How to Lobby Officials and Decision Makers
In Atheopaganism, our religion is organized around two broad goals: greater individual happiness and empowerment, and creation of a world that is more ecologically balanced, kind and just to all people.
That second goal means that our path is intrinsically tied up with the concept of Social Responsibility, which is our 9th Principle, and with a requirement that we be engaged civic actors and activists. I have even proposed that the 13th of each month be an Atheopagan activism day, when we can express ourselves to our elected officials and otherwise work to make our voices heard.
Now, this comes much more naturally to some of us than others. I have a background in activism, grassroots organizing and advocacy, but I recognize that as a cis straight white dude, that world is opened more naturally to me than it is to some others. For some, the idea of directly approaching decision makers like elected officials to ask for what we want is a daunting prospect.
Thus, this blog post: a quick guide to doing exactly that. It is a gratifying and empowering thing to do, and I encourage you to give it a try.
An Atheopagan’s Guide to Lobbying Officials and Decision Makers
1. Clarifying your Desired Action Outcome (DAO)
What do you want to have happen? Do you want to support or oppose passage of a project, a city ordinance, a legislative bill, or a regulation? Get very specific: if you’re vague about what you want, it creates wiggle room for the decision maker to do something sort of–but not really–like what you want.
2. With whom should you speak?
Who makes the decision about your DAO? What jurisdiction (division of government) is considering action? Government is set up in tiers, so you may want to talk with an elected city representative, a county or regional official, a state legislative representative or a national member of Parliament, Congress or the equivalent.
You want to talk to someone who is willing to listen. If the official who represents you is squarely on the wrong side of this issue, make a phone call to their office to urge them to change their mind, but focus your in-person activities on people who might vote your way.
Officials are generally most receptive to their voters–the ones who live in their district–so if you don’t, bring along someone who does.
3. Setting appointments
You must make appointments to meet with decision makers. Even if you’re going on a “lobby day” with a larger group, you will not be able to meet with them without an advance appointment. Decision makers are busy people and they are generally not available for drop-in meetings unless they have announced this beforehand (if they do, get there early).
Expect to have 15 minutes to a half-hour. When you set your appointment you will be told how much time you have. You may have to meet with a staff member rather than the decision maker themself, but carry on in exactly the same way.
4. What to wear and how to behave
Dress professionally, as a gesture of respect to the decision maker. For men, that means a sport coat and tie or (at the very least) an open-necked button-up shirt, if not a suit; for women, a professional dress or pant suit. Of course, you can dress however you like, but if you walk in the door with a look that seems disrespectful or inconsiderate of the status of the decision maker, you have a strike against you before you even begin.
In an ideal world, you should be able to wear anything, but remember the 70/20/10 rule of communications: your persuasive impact is based 70% on how you look, 20% on how you sound (e.g., informed, confident, concerned), and 10% on what you actually say. Hopefully these percentages are somewhat better in a lobbying context, but they are worth bearing in mind. Look sharp.
In the meeting, you can be passionate about your position while remaining respectful of the official or staff member. Don’t assume that they are against you–remember that elected officials are there to serve the public and generally would like for you to leave happy rather than unhappy. Use the official’s title when referring to them, as “Assemblymember Rogers” or “MP Henderson”, unless they have asked you to call them by their first name.
5. Roles in the meeting–who should go?
No more than three or four people should attend: a primary speaker, one or two support/testimonial speakers (such as people directly affected by the decision being made or an expert in the subject matter), and a person in the staff/note taking position for your delegation, who can make sure that if you promise any follow-up activities, those are captured and completed.
Begin with introduction of each member of your delegation. Shake hands all around. When you introduce your group, be sure to mention groups or organizations you are there to represent, particularly if they are key constituent groups for the official.
When you sit down, the official or staffer will say something like, “what can we do for you today?”
6. Messaging/Talking points
Your message should be simple:
“We are here representing (group/organization/concerned citizens in your district), and we urge your (support for/opposition to) (bill number or project name). It will do (Benefit 1), (Benefit 2), (Benefit 3).”
Note that you don’t have to say anything about being an Atheopagan, or about a spiritual or religious motivation for your activism, but if you think these might land well, you can mention humanity’s sacred duty to care for our Earth and one another.
The primary speaker states your position and makes the case for it, using your talking points and key data points. They then introduce the testimonial speaker(s), who can either speak from expertise or tell their personal stories about the issue in question and the impact it has or will have on their lives.
7. Support with factual evidence and analysis
In most cases, there are studies or academic papers to support your position. Hunt them down–or show in the documents that accompany the legislation or regulation where the advantages are shown. An appeal simply to right and wrong is an argument, but it’s often not as strong as facts and figures.
After you present your position and supporting arguments, there will then usually be an exchange. The official or staffer will ask questions, and you will answer them; you can also ask questions about the official’s current position on the issue and, if undecided, what information would be useful to them in making a decision.
A staffer will come and let you know when your time is up.
8. Closing message and follow-up agreements
Close with thanks for the person’s time and attention, and their willingness to consider your position, adding that you hope they will act as you have recommended.
9. Leave-behind materials
Provide a card with contact information so the official’s office can follow up with your group if they have further questions or want to tell you about new developments–this is important because the official will now consider your group to be a prospective group of voters.
It is also very helpful to leave behind a short piece of collateral which outlines your position, the arguments for it, and the groups and organizations which endorse it. It’s better for this to be an attractively designed piece than a simple stapled text document.