Monday, October 31, 2016

What Frightens Grassroots Advocates…and what you, a Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator, can do about it!

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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Speaking the Code: What do all those Congressional terms mean?

For those grassroots advocates who have been taking their message to Congress for any amount of time will quickly come to understand that Capitol Hill is a subculture of the Washington political world. As with any subculture, Congress his it’s own terms and lingo. To be a better grassroots advocate, it is sometimes helpful to have an understanding of what these terms mean and how to best use them when speaking with legislators. Below is a list of a few Congressional terms that maybe helpful to grassroots advocates. Information is taken from and for a more in-depth glossary of Congressional terms, please click here.

Appropriations: A bill that provides funding for federal programs.  Must be passed every year.

Authorization: Legislation that establishes federal programs or policy. Does not fund established programs.

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR): Is the codes and rules of the federal government. Published in the Federal Register.

Committees: Subsections of the Congress that works on assigned issues of jurisdiction.

Companion bills: Similar legislation that is introduced in by the House and Senate often in a coordinated effort to gain support.

Conference: Selected Members of the House and Senate who meet to resolve differences between two versions of a bill that have passed their respective chambers.

Continuing Resolution (CR): Legislation that funds the federal government for a short amount of time when a full year appropriations bill has not been passed. A CR will fund the federal government at the previous fiscal year level unless otherwise stated.

Dear Colleague Letter: A letter sent between Members of Congress. Dear Colleague Letters are often used to ask for support of an issue or to share information on an issue.  

Discretionary spending: Spending in which Congress can determine the direction of the funds. Discretionary spending is split up between defense discretionary spending and non-defense discretionary spending.

Entitlement spending: Federal spending that Congress does not annually determine. Examples of entitlement spending are Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Executive Orders: Is an order issued by the President that has the force of law.

Markup: When Congressional committees or subcommittees meet to consider legislation.

Political Action Committee (PAC): An organization regulated by the Federal Election Commission that raises and contributes to Congressional and Presidential candidates.

Written by Jeff Kratz, Guest Contributor, Sower Advocacy Group

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Getting the most out of Social Media

We made it! It’s the 21st Century and the future is finally here.  While we don’t have flying cars or time travel just yet, modern advancements still impress us everyday. One innovation during this young century that can both impress and confuse many of us is the development and popularity of social media. Social media has changed the way we communicate with each other, leading to a seemingly smaller world with easier access to information. 

How can grassroots advocates use this new 21st Century technology to advance our policy goals?

Today, everyone from teenagers to grandparents use social media.  The popularity of this new communications medium, combined with its inexpensiveness, has become a helpful tool for Members of Congress to connect with their constituents. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or another platform, you’d be hard pressed to find a congressional office that isn’t on social media. 

Here are a few things YOU can do to connect with legislators over social media (after you learn their basic functions):

1.  Use Twitter and Facebook to get your issues in front of Members of Congress. Lawmakers want to hear from their constituents. They want to know what’s on the minds of the voters who will potentially re-elect them. Therefore, “tweeting” (posting on Twitter) about research papers, news articles, one pagers, or questions at Members of Congress helps them know the issues that matter to constituents. This is an excellent way to get your issues in front of Congress.

2.  Thank Members of Congress via social media. Everyday, all day long, constituents, lobbyist, and advocacy groups are asking Members of Congress for something. By tweeting at a Member of Congress or posting on their Facebook page, advocates can show Members of Congress their appreciation for their action. This communication will set you apart from other advocates, and help Members of Congress recognize you the next time there is an issue you want to influence.

3.  Use social media to show positive action. After you meet with your Member of Congress or staff, or your Member of Congress or staff attends an in-district event or site that supports your issues, make sure you tweet to your elected official’s page or post on Facebook about that action. Congressional offices like the free publicity of meeting since it shows that they are working for their district. Also, it reinforces the importance of their activity with your association/group.

Using social media can be an effective tool in your grassroots strategy. Importantly, social media is inexpensive and can reach hundreds, thousands, or even millions, of people.   

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What advocacy can I do in the closing days of the election?

Finally, after 19 months, this election is about to end. In three weeks, the robocalls, non-stop super PAC ads, and constant mud slinging will all be over and America will be headed to their local polling place to select the direction this country for the next few years. But, in the mean time, what can grassroot advocates do in the 11th hour of this campaign?

We’re not only selecting a new President, we’re also selecting whom we want representing us in Congress.  One-third of the U.S. Senate is up for re-election and all of the U.S. House of Representatives are facing the voters on November 8th. Even if you live in a district or state without a competitive race this fall, you can still make your voice heard.  Now is the time when elected officials are listening to their constituents more than ever. You have a perfect opportunity to voice your support for your cause. These are a few ways how:

1.   Attend campaign rallies for both candidates. If you are in a district with a competitive race, chances are that both the Republican and Democrat candidates are holding daily rallies and meeting with voters. Attend these rallies for both candidates, even if you have already made up your mind on how you will vote. If you get to meet the candidate or have an opportunity to ask the candidate a question, take the opportunity to bring up your issue. If a candidate hears enough about a particular issue, they will remember it when they get to Washington.

2.   Write a Letter to the Editor. Write a Letter to the Editor in your local paper. Highlight the issue you’re concerned about and challenge both candidates to form a position on this issue. Candidates read these papers, and your letter can help make your issue an issue in the campaign.

3.   Vote! The most important thing you can do is go vote on November 8 for the candidate you feel will most likely support your cause once elected.      

This long election is almost over. However, there is still time for grassroot advocates to make an impact and shape this campaign, setting the groundwork for legislative activity in the upcoming Congress. Formulate your strategy to make an impact in your local community that is felt all the way to Capitol Hill!

Written by Jeff Kratz, Guest Contributor, Sower Advocacy Group