May 26, 2016
On more than one occasion, I have heard that “I am just a small business owner,” or “I can’t afford a lobbyist,” or “I don’t donate enough to have my voice heard by an official.”
None of these statements are reason to not engage in legislative advocacy.
An elected official work for the people. The people’s tax dollars pay his salary. The people who vote determine whether the official keeps his job. For an official to effectively serve, and be reelected, he needs information from the people who know the issues best.
To put that another way, we elect officials to represent us. How can they represent us if constituents are not willing to share their thoughts, ideas and knowledge?
Everyone is capable of advocacy. Kids do it. Church groups do it. Animal lovers do it. Senior citizens do it. Anyone with a passion for an issue can be an advocate. In fact, there are tens of thousands of lobbyists in Washington, D.C., and most actually work at associations on behalf of a cause, not at big lobbying firms on K Street.
Advocacy does not only mean sitting in a meeting with an elected official. It may be writing a letter to the editor, attending a rally for a cause, signing a petition, or posting beliefs on social media. In fact, the growth of social media has given unprecedented power to individual citizens to speak out for a cause.
Legislative advocacy is working with lawmakers to gain support for a cause. That could be at the local, state, or federal level. It is a person’s right, and some might say duty, to advocate based on the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law…or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The most critical element is that an advocate is passionate and committed to the cause, as legislation can often take years to become law.
In the story, The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, he writes, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
That is the crux of advocacy: caring enough to make something better by speaking up.