Creating Political Clout
If your lobbying doesn’t immediately secure a cosponsorship, but your Congressperson is committed to listening to the voters, you will have to organize voters in order to deliver your message and get results. The best way to show a Congressperson your political strength is to demonstrate that you can quickly educate and motivate a large block of voters. This is a skill that politicians appreciate for its value in reelection campaigns, and you can offer it to a Congressperson as the "reward" for taking the stand that you've requested.
Generating letters, postcards, phone calls, faxes and e-mails from constituents is very important. Also, letters to the editor and public events can help turn up the heat. Once you have created clout in this way, you can use it to persuade your representative to take specific actions, or even to get a meeting with a particularly evasive Congressperson. TOP
Wholesale letter campaigns are important when a lot of letters are needed in a hurry. Typically, you set up a table at a busy spot like a grocery store, public event, or college campus and get as many people as possible to send a postcard or letter on the spot. At the same time, you educate people and take names of those who would like to be more active, helping to build your activist network. These wholesale campaigns will demonstrate your ability to inform and activate citizens on a large scale. TOP
Believe it or not, you already have a network of people who can use their voices and pens to influence Congress. You don't need to have an environmental organization to create political clout--look at the potential networks around you, of your family, friends, coworkers, etc. Then educate and organize! You may already have access to organized environmental and public interest networks. By reaching out to the potential and existing networks around you and getting them involved, you will be putting your network for the forests into high gear! (For more information on creative outreach, see Building Coalitions)
Network campaigns are powerful, because as you generate letters or phone calls your own network grows stronger. Even though it may start off small eventually you can end up with a large group of concerned citizens participating for your cause! TOP
1: Copy this letter
Members of Congress are impressed when a political desire is spreading through their districts by word of mouth. One way to get a powerful network started and growing is to make a standardized letter like the one in the Education Resources section of this site, which clearly states "Copy this letter and have others mail it in, too." This shows the depth of your network better than postcards signed wholesale in front of the grocery store—you have activated a word of mouth network that can be tapped into again and again.
Once you have made your first copies, give them to the people you want to organize. This will get them to take action, and they'll spread the word to the people they know. A network of as little as twenty contacts made by you can result in thousands of letters with the same opinion, written by people who now know the issue. TOP
2: Build an e-mail network
These days, e-mail is the easiest way to communicate with large numbers of people. You can set up a list-serve using many free or commercial web services. In this way you can reach hundreds or even thousands of members quickly and cheaply. You can have list subscribers forward or rewrite an e-mail to their Senators, Representatives, the President, and others. Just remember, because of the ease of sending e-mails, people are bombarded with hundreds. Members of Congress get massive numbers of e-mails--an e-mail to a member of Congress carries much less weight than a hand written letter or a printed post card. TOP
3: Build a phone tree
A phone tree is a network of individuals that you can activate in time of need to apply public pressure where it's needed most. When activated by an urgent call to action, a phone tree can be very powerful to change a crisis situation, since a dozen phone calls or a handful of letters can often mean the difference in the way a Congressperson votes or the Forest Service acts on a particular issue.
With a list of as low as one other person to as many as ten people, the leader can phone each one and convey the news and the action to take. The leader should make sure that all the details are being transmitted accurately on each phone call, including names of representatives or others to phone or write, addresses, telephone numbers, etc. If there are more than ten people in a group phone tree, then that is probably more phone calls than one leader will want to make alone. The answer is to divide the list into sections, and appoint as many subgroup leaders as necessary to phone each subgroup of up to ten people. Again, make sure that each subgroup leader receives and transmits all the information with complete accuracy. TOP
When you receive important alerts on your issue from other networks, activate your own network to make phone calls, send e-mails and write letters. By using your network often, you'll accomplish two things. Just as muscles grow stronger when exercised, your network will grow as you use it. Be forewarned--overusing your network can result in people getting overwhelmed. However, in general, the more often your member of Congress hears from your network, the more she or he will come to respect your ability to organize. That's when you'll get the support you are looking for. TOP