By Emma Marks, Ohio Legislative Coordinator, Amnesty International USA
In our current political climate, it’s crucial that Amnesty activists use an all-of-the-above strategy to defend human rights. As activists, we write letters, make phone calls, gather in the streets, and organize. However, we often overlook one crucial tool: lobbying. Few strategies are as misunderstood and feared as lobbying. In my volunteer role as AIUSA’s Legislative Coordinator for Ohio, I’ve found that many people hold negative views about lobbying that prevent them from engaging in this incredibly effective form of activism. With that in mind, let’s bust some lobbying myths.
Myth: Only big corporations can lobby, and it’s all about money
Fact: Almost anyone can be a constituent lobbyist
Lobbying is all about influencing a Member of Congress to look out for your best interests. Corporations do this all the time, and we’ve all heard about expansive interest groups that lobby Congress. It’s no wonder that so many activists think lobbying is a corrupt action!
Thankfully, lobbying isn’t just for the institutionally powerful. Senators and Representatives are elected to represent you. As a constituent, you have the right to let your Members of Congress know how legislation will affect you, your family, and your friends. Members of Congress and their staff meet with constituents all the time because at the end of the day, constituents hold the power to elect or reject our officials.
Myth: I don’t live in DC, so there’s no way I could meet with my Member of Congress
Fact: No matter where you live, you can contact your elected officials
Your Representatives and Senators spend a lot of time in DC, but that doesn’t mean you can’t contact them. Sending a letter or email or making a phone call are some methods to make your voice heard, but there’s a lot more you can do in-district. If your Member of Congress has a town hall meeting, show up and speak out!
Each Member of Congress also has offices in their home states and districts. If you want to lobby, you can schedule a meeting at one of these local offices. You may meet with the Member of Congress, but more likely, you’ll meet with a staffer who will pass along your message. If you’re not sure how to schedule a meeting, your state Legislative Coordinator would be happy to help you! You can reach your state Legislative Coordinator by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Myth: I’m not a policy expert, so my Representative doesn’t care about my thoughts
Fact: It’s your Representative’s job to hear you out, and represent YOU
Congress sometimes seems like a huge structure designed only to confuse us with strange rules like filibusters, germaneness, and budget reconciliations. It can seem like if you don’t understand every in-and-out of an issue, you aren’t qualified to contact your Member of Congress.
Thankfully, this is yet another myth. AIUSA provides detailed information about all our lobbying priorities. When you walk into an office, you will have the resources you need to make a solid, factual argument. With that said, your most powerful tool in lobbying is not any fact or figure, it is your personal story. Members of Congress are elected to represent the people who live in their district or state. They have staff who are paid to know everything about everything, but no member of staff can explain how a bill will impact you and your neighbors. It’s up to you to bring the human element into the discussion.
Lobbying may seem like an intimidating task, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. When used effectively, lobbying is an essential part of any activist’s toolkit and a fulfilling way to show up for what you believe in. If you think lobbying is for you, consider attending the lobby day that will follow Amnesty’s Annual General Meeting or schedule a lobby visit on your own. In these times, we cannot afford to be silent. Lobbying can amplify your voice throughout the halls of Congress.