Thursday, April 01, 2010

New Report on Congress Disproving Everything I've Ever Said

I want to be sure tipsheet readers know about a new report on Congress that runs counter to everything I've ever said about effective advocacy. Among other things, this report suggests that:
  • Members of Congress pay most attention to the people that live outside their district, not to their constituents.
  • Citizens should never send personal letters. Petitions and form communications work just fine.
  • The staff people for elected officials actually like it when you treat them badly and suggest that you're disappointed to be meeting with or talking to "just them."
April Fools!
OK, there is no such report. In fact, all the evidence suggests the contrary. But, in honor of April Fools day I thought I'd imagine what the world of advocacy would be like if we turned some of the fundamental rules on their head.
Imagine, if you will, a world where...
  • Constituency Doesn't Matter: Everyone and their mother would want to meet with Speaker Pelosi, other members of the leadership and the chairs of important Committees. What would the remaining members of Congress do? Seriously, though, the principle of constituency helps us identify which elected officials are supposed to care what we think - even if it doesn't always feel like they do.
The point: Consider the "power of constituency" as one of your important leveraging tools - and learn how to use it effectively.
  • Form Communications Really Work: The world where members of Congress pay attention to form letters is the same world where you pay attention to junk mail - it simply doesn't exist. If you think about it, what would you rather have: Members of Congress that can be swayed by a handful of identical communications or a system where personal communications, a little hard work and perseverance actually get more attention?
The point: If you can take an extra five or ten minutes to personalize your communications you will gain far more attention than those who aren't willing to take the extra step. And isn't that a good thing?
  • Staff People Enjoy Being Treated as Unimportant Underlings: Ah, yes. They love it when the people they're meeting with say "but I thought I'd get to meet with the Congressman. I don't want to meet with 'just you'." They also like it when advocates go "over their head" to the "really important people in the office."
The point: Treat the staff as you would any other person that can help you achieve a goal. They can become your strongest ally in getting what you want out of the Congressional office.
  • Members of Congress Stopped Arguing All the Time and "Got Stuff Done": Right now, Congress passes only about 4% of the 10,000 bills that are introduced. But in our imaginary world, they might get a much higher percentage passed, including bills like the "Military Toy Replica Act" or the "Nanotechnology in the Schools Act" (are we for? Against? I'm not sure).
The point: Our system of government is not designed for speed and efficiency for moving things through. It's designed for caution and deliberation. Sure it's frustrating when it's YOUR program that's being stopped, but at least be thankful that a lot of other crazy stuff isn't being passed (I know, I know, my friends in the military toy world are going to come after me on this one.)
Now get out there and enjoy your April Fools Day. You can start by reading about the Top 100 April Fool's Hoaxes of all time

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