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How to Lobby Training Kit
UPDATES MARCH 2007:
Table of Contents
In reading this lobbying kit it is important to keep two points in mind. First, that the act of lobbying (or influencing) your congressperson is a dynamic process; it will become easier to master the more it is practiced. Second, lobbying begins with a small number of committed and focused individuals. As time progresses, others in your community will be drawn to this crucial work. If you have any questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't give up. You are not alone.
Lobbying is an attempt to influence elected officials on specific legislation. Legislation can either be an introduced or a draft bill that may be introduced in the future to any legislative body such as a city council, state legislature or Congress. Writing letters is one of the most fundamental grassroots tools for showing support or opposition towards an issue. A handwritten letter shows the congressperson that the constituent has thought about the issue and has serious opinions about it.
It only takes 5-7 minutes to have a constituent write a letter when a sample letter is provided. It will also demonstrate to the congressperson that the group submitting the letters is organized and can influence voters in her/his district. The goal is to mail a number of letters at the same time weekly while keeping count of them since the number of letters received directly impacts the congressperson's position on the issue.
By generating hundreds of letters on the Resolution of Inquiry issue, you can lobby from a position of strength when visiting a legislator. It's important to show the congressperson that the Resolution of Inquiry is strongly supported by average people of her/his district. In addition to generating letters, you'll want to target mainstream media, and organize a deluge of letters-to-the-editor and numerous op-ed pieces in the local print media. In summary, it's vital to show the congressperson that the Resolution of Inquiry has strong support among her/his constituents and make it visible in the press.
It takes one member of the House of Representatives to introduce a Resolution of Inquiry in Congress. The strength of our Resolution of Inquiry is directly related to the number of congresspeople who co-sponsor the bill. Lobbying, like most endeavors, requires preparation and lots of practice. By lobbying in an organized and consistent manner, you can demonstrate power and influence. In conclusion, there is nothing politicians understand better than power and influence.
For exact details please refer to the "How to Conduct a Letter-Writing Kit" supplement.
What You Need:
Two or more people, ironing board, clip boards/cardboard "boards", stationery, envelopes, lots of pens, painters or masking tape, one mounted Resolution of Inquiry sign - 24 inches by 30 inches, one mounted "Sample Letter to Your Congressman" - 24 inches by 30 inches
(Place the sample letter somewhere high and visible so that people can use it as a reference when they write their letters.) Use black or blue marker pens, jar for donations, volunteer sign-up sheets, and flyers.
Where to Set Up:
In selecting a location you need to keep in mind the following. Ideally spend 2-3 hours at a time. Look for areas with heavy pedestrian traffic. Time of day is important. (Is there a major event going on?) Think about choosing a weekday or weekend. (Weekends are twice as busy.) Look for a place where there are few distractions. Find a reasonable store manager (if on private property). Busy supermarket storefronts, busy public streets, public events, and college campuses are all good places, where appropriate.
Examples of bad locations:
Door-to-door is too slow and tourist areas don't have as many constituents.
Please refer to the ACLU flyer, "Your Rights to Demonstrate and Protest." Please target someone approachable; don't run after people. Make eye contact, hand-over the clip board, and bring the constituent to the ironing board so that they can obtain any supporting materials you've brought with you. Folding chairs, where appropriate, allow the letter-writer a place to gather her/his thoughts.
Talking too much, arguing, preaching to the converted, chatting about other issues, going into too much detail, or 'allowing people to tell you what you should really be working on' are points to consider. Sitting at a table, allowing disruptive people to bother you, or standing with someone while she/he holds your board is counter-productive. So how do you break out of conversations? Just agree and let go. Explain you have a lot of letters to collect and move on.
Points to Remember:
Use busy locations. Stay mobile. Always make eye contact. Keep it short and simple. Don't let people waste YOUR time. Reserve spots ahead of time. Always have one person covering the ironing board. Give out flyers. Always have a volunteer sign-up sheet. Make contacts with individuals who are members of local organizations.
The following are examples of statements/questions that may arise as you talk with the public. When in doubt about an answer, please refer people to www.AfterDowningStreet.org. It's also OK to say that you don't know the answer, but will get back to them.
1. A Resolution of Inquiry will never pass in the House.
A Resolution of Inquiry may or may not pass, but the Resolution of Inquiry process can achieve the following: The process is a tool (or strategy) that will expose Bush Administration deceptions or even criminality. Facts brought to light could be helpful in keeping Bush from further enacting his dangerous agenda. It will be more difficult for the Bush Administration to plan and carry out new military operations with a Resolution of Inquiry hanging over them. The media will be forced to cover the hearings as new facts arise. Bush may end up a lame duck president whatever the outcome of the proceedings. The Bush Administration will lose credibility with the public. The effort will illuminate and hopefully prevent future Congresses and Presidents from engaging in similar violations of the public trust.
2. You'll never get support from members of Congress.
If a large percentage of a representative's constituency calls for a Resolution of Inquiry, that representative would be more likely to respond. Through lobbying, a congressperson will be asked to either co-sponsor a Resolution of Inquiry (as a bill) or to simply confirm that she/he will vote for it.
3. The Republican Congress supports Bush so how can we expect them to allow a vote on a Resolution of Inquiry?
This is an ongoing process, which increases in strength as we move forward. As more people learn the facts about the Downing Street Minutes, they and their members of Congress will support a Resolution of Inquiry. We are pursuing a multi-tiered approach: We're energizing average people like you to lobby your elected officials and inform the public. We're working with members of Congress to co-sponsor and support a Resolution of Inquiry. We're leading efforts to pressure the media to report these facts.
Since late May, we've accomplished amazing things. We helped Rep. John Conyers collect 650,000 signatures on petitions, demanding answers to the Downing Street Minutes. Rep. Conyers held a now famous hearing on June 16, afterwhich he and other representatives delivered the signatures to the White House. On the same day we organized a rally in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. We're currently working with members of Congress. We have several other important events and efforts planned to maintain the momentum. We'd appreciate any help you'd like to give.
4. Why focus on this?
The public is now focusing on the economy and the cost of occupying Iraq. A large number of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens have died as well. When the inquiry begins, the media will have a field day with the Bush Administration's criminal deeds.
5. A Resolution of Inquiry is such a negative process. Why get involved?
There is a moral and legal imperative for a Resolution of Inquiry. The Downing Street Minutes show sufficient cause to investigate whether the Bush Administration lied to Congress and the American people in order to mislead us into war. To date, 1700+ US troops and thousands of Iraqi civilians have died in Iraq. It is not as negative as the alternative: Letting Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others continue the occupation of Iraq or start a new war, plunging the country further into debt while more innocent people die. Lying America into war is a horrendous, unacceptable precedent. We must protect our republic by demanding a Resolution of Inquiry.
A guide for demonstrators, marchers, speakers and others who seek to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Q. Can my free speech rights be restricted because of what I want to say - even if it's controversial?
A. No. The First Amendment prohibits restrictions based on the content of speech. However, this does not mean that the Constitution completely protects all types of free speech activity in every circumstance. Police and government officials are allowed to place certain non-discriminatory and narrowly drawn "time, place and manner" restrictions on the exercise of First Amendment rights.
Q. Where can I engage in free speech activity?
A. Generally, all types of _expression are constitutionally protected in traditional "public forums" such as streets, sidewalks and parks. In addition, your speech activity may be permitted to take place at other public locations which the government has opened up to similar speech activities, such as the plazas in front of government buildings.
Q. What about free speech activity on private property?
A. The general rule is that free speech activity cannot take place on private property absent the consent of the property owner. However, in California, the courts have recognized an exception for large shopping centers, and have permitted leafleting and petitioning to take place in the public areas of large shopping centers. The shopping center owners, however, are entitled to impose regulations that, for example, limit the number of activists on the property and restrict their activities to designated "free speech areas." Most large shopping centers have enacted detailed free speech regulations that require obtaining a permit in advance. It is unclear whether the courts will extend this "shopping center exception" to other types of private property, such as the walkways in front of large free-standing stores, such as a Safeway or a Costco.
Q. Do I need a permit before I engage in free speech activity?
A. Not usually. However, certain types of events require permits. Generally, these events are: 1) a march or parade that does not stay on the sidewalk and other events that require blocking traffic or street closures; 2) a large rally requiring the use of sound amplifying devices; or 3) a rally at certain designated parks or plazas, such as federal property managed by the General Services Administration. Many permit procedures require that the application be filed several weeks in advance of the event. However, the First Amendment prohibits such an advance notice requirement from being used to prevent rallies or demonstrations that are rapid responses to unforeseeable and recent events. Also, many permit ordinances give a lot of discretion to the police or city officials to impose conditions on the event, such as the route of a march or the sound levels of amplification equipment. Such restrictions may violate the First Amendment if they are unnecessary for traffic control or public safety, or if they interfere significantly with effective communication with the intended audience.
A permit cannot be denied because the event is controversial or will express unpopular views. Citizens have a right to gather in any location, which is considered public access.
Q. If organizers have not obtained a permit, where can a march take place?
A. If marchers stay on the sidewalks and obey traffic and pedestrian signals, their activity is constitutionally protected even without a permit. Marchers may be required to allow enough space on the sidewalk for normal pedestrian traffic and may not maliciously obstruct or detain passers-by.
Q. May I distribute leaflets and other literature on public sidewalks?
A. Yes. Pedestrians on public sidewalks may be approached with leaflets, newspapers, petitions and solicitations for donations. Tables may also be set up on sidewalks for these purposes if sufficient room is left for pedestrians to pass. These types of free speech activities are legal as long as entrances to buildings are not blocked and passers-by are not physically and maliciously detained. No permits should be required.
Q. Do I have a right to picket on public sidewalks?
A. Yes and this is also an activity for which a permit is not required. However, picketing must be done in an orderly, non-disruptive fashion so that pedestrians can pass by and entrances to buildings are not blocked. Contrary to the belief of some law enforcement officials, pickets are not required to keep moving but may remain in one place as long as they leave room on the sidewalk for others to pass.
Q. Can the government impose a financial charge on exercising free speech rights?
A. Increasingly, local governments are imposing financial costs as a condition of exercising free speech rights, such as application fees, security deposits for clean-up, or charges to cover overtime police costs. Unfortunately, such charges that cover actual administrative costs or the actual costs of re-routing traffic have been permitted by some courts. However, if the costs are greater because an event is controversial (or a hostile crowd is expected) - such as requiring a large insurance policy - then the courts will not permit it. Also, regulations with financial requirements should include a waiver for groups that cannot afford the charge, so that even grassroots organizations can exercise their free speech rights. Therefore, a group without significant financial resources should not be prevented from engaging in a march simply because it cannot afford the charges the City would like to impose.
Q. Can a speaker be silenced for provoking a crowd?
A. Generally, no. Even the most inflammatory speaker cannot be punished for merely arousing the audience. A speaker can be arrested and convicted for incitement only if he or she specifically advocates violence or illegal actions and only if those illegalities are imminently likely to occur.
Q. Do counter-demonstrators have free speech rights?
A. Yes. Although counter-demonstrators should not be allowed to physically disrupt the event they are protesting, they do have the right to be present and to voice their displeasure. Police are permitted to keep two antagonistic groups separated but should allow them to be within the general vicinity of one another.
Q. Is heckling protected by the First Amendment?
A. Although the law is not settled, heckling should be protected, unless hecklers are attempting to physically disrupt an event, or unless they are drowning out the other speakers.
Q. Does it matter if other speech activities have taken place at the same location in the past?
A. Yes. The government cannot discriminate against activists because of the controversial content of their message.
Thus, if you can show that similar events to yours have been permitted in the past (such as a Veterans or Memorial Day parade), then that is an indication that the government is involved in selective enforcement if they are not granting you your permit.
Q. What other types of free speech activity are constitutionally protected?
A. The First Amendment covers all forms of communication including music, theaters, film and dance. The Constitution also protects actions that symbolically express a viewpoint. Examples of these symbolic forms of speech include wearing masks and costumes or holding a candlelight vigil. However, symbolic acts and civil disobedience that involve illegal conduct may be outside the realm of constitutional protections and can sometimes lead to arrest and conviction. Therefore, while sitting in a road may be expressing a political opinion, the act of blocking traffic may lead to criminal punishment.
Q. What should I do if my rights are being violated by a police officer?
A. It rarely does any good to argue with a street patrol officer. Ask to talk to a superior and explain your position to her or him. Point out that you are not disrupting anyone else's activity and that your actions are protected by the First Amendment. If you do not obey an officer, you might be arrested and taken from the scene. You should not be convicted if a court concludes that your First Amendment rights have been violated.
If you have a question about your civil liberties or rights, call the ACLU-NC hotline at: 415/621-2493 (x322)
If you are arrested while engaging in free speech activities, call the National Lawyers Guild Legal Hotline: 415/285-1011
Here's a sample letter that can be copied word for word. However, the very best letters are always written using a constituent's thoughts. Each letter originally written represents hundreds of letters not written. For further details, please see the "How to Conduct a Letter-Writing Campaign" supplement.
Research the member's voting record. Find out which constituencies and/or industries are important in the member's district. What committees and/or subcommittees does the member sit on? How do they relate to your issue? What power does the member have to give you what you want?
Assemble a Delegation:
A delegation lets the member of Congress know that the issue resonates with the community. A good delegation is between five and eight people. Large delegations should be avoided because you don't want to overwhelm your member of Congress. You will want to begin building a relationship with your congressional representative and her/his staff so that a trust is formed.
Request a Visit:
Visit requests should be submitted to the member's scheduler in letter form, usually via fax. The letter should identify the persons requesting the visit and the constituencies, if any, such people represent. The letter should also specify that you wish to discuss civil liberties in general and a Resolution of Inquiry specifically. Most likely you will have to follow up several times with the scheduler in order to set a visit. Frequently you will be offered a meeting with an aide. Don't be concerned or feel snubbed: often aides have a lot of influence in the area of policy they cover. Developing good relationships with them can be instrumental to having a long-term effect on policy.
Planning and Practice:
Discuss with the members of the delegation precisely what issues you wish to bring up. Keep in mind that most visits last only up to thirty minutes. Determine what, if any, questions you intend to ask and when you intend to ask them. Keep in mind that once a question is asked you cede control of the meeting to a member or aide, who may spend the rest of your thirty minutes talking about an unrelated issue. Sometimes, not always, it is best to leave questions for after you have spoken what you wished to convey.
Based on your research, determine which arguments you think will best sway the member to your position. Bring printed materials from credible sources, the briefer the better, to support each of your positions or to offer information the member is not likely to have. Always ask for something concrete, i.e. to co-sponsor a Resolution of Inquiry, or to promoise to vote for it. It is often a good idea to go into the meeting with a back-up query; something easier for the member to agree to, especially if you think it is unlikely they will agree to your primary request.
Decide beforehand who is going to say what in the meeting. Practice. It sounds silly, but it is better to go in prepared. Take turns playing the member or aide and acting out various scenarios.
The Actual Visit:
Take notes. You will get valuable information regarding the member's position that should help you in future lobbying efforts. If the member or the aide asks you for information you don't have, make a note of it and say that you will get back to them. Be sure to do it. Record any commitments made by the member or their aide. You may well have to remind them of these. If you meet with an aide in the local office, be sure to find out which aide is in charge of your issue in Washington, and indicate that you plan to follow up with that person.
After the meeting, find a place where you can relax with your delegation and compare notes on the meeting. This is important, as different people might have different interpretations of the members' position. Agree as a group on who will do what follow up tasks, i.e. gathering information, writing the thank you letter, etc. It is customary to write a thank you letter to the person that you met with. One thank you letter per delegation is sufficient. This is a good opportunity to review commitments made, to provide promised information or other materials that support your position. Let us know how it went. Let your experience strengthen the overall effort. We can better coordinate our national lobbying effort when you share your experience with us.
Letters to the Editor:
Letters to the editor (LTE) are a great way to get your message out to others in your community. Editors and reporters may also look to letters to the editor for ideas and issues that they have not previously covered. The LTE should be clear, brief, and focused. Limit the letter to one page. Remember that shorter letters have a better chance of being published.
LTE campaigns are effective in generating many letters that deal with the same issue. They also serve to address particular news items or editorials that have appeared in the publication. To start a LTE campaign, you should form a LTE committee in your group. Stagger the mailings, a few days apart to address a particular issue.
LTE can be useful in several ways: To respond to an editorial or another letter to the editor, to comment on a recent event, or even to build support for your issue. It is a fantastic way to reach tens of thousands of readers while investing limited time.
In addition to letters to the editor, newspapers run opinion columns on either the editorial or Op- Ed pages, or frequently both. The term "Op-Ed" is shorthand for "Opposite Editorial." Op-Eds are also referred to as "opinion pieces." Op-Eds are written by guest writers (most of whom, unfortunately, are syndicated columnists and not local citizens).
An Op-Ed should not be confused with an editorial. The editor, or the editorial board, of a newspaper writes editorials. You will notice that editorials are rarely signed, as they represent the point of view of the newspaper as a whole.
Key Points for Discussion:
A. Limit your piece to 500-800 words total. Shorter pieces are more likely to published and read by the general public.
B. Research news articles on the subject before writing. The research has to come first.
C. Mix the human-interest perspective with hard facts and statistics. Give your story a human face backed by solid research.
D. Indignation is good. Readers like to see passion in a piece. Indignation accomplishes two key goals. First, people are rarely moved to action without the push of one of the emotional buttons (anger and hope). Second, indignation in a piece suggests to the reader that the writer is sincere and independent, not likely beholden to the special interests who value the word "moderate" above all else. A word of caution. Indignation should not be confused with ranting or lack of civility. Always think of yourself as a professional.
E. The first paragraph, and especially the first sentence, should be directly tied to recent news.
F. The second paragraph should focus on a recommendation. If writing about a bill, the second paragraph might start, "Congress should take this historic opportunity to address..." G. The rest of the piece should contain further explanation of the problem that you are addressing, your proposed solutions and the players involved. Make sure to follow the recommendations in section "C" above.
H. The conclusion should be pithy and memorable. It should cause the reader to ponder all that you have written and it should drive home your central point.
I. Lastly. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Rewrite until you feel that the piece is both punchy and flowing. Ask family and friends for editorial help.
J. Call the Op-Ed editor before you submit your piece. Tell the editor what you are thinking about writing and solicit her/his comments. Ask if they are open to running it. A couple of good things can happen from these pre-submission phone calls. First, the editor might steer you in a better direction than you had first thought of, (Well, if you're writing about X, why don't you try starting it with"). Second, if you get the editor's ear and they do offer comments, they are more likely to embrace (then publish) the piece as their own creation when they receive it.