Recently on Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D List Kathy went to Washington D.C. to hold a rally for the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy for the military.
I realize that controversy tends to follow Ms.Griffin around, mostly because she enjoys creating it and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or DADT is no exception. What I really loved about it though was that Kathy demonstrated in her unique way exactly how things are done when pushing legislation.
Find a stakeholder group
For DADT the group Kathy contacted was the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). An organization that is focused on the Civil Rights of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans-gender (LGBT) community. This was a perfect fit for her issue.
Anyone wishing to approach government should find an appropriate heavy hitting group such as HRC is for LGBT rights for their particular issue. The reason being going back to a previous blog that you need money or numbers. These groups such as the AARP, NRA, and other such groups hold clout in Washington because the represent MILLIONS of voters. In addition, they have things called PACs which stands for Political Action Committee. Political action committees raise funds to support political campaigns and campaigns to push agendas that group supports. PAC money can buy ads in all types of media which gets mainstream media talking about their side of an issue which is a powerful benefit in politics. This is why lobbyists have such a strangle hold on our government. Because it is rare that an average citizen gives a significant amount of money to a campaign and even if they were to do so, without an organized, well focused message it could get lost in the cracks of the chaos that is lobbying the Federal Government.
Find a friend in Washington
Once you start working in affiliation with an organization and you have your stakeholders together you can create a buzz where people are talking about your campaign. The next step is to find someone in Congress or the Senate that feels the same way you do about an issue and is willing to champion your bill this is your bill’s sponsor.
As you can imagine there are thousands of ideas and bills up for consideration. However in order to be heard a bill must go through the appropriate committee. The committee is a small group of legislators who often have expertise in the subject of the committee or because of their seniority and political affiliations are given a powerful position.
Powerful committees are Appropriations or Ways and Means as it is called on a Federal level. This committee decides the budget and how tax payer money will be distributed. The Armed Services Committee which oversees military issues is also very powerful. Click here for a full list of committees and subcommittees.
It is better to find someone in an appropriate committee to approach. However, if you can get a Congressman or Senator who is very passionate about your cause there are times when they can help you out even if they are not on the appropriate committee.
Once you have your champion you work with them in crafting the legislation. Crafting is the process of fine tuning the bill there is often give and take on legislation, it is rare that it will be submitted exactly as you may have proposed. Another valuable benefit of a good sponsor is that they will help you to be invited to influential meetings and parties where you are given the opportunity to talk with decision makers about policy. This is where the real business of Washington is done.
In addition to helping you a sponsor will be looking for things from you as well. It is important to know what your sponsor will be looking for from you and be professional about providing them.
How to support your legislative sponsor
What your bill’s sponsor is looking for from you is data, stories, press and votes. Having the most up-to-date statistics and knowledge about your topic written in brief 20 word paragraphs is invaluable to your champion. These paragraphs and hard hitting one-liners are called talking points.
In addition to talking points are moving stories about the topic at hand from people who have been impacted by the way things currently are, better know in legislative terms as the status quo. This is usually what you are trying to change, the way things are. It is always good to have four or five stories on hand from people of different backgrounds that are easy to relate to at all times which illustrate the impact the issue is having on common folks and how change is desperately needed. These stories create a sense of urgency and action which is needed to push an agenda forward.
Work with your sponsor to see if they would like press releases to come from your group or their office. This changes depending on the level of controversy an issue may bring up and how directly related a politician wants to be to the bill.
Finally, votes and public support. This is when a rally comes into play as Kathy Griffin illustrated so well on her program. There needs to be something the press can cover that visually shows many people (potential voters) who are in support of your position on an issue. Kathy had it made in that she was already a person that people would come to see. However, if you are not as well known it is good to find someone who is who can be your spokesperson and bring in the crowd. I will go into what it takes to run a successful rally in more detail in a future blog.
A successful rally will bring media attention which allows the sharing of your talking points and stories to a wider audience. Making the most of this opportunity and creating more buzz (interest and talk) about your campaign is how you get majority vote you need to get a bill passed in Washington or on any other level of government for that matter.
Well done to Kathy Griffin for demonstrating the process to the people. She happened to be part of the winning side of the issue and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. You too may experience the same kind of success by knowing how to use the tools of civic engagement.
Til next time.