Posts tagged ‘Grassroots Advocacy’

Who Influences Legislators?

If you have ever wanted to take a position on a particular piece of legislation and take action to persuade the decision making of Congress but felt you did not have any hope of doing so, it is important to understand how legislators are influenced. The decision making of any legislator is primarily dominated by their constituents. With that said, just as it is important for anyone to consult a variety of resources before making an important decision, members of Congress follow the same pattern. They often consult family as well as friends, people they work with and subject matter experts.

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Legislators are like the rest of us. Their family and friends have their ear when it comes time to make a difficult decision. Legislators tend to speak with the people they trust the most and this includes their family and friends.

Acquaintances with more than a passing interest on a matter can also influence members of Congress. Legislators tend to know a lot of people. If an acquaintance has knowledge of a particular topic they can provide a lot of influence. Legislators also tend to pay attention to colleagues they respect. In many cases, legislators may actually seek out guidance from experts who have studied an issue and who bring their own perspective to the debate. This is particularly true of other members of Congress. Junior members of Congress may choose Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad Fitchto sit back and wait to see how senior members are going to vote before determining their own position on an issue.

Legislative leaders can also exert quite a bit of pressure on fellow legislators. There is definitely a hierarchy within Congress and members of the House of Representatives tend to be far more susceptible to influence than senators simply because House rules make it possible for leadership to establish the agenda.

What about lobbyists? How much influence do lobbyists actually exert over members of Congress? The common perception by the public is that it is quite a bit. The truth of the matter is that lobbyists only rarely determine policy outcomes. Organized citizens are more often responsible for determining policy outcomes.

If you have ever thought that you did not have a chance of making an impact, think again. It takes motivation and organization, but it is possible.

To learn more about about the way legislators approach decision making, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1/2 day course, Congress in a Nutshell, and the 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Citizen’s Handbook, by Bradford Fitch, Chapter 4 People Who Can Influence Legislators.

Also see

For more information about working with Congress, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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How Legislatures, Including Congress, Really Work

When you attempt to influence a group of people, it is important to develop an understanding of the environment in which that group operates. Congressional and state legislative environments differ from other environments, including private and public workplaces. Learning to appreciate those differences as well as the inherent characteristics that are unique to legislative environments can provide you with an increased chance for successful grassroots advocacy.

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One of the most common mistakes of citizen advocates is viewing legislatures through their own work environment. While it is true that Capitol Hill can resemble a group of independent small businesses, Congress has a definite hierarchical nature. Understanding that nature of Capitol Hill is essential to your success in achieving your goals and outcomes.

Constituents play a critical role on Capitol Hill, driving almost all decision making within congressional offices. The American system of government is set up in a manner in which legislators are first and foremost beholden to those they represent. Rules of the House and Senate reinforce this association by legally prohibiting members of Congress from spending their office budgets on behalf of non-constituents.

Two types of constituents interact with legislators: those who have an interest and those who have an opinion. Members of Congress rarely accept meetings with non-constituents. This can be quite frustrating for a group with no constituent connection that wishes to influence a member.

If you want to influence a member of Congress that does Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad Fitchnot represent you, your best opportunity is to have your own legislator work on your behalf to influence that member.

Constituents also play a prominent role in setting the daily agenda for legislators. Any constituent that makes the effort to actually travel to Washington or even to write their member of Congress will almost always receive a meeting or some type of response.

Ultimately, your efforts to persuade any member of Congress depend upon your constituent connection to that member of Congress or your ability to have that member’s constituents make an effort to reach them. Without that association, your efforts may very well come to naught.

To learn more about learning how Congress works, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1/2 day course, Congress in a Nutshell.

Reference: Citizen’s Handbook, by Bradford Fitch, Part 1 How Government Really Works

Also see

For more information about working with Congress, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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Tips for Organizing Grassroots Networks

When setting up a grassroots organization, you can organize the network in one of three different ways.

Long Grass
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With and organized formal membership, those who join are formal members who are either current or potential grassroots activists. They may be organized into local or state chapters. Labor unions and established trade associations are considered to be formal membership networks. One of the most essential elements of effectively developing an formal organized grassroots network is ensuring you have an active commitment of the association leadership. The advantage of this type of group is that you have a large pool of prospective advocates.

Your job is to develop existing members into a strong network of informed advocates. A good portion of the foundational work will already have been done, but you must work toward motivating members and recruiting new individuals. One of the most common challenges with this type of group is there is sometimes a lack of consistency between the local and national groups.

Another option is an unorganized formal membership. There are usually formal members but those members are not organized into local groups or chapters. In most cases, the formal members are businesses or individuals on mailing lists. They may rarely meet or never even meet at all. This type of situation naturally presents more of a challenge in regards to developing members into a strong network. You will need to focus on developing strategies for organizing and engaging members.

You might also find it helpful to provide them with a chance to join a Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelakmore organized effort through a coalition or network to provide better results.

Yet another option is no formal membership. In this type of situation, you have a portion of the population that supports your issues. You reach out to organizations that might be allies as well as to citizens to assist you in building a grassroots effort.

With both the organized and the unorganized formal membership groups you have the potential for establishing a stronger organization over a period of time. You also have the advantage of being able to develop a separate resource for legislative efforts.

To learn more about grassroots campaigns and networks, consider these Capitol Learning Audio Courses: Building and Nurturing Your Grassroots Campaign, How to Organize a Capitol Hill Day, and Visiting Capitol Hill for First-Time Grassroots Advocates: An Introductory Course.

Reference: Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelak, Section 7.3 Checklist for Organizing and Maintaining an Effective Grassroots Network.

For more information about grassroots advocacy in Washington, also see

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