here are two ways to move legislation in Congress: money and people. We’ve all heard stories of how money shrouds the policy-making process. And there’s an entire industry to bolster that point: lobbying. In fact, more than $3.3 billion was spent on lobbying in 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, employing more than 12,600 lobbyists. So what’s the best way for you to make a real difference and get involved?
The immensity of the lobbying industry may seem as though it would eclipse grassroots power, but this is where you can make a difference. There are many examples of strategic grassroots advocacy campaigns that successfully influence the legislative process. Here’s a great example: Last December, the Congressman who sponsored the Mobile Information Call Act (HR 3035) in an unprecedented move actually killed his own bill by asking that his legislation not be advanced! In the weeks leading to this, more than 10,000 people sent messages to Congress opposing this bill from across the country (using POPVOX.com). Opposition for the bill was equally overwhelming in the sponsor’s own Congressional District in Nebraska (97%), as it was across Nebraska (98%) and the nation (99%). The Congressman explained, “After listening to concerned constituents, today I have asked House leadership to not advance HR 3035.” This is what advocacy platforms like POPVOX can help grassroots activists accomplish: it makes sure the issues that matter most to you are heard by Congress and remain relevant.
The good news is that despite all the money in policy-making, grassroots power still works, especially when it’s strategic. That said, while technology and the Internet are making it easier for individuals to communicate with Congress, it’s also adding to
the noise. Annually, Congress receives several hundred million electronic messages from individuals — and this number keeps growing. However, the number of staff in Congressional offices remains the same. Remember that “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy and Ethel get jobs at a chocolate factory wrapping chocolates and they can’t keep up with the conveyor belt, forcing them to stuff chocolates in their mouths, shirts and hats? Well, that’s how many staffers describe their experience on the Hill.
So how can you be strategic in getting heard in Congress? Here are some tips that will help empower your grassroots activity based on my experiences running POPVOX.com, a neutral, nonpartisan platform for advocacy.
Share your personal story
Congress wants to hear from individuals, and understand how policies will alter or change people’s lives. You are an issue expert in many ways—as a landowner, a conservationist or even as an individual who cares about our nation’s forests. In general, petitions or pre-written letters don’t have the same influence on Congressional staffers as personal comments because they don’t capture your own point of view. So share your own story. There’s a reason why a particular issue is important to you personally.
Share your personal story
One of the fundamental principles of POPVOX’s advocacy platform is transparency. Once you write a comment to your Member of Congress on the POPVOX platform, it is not only delivered to the appropriate Congressional office, but it’s also posted publicly on POPVOX.com so that others can learn from your issue expertise. This individual input is then