How to Lobby Training Video for Election Law Reform Hosted by Grassroots Action and NYPAN.

Politicians get a lot of money from industry and special interests, encouraging them to vote one way. If we want to encourage them to vote the other way, and we don’t have money to give them, we have to try other methods of influence. We can try to shame them -- expose their greed or self-serving behavior or links to undesirable characters. We can try to intimidate them -- march and chant and shout outside their offices, ask tough questions at town halls, and so forth. We can also try to convince them to change their minds. There are no guarantees that any of these methods will work, but we can certainly try.

When trying to convince a politician to change his or her mind, it is important to appeal to their desire to be seen as “taking care of their constituents.” You should be a constituent, or at the very least, take a constituent with you. Make an appointment at the politician’s regional office, show up on time, and be friendly with the staffer. The staffer is key. This person (who is often overworked and underpaid) knows your politician, has their ear, and can give you tips on how to phrase your argument. Do NOT be belligerent or argumentative. Take your cue from Zephyr Teachout and how she ran against Governor Cuomo. Go on the charm offensive.

But before you arrive in at the regional office, get prepared. Read up on your politician, including personal details like whether they have children, where they went to school, and so forth. Look for a video online of them speaking, so you can get an idea of their personality and speaking style. Try to figure out what motivates your politician -- and assume positive intent (for the purpose of this exercise, at a minimum). Are they concerned about family values, neighbors taking care of neighbors, workers working hard and being proud of supporting their families? This will help you find a way to phrase your “ask” in a way that aligns with their values.

If you are going with a constituent team, choose a number of roles, and practice them ahead of time! Perhaps you have one person with you who is a small business owner, one who is a single mom, and one who has a chronic illness. The small business owner could present the progressive viewpoint from the perspective of an employer. The single mom could talk about how the issue affects her family financially. The chronically ill person could tell the story of her last visit to a hospital. Facts and figures are fine, but the personal story is the most important part of your lobbying effort. Try to tell a story that is a little different from a “typical” story. Leave a sheet with the facts and figures behind (and have a copy for the staffer.)

Remember, you want your visit to be pleasant, memorable and compelling. If you attack your politician, he or she will get defensive and hold fast to their established position even harder.

If you have time, try to ask insightful questions from your politician. This will serve the dual purpose of building rapport and helping you find an “inside angle” to make your argument more convincing.