A Grassroots Lobbying
By Thomas Sheridan
As a grassroots lobbyist, you can bring
the concerns of the chronic
fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) community to your elected representatives and provide
members of Congress and their staffs with vital information and personal experience.
The term "grassroots" comes from the
notion that lobbying works from
the ground up. Visibility on a local and national level increases as the lobby grows, as does the power
of the lobby. Lobbyists need to have good communications skills and dedication to advance their public
policy goals and objectives.
Here is a brief guide to help you get
started or enhance your existing
is really nothing more than practicing the art of persuasion. To make your case clearly and effectively,
you need to understand the political implications of asking for your representative's support. Good lobbyists
identify and understand the many ramifications of a proposal so they can address each of the elements
likely to influence the legislator's decision-making process.
Access is also a vital part of lobbying.
with representatives and their aides takes time and effort. Once these relationships are established,
they must be maintained. Employee turnover in congressional and committee offices can be frustrating and
often requires the lobbyist to start from "ground zero" following a key contact's departure. You must
be prepared to continually educate new staff and build new relationships with key offices.
written letter is probably the most commonly used and effective way to communicate with elected officials.
When writing, identify yourself, let them know why you are writing and outline your concerns about CFIDS
(for instance, lack of adequate research funding) and what you would like to see done. Highlight your
credentials and expertise in relevant areas.
Keep your letters short and use facts,
rather than emotions, to support
your statements. Include a brief story about why you became involved in CFIDS advocacy and why it is important
to you. You can find good information and messages to include in your letters in the Patient Advocacy
section of the Association's Web site at www.cfids.org/advocacy/default.asp.
Always remain tactful and polite when
corresponding with members
of Congress and their staffs, and send a hand-written thank-you note to members who take a personal interest
in your issue.
Form letters and preprinted postcards
sent in large numbers can have
a powerful effect on floor votes. They are also more easily generated than handwritten letters.
Visit district offices
members of Congress have at least one office in the district or state they represent. These offices work
in tandem with the member's Washington, D.C. office. Communicating with aides in district offices can
provide you with access to the member's Washington office that might otherwise be difficult to obtain.
Most members leave Washington on Thursday
to be in their home districts
over the weekend. Request an appointment in writing with your representative on a Friday or Saturday to
introduce yourself and initiate a potentially long-lasting working relationship. Prepare a clear agenda
for the meeting and bring background materials to let your representative know that you are a ready source
of information on a topic that he or she might be called upon to address in Congress.
The August congressional recess is
an excellent opportunity for district
meetings with your representative and/or senators.
Communicate in other ways
Next to face-to-face meetings, phone calls are the most personal way to contact
Getting through to the officials themselves can be difficult, as they spend most of their time attending
meetings outside their offices. Given that, do not use the telephone to communicate your concerns on an
issue unless time is a critical factor in whether or not you can influence an important decision.
E-mail is another way to contact your
representative. Most congressional
offices have Web sites that allow you to e-mail your concerns to the member or staff. The easiest way
to access senators' and representatives' Web sites is through the directories at www.senate.gov
Members of Congress frequently hold
"town hall" meetings in their
districts or states. Take advantage of this opportunity to question your representative about the federal
response to CFIDS.
If you are not already involved in
grassroots lobbying, become committed
to supporting CFIDS advocacy by taking a few simple steps right now. Register to vote, if you haven't
done so already. Join the Association's CFIDS Activist (C-ACT) program and/or make a donation to the Association's
advocacy program to ensure that the achievements of the past become greater accomplishments in the future.
You can visit the Association online
or call or write to us for more information. Your commitment is essential if we are to make a difference,
so please act now!
Tom Sheridan is president of The Sheridan Group, which has represented The CFIDS Association
concerns in Washington, D.C. since 1992.