It’s late October, the World Series is underway, the leaves on trees are changing color and Halloween is just around the corner. This is that one time of year when we allow ourselves to be frightened in the name of fun. We attend parties dressed up as zombies, pay money to go to haunted houses or just stay at home and stream B-horror films where the acting is as fake as the blood. This once-a-year ‘season of scare’ always comes to an end, but for grassroots advocates, the fear of taking your message to Congress can last for 12 long months.
With the white marble hallways, media cameras, and pages and pages of bills, laws, and regulations, Capitol Hill can be as intimidating as the scariest haunted house - even to the most seasoned lobbyist.
For many grassroots advocates, meetings on Capitol Hill can foster up images of Lt. Colonel Oliver North grilled by Members of Congress at committee hearings, investigating the Iran-Contra affair during the summer of 1987. Fortunately for grassroots advocates, we are not covering anything up, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill really want to hear what we have to say.
Our role as Grassroots Advocacy Coordinators is to ease these fears. To do this, we need to prepare and inform our grassroots advocates of their upcoming experience. As a Coordinator, your role isn’t to confuse your advocates about the complicated federal appropriations process or the interworking of a particular department or agency. Your job is to make their job easy.
Whether it’s advocacy from your home state or in Washington, DC, at a coordinated “fly-in,” there are really only 3 things grassroots advocates need to know:
1. Their personal story. Any good grassroots advocate needs to have a personal story. Grassroots advocates must know how the implementation of a policy or law impacts them in the real world. Lawmakers need and want to know this information to do a better job making laws for people they serve. If grassroots advocates can effectively tell their personal story and make the case that a policy or law will impact that district and the constituents, lawmakers will listen. No one can make that case better than grassroots advocates who live in that district.
2. The Ask. An “Ask” is what an organization collectively decides to request from their lawmaker. Grassroots advocates need to know what to ask during their meetings. The Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator must communicate that “ask” to the advocates and ensure there are no lingering questions.
3. How to find their government relations team. Grassroots advocates need to know their organization’s government relations team and how to contact them. This way, if a lawmaker or staff asks a grassroots advocate a question during a meeting, the grassroots advocate can put them in touch with the government relations professionals to better answer (and give a correct answer) to the question.
Grassroots advocacy shouldn’t be frightening. Coordinators can prepare grassroots advocates with 3 simple items to eliminate the fear of advocating to lawmakers.