches that seeks to connect citizens with their government in a whole new way.

What's most interesting to me is that of the 10 listed, only two are from the United States and those both were campaigns (Ron Paul and John Edwards). Why aren't more advocacy groups and legislators changing the world?

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Job Description for Congress

In my latest advocacy tipsheet I talk about the idea of having a job description for Congress. Here' s my initial take on it -- what's yours?

  • Wanted. Genial, ethical, trustworthy, highly intelligent, photogenic worker who plays well with others. Must be willing to fight tooth and nail for the interests of his or her region while also maintaining a national perspective. Will be responsible for approximately 750,000 to several million customers, depending on the region. Must be able to work independently, but not TOO independently.

    Duties include responding to several thousand to several million communications per month, meeting with customers as requested, introducing and pursuing policy initiatives and attending meetings as called at random by institution leadership. Must be willing to work 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Will need to raise own funds to maintain position (on own time).

    Benefits include salary that must be used to maintain two households, full health coverage and pension, the occasional under $25 lunch and the thrill of being called “The Honorable.” Workers will also be treated with deference by many (and with derision by many more). In addition, effective workers will have the ability to make a difference for people in their communities.

OK, maybe not the most descriptive, but pretty accurate, I think.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Finding a Lawyer

I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but every once in a while someone thinks I belong to that profession. I think it's because of the whole Advocacy / DC thing I've got going on (many people think I'm a lobbyist as well, which is, well, wrong). At any rate, because I get this question often I thought I'd pass along a great resource for finding lawyers, specifically,

For the uninitiated, this site offers links to lawyers all around the country in various areas of law, including bankruptcy, business, corporate and personal injury. All you have to do is enter your location and the type of lawyer you're looking for (or, if you're not sure, you can look under all genres.) More listing are being added every day. In addition, the site has headlines of what's going on in the lawerly world (did you know there's a lawyer's strike in Pakistan?)

One of my favorite parts of the site is the online forum, which you can find by clicking here. In fact, many simple questions of law are addressed here -- you may be able to find the information you need without hiring a lawyer at all!

This is a great site for anyone needing to track down legal assistance -- and remember, don't ask me! I never went to law school (although some of my best friends are lawyers).