RESULTS is a national lobbying group dedicated to the elimination of poverty in both the U.S. and abroad. For over thirty years, they have advocated with members of Congress to support legislation to reduce poverty. Using research-based lobbying techniques similar to Indivisible, RESULTS has a list of legislative successes. In this article, the second in my exploration of deep democracy, I write about my experiences with RESULTS and what those techniques are.
Deep democracy is going beyond voting, delving beyond our middle school version of civics to get involved at every level of politics: local, state, national, to be sure. But also digging into the process: how do you run for office? How do you meet with representatives? What is the best way to influence them? How does the primary system really work.
For my first time, I got to lobby a state representative. I did this with a group from RESULTS from Stamford, out of district. I went with two other people from my district. When we made our introductions, Joe Courtney’s eyes lit up. RESULTS had visited with him before, but this was the first time he had be visited by members who could actually vote for him.
Think about this: never once have I talked to my representative in a private sit-down in his office, yet I went in with three others who had done this before, and they weren’t even in his district.
Clearly, they knew something I did not. I wanted in.
This was a few weeks ago. Right on the heels of the failure to repeal ACA, Bernie Sanders was making his case for medicare for all. I think it’s well beyond time we had universal health care in the U.S., so I made my case. I was advised on how to speak to my congressman beforehand. At this point, I simply stated that the legislation was up, that I knew more and more people in my activism who were passionate about the issue, and, “What is your position on universal health care?”
Honestly, part of my soul wanted to jump on the table and scream, “EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD HAS THIS, WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM YOU CORPORATE SHILL?!?!?!?”
Such a move would undoubtedly have felt very good until he called in the police to haul my riotous buttinsky out, but would likely have accomplished little. As strong as my feelings are in the matter, I am trying to be a grownup about this. Sigh.
The Honorable Representative mentioned how he was co-sponsoring a bill which would extend medicare to those of us who are 50+. Honestly, his answer was so circuitous that I wasn’t entirely sure what it was at first. It took the six of us a few minutes in the elevator down to suss it out.
My first reaction was, “Incrementalism. This is actually a ‘no’ that sounded like a ‘yes.’ ARGH!” As a co-sponsor of a competing bill to Senator Sanders, a competing, watered-down version would undermine support for the whole enchilada. Frustrating at first blush.
A few weeks prior, however, Representative Courtney held a town hall meeting to discuss the impending attempt to repeal the ACA. When one questioner brought up single payer, the entire room erupted in cheers. Representative Courtney had nothing to say about it. Nada. Zip. Silence. This, sir, is a dead parrot.
Now, it appears, my dear representative is supporting expanding medicare. I’d call that progress.
This is how RESULTS works. This, apparently, is how citizen lobbying works.
Last Sunday I went for a training put on by RESULTS. It is along the lines of the methods promoted by Indivisible.
Getting politicians to switch positions, or even become aware of issues, is a process. One consisting of a continual series of nudges.
One big takeaway from the training was the Champion Scale. It is a framework for understanding a politicians stance on an issue – even a hostile stance – then trying to bump them up the scale in support – or at least nudging them to be less against it.
The Champion Scale
4 – Champion of your cause! They will help build support and visibility for your cause. Thank them! Offer to support events for them to continue.
3 – Leader – They support the cause and will talk to leaderhip in Congress to move it along. Thank them and ask if they will help create visibility through public speaking.
2 – Advocate – They are for the issue, and talking it around, but not pushing it so much. Support them, encourage greater activity.
1 – Supporter – They will vote for your measure, but might not be doing much else. Ask who else they might talk to, support their support in town meetings and op-eds, help create public awareness.
0 – Uniformed/Neutral – They do not know or do not care about this issue. Our job here is to get them information and make it more of a priority. Meetings where you can supply facts and personal stories help bump up support.
-1 – Opponent – They are against your issue. Try to make them less virulently so, if possible, or nudge them to neutral if you can.
The goal at each stage is to nudge the representative up the scale if we can. How then, do we do this?
Why, we sign a bunch of online petitions and post a bunch of snarky memes, of course!
Actually, this has been researched, as well.
Corporate lobbying certainly has its effect, but it’s not as much as one might think. The corporate lobbyists really get their power when the rest of us stay home and stay quiet.
Face-to-face meetings with representatives are the most effective tool for influencing a representative. Citizen representatives are the next biggest influencing factor. “Hi, I’m CAM, and I represent the Connecticut Progressives, a group of 200 citizens in your district concerned about health care.” That sort of thing. Next in line are individually written letters and email, phone calls, and letters to the editor with the representative’s name mentioned.
Every time you sign a form e-mail, you get yourself on a mailing list for donations. Not much else. There is no substitute for actual involvement.
Of course, to lobby face-to-face, one first needs access.
This is where standing on the table and screaming becomes a bit less effective.
One gains access by developing relationships. If you can’t get in to see your representative in person, talk to one of their aides. You needn’t go to Washington to do this – every representative has offices in their states. Ours is a half hour drive from my house. I believe there are 2-3 people working there. That’s few enough where you can get to know them personally. And, if you are persistent enough, they will get to know you. If you are persistent and consistent, and have a group, they will get to know you quicker.
The Stamford chapter with whom I met Joe Courtney? They started as a group of three people in a living room. All this stuff starts with three people in a living room. Go, find two people and a living room. Start something.
Granted, this was a group with some national clout. But, they had met several times with a representative outside their district. I am actually starting to think this is possible.
Oh, and the group I mentioned earlier? Connecticut Progressives? It doesn’t exist yet.
But I have plans.