Barry's Notes from the ACLU Smart Justice Lobbying Workshop

What You Need to Know about Lobbying

Based on a Workshop by ACLU Smart Justice Campaign April 29, 2020

The workshop explained how to lobby using the Smart Justice opposition to mass incarceration as its focus.

The main organization of a lobbying effort should include 3 major elements: Issue, Audience and Story.

Issue-you must identify the key talking points (including the problem that needs to be solved) you want to get across during your discussion. 

Audience-you need to know your audience.  In this way you can tailor your approach to those things that are important to the target of the lobbying effort.  So you will need to do research.  For a legislator you need to gather info from the person’s voting record, from his/her campaign platforms and press releases, from what they’ve posted on social media, and what organizations the legislator works with and/or belongs to.  

Additionally, the facilitator explained that you shouldn’t ever make something up in discussion.  Tell the legislator or legislative aide that you will get back to them if you don’t know the answer to a question.  False info could destroy the effect of what you’ve presented and any trust for any further interaction.  Follow-ups are very important, especially if you’ve promised something.  A personalized thank you email or card is a great follow-up and should be done in a timely manner.  

He also counseled to stay calm even if the legislator has said something that you don’t agree with.  Don’t argue.  Use specific data to make your point.  Realize that you won’t have the last word and end on a positive note.

Communication Tools to engage legislators and their aides:  emails, letters, phone calls, teletownhalls, digital coffee hours, social media, submitting written testimony.

Another facilitator added that you can submit written testimony for committee hearings.  If you do make sure all members of the committee have copies.  The testimony should include relevant data and the sources for the data and headings if you have multiple points.  Address it to the committee and be sure to include the relevant bill number(s.)  Who you are, your position along with your contact info should be included.  It’s important to explain how the community you are advocating for is affected by the legislation.  Be sure to paint a picture of the many stakeholders and watchdogs concerned with the legislation.

If you are presenting testimony in person, or online, be sure to have your spiel written out (at least notes).  Most importantly, plan out your meeting ahead of time.  If you are approaching a legislator or her/his aide with one or more people be sure that each person knows his/her role and that transitions between you are worked out.

Be sure to have an ask at the end of the session.  Thank the person for their time and present the ask, even if it’s only that you hope you can speak with them again.

Some other points.  Don’t ignore any staff if you are in their presence.  Keep your discussion short and focused.  It shouldn’t run more than 10-15 minutes.  After the meeting journal it.  You have made a contact with a legislator and you want to remember when and what you discussed.  Then you can track the evolution of your relationship and her/his arc of change.

Story:  It’s important to know your story in regard to the issue.  You need to let your personality shine.  Legislators relate to stories.  Many times they will use stories.  So share your OWN story.  What’s your own stake in this issue?  Why are you involved in this?  You want to stand out.  So insert this element of storytelling somewhere in your discussion, probably near the beginning when you introduce who you are.


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