Many people are intimidated by the thought of lobbying. Some aren’t even aware of their right to write to and meet with their members of Congress. Lobbying is really very simple, and you shouldn’t let anything stand in your way of exercising your right of free speech.
For many people, lobbying their members of Congress consists of writing a single letter in support of a bill. Sometimes one letter is all it takes to get action. But, persuading your Member to take the action you want will usually require a much more concerted effort. To be a powerful lobbyist, you must develop a relationship with your congresspersons and their office staffs. This involves back-and-forth communication by mail, email, phone, or in person. Through a series of contacts you should be able to figure out your congresspersons’ positions and find out what it will take to secure the support you’re looking for.
After you’ve sent your first letter you should receive a response within a few weeks. Responses can range from "I’m happy to inform you that I’ve co-signed the bill", to much more vague responses like, "I’ll consider your views when the bill comes to a vote." In any case, you should follow up on your initial contact, but you should try to pin your member down if the response is vague. Get a yes or no answer. If you don’t receive a response within a month, begin your follow-up anyway. TOP
Follow up your first contact with a phone call to your Congressperson’s office in Washington, DC. Ask to speak to the Environmental Legislative Assistant. This phone call will also help to set you apart from the numerous letters they receive, and will increase your impact as a lobbyist. You are showing that you know how Congress works, that you have a genuine concern regarding the issue, and that you will follow the congressperson’s stand through the final vote.
Start the conversation by expressing your thanks for his or her response. Ask for a clarification of the congressperson's position if the response was vague. Answer all the questions you can, and promise to phone back with the answers to those you can't. Take this opportunity to again ask for a commitment to cosponsor the bill. If the answer is no, find out what it will take for the congressperson to cosponsor the bill. Say that you want to overcome their objections, and help solve the problems.
If a staffer says, "We just haven’t gotten any letters on this issue," don’t just run out and start a letter writing campaign. Your response should be, "If you get a certain number of letters, then will you definitely sign on?" You are trying to secure a commitment, a "contract" of honor. You may even be able to set a target commitment date. Your "bargain" may consist of more than just letters--they may want to see others in their state sign on, or need some specific statistics. Your job will be to meet these needs.
It may be possible to "reward" your congressperson for fulfilling your request. One of the best ways to reward your congressperson is to work on his or her reelection campaign. If you’ve been building your political network, this is a very powerful incentive!
Before you close your conversation, ask the staffer to name the appropriate person to meet with in the District Office. Say that you’ll be staying in touch to check on their progress on this issue. TOP
Now it’s time for a little face-to-face. To set up a meeting in your congressional district or in Washington, DC, call the office and speak with the Environmental Legislative Assistant (or whoever is dealing with forest issues). You can set up a meeting with the staffer, or you can talk directly to your Congressperson. To meet with the Member, you’ll need to arrange the meeting with the environmental legislative assistant and the scheduler, who will schedule the time. You may have to be persistent to get a meeting with the Member, but it is your right as a citizen!
Before your meeting, prepare a one-page outline of your desires with supporting points, which you will leave with the staffer or Congressperson. This will help you organize your own thoughts plus provide a clear statement which can be reviewed in the future. Staffers often write brief position papers for their Congressperson’s review. By doing some of their work, your ideas will move more quickly!
Arrive a little early and dress appropriately. Try to dress in a way that will make the person you’re meeting with feel comfortable. Be relaxed and look your best.
When your meeting starts, don’t just plow into a monologue of facts and figures. Try to find out what the person you’re meeting with does in the office and how well he or she knows the issue. This will give you a better point to start from. Throughout the meeting, listen carefully and take notes. Ask questions to clarify the person’s position and to identify points of misunderstanding. This will help you structure your future strategies.
Your own presentation should be concise and well organized. Use pictures such as those in Forest Voice, Clearcutting: A Crime Against Nature, or Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry, or your own photographs. They will help keep the person’s attention and provide undeniable evidence to back up your arguments. Use local examples where possible and cite recent events and articles. Invite the Congressperson and staff to see the damage first hand by taking a hike with you or flying over clearcut areas with LightHawk, which offers free air tours to members of Congress and their staff.
Try to show the connections between clearcutting, environmental destruction, economic waste, and solid waste problems. Use the information from the Education section and Comprehensive Platform to illustrate your points and to describe Save America’s Forests’ proposal for a comprehensive solution. By suggesting alternatives, you’re doing more than just complaining; you are creating an atmosphere conducive to solving problems and building a relationship. Before you finish, present your one-page outline as the definitive statement of your request.
Lobbying meetings should focus on what you want to accomplish. One goal of the meeting is to educate the person about the problem, but always keep your main objective in mind—you are looking for a commitment to specific action on the part of the Congressperson. This commitment usually will not be cemented at your first meeting. You may be told that cosponsorship depends on what the office hears from their constituents—that should represent a challenge to you to organize in your district. If questions or objections are raised, you have the job of overcoming them. As with lobbying by phone, be prepared to face questions you can't answer on the spot--just be sure to call back with the necessary information as soon as you can. You should develop an ongoing dialogue with your congressional office. Remember that we are here to help answer questions or assist with follow-up meetings in D.C.TOP
The district office is important to your overall strategy because it will likely be more involved with the politics of keeping your Congressperson in office. Get to know the local staff--try to find a sympathetic ear. The member may need your help in the future, and the more the office knows about your issue, the better.
Because the district office mainly deals with local issues, problem solving, and the reelection campaign, you’ll want to relate your national agenda to the problems at home, like clearcutting on your National Forest, or the overflowing waste stream in your community. You can speak directly to the Congressperson when he or she is home during congressional recesses or on weekends—just call the office, and they’ll tell you when.
The Washington, DC office staff is often more involved in federal legislative issues, policy making, and the "inside game" of Capitol Hill. But the district office can also help you in many ways: to communicate with the DC office via their fax machine, to obtain governmental information that you need, etc. Take advantage of it—remember they work for you, the taxpayer. TOP
A person like you who is familiar with the issues can do a lot of good during a short trip to Washington. When you’re in DC, you can meet with and educate staffers for many different members in addition to your own Congressperson, as well as officials in the executive branch. (You may be surprised at how little some powerful people know about the issue and how much they are influenced by timber-industry propaganda.) While you may not have much direct political influence in offices outside of your own elected officials', educating all those involved in the creation of federal policy is critical in the overall process of passing legislation.
Strong educational lobbying in Washington by one activist gives weight to the forest protection position, and helps create leadership in Congress on this issue. When a lot of people come to Washington from across the U.S. carrying a common theme, the case for nationwide forest protection is considerably strengthened by repetition.
Your trip to DC is also a good opportunity to lobby the other national environmental groups of which you may be a member. Persuade them to unify behind a nationwide forest protection strategy and become more accountable to their grassroots members.
Also, since Washington is a world media center, you can get your story directly in front of important regional and national reporters. With advance notice, we can help you set up interviews and press conferences.
Save America’s Forests is here to help make your Washington trip successful and productive. Call us far in advance for strategic planning. This way you can schedule meetings before you get to town. Once you’re here, you can use our office, including fax machine, phone, press list, computers, and information resources. If you need an inexpensive place to stay, we may be able to locate a spot for you in the home of a DC activist. TOP
To turn up the heat in Congress, Save America’s Forests schedules DC lobby weeks, intensive campaigns that can move the forest issue ahead dramatically. Attendees divide up into teams guided by experienced lobbyists. Visitors lobby on the nationwide agenda as well as on local problems.
The webpage will be updated for details of the next lobby week, so you can make plans to attend. We will set up a meeting schedule and provide informational materials, which you’ll need when you get here. An important part of a lobby week is sharing energy and knowledge with activists from across the nation. TOP
If you represent a group—the larger the group the better—your argument will carry more weight. You are voters! Whether you are writing a letter or meeting your Congressperson, get your group to write a letter endorsing the Act to Save America's Forests, on your group's letterhead. To reinforce this group position, have the members of your group write letters at your next meeting.
Remember that as a member of Save
America's Forests, you are part of a nationwide coalition of groups, businesses
and individuals who share a
common concern. Refer to your participation with Save America's Forests
—the name carries weight in Congress.