Jefferson County co-hosts Citizen Lobbying 101

How does a bill become a law in Kentucky? What’s the best way for people to arrange a meeting with their legislators? How can ordinary citizens hold lawmakers accountable?

These questions, and more, were brought to the forefront during Jefferson County's citizen lobbying training on Wednesday, December 11, which took place at the First Unitarian Church in Louisville.

Images that are often associated with the word “lobbyist” are those of corporate lackeys treating policymakers to expensive drinks over a round of golf. It’s a misconception that was quickly broken as community organizers from throughout the state shared their lobbying experiences on both local and state levels.

The Jefferson County Chapter of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth co-hosted the training with fellow social justice organizations American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, Fairness Campaign, Kentucky Jobs with Justice, and Network Center for Community Change.

Shekinah Lavalle, KFTC leader and outreach coordinator for the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, presented during the training and pointed out that if we, the people, didn’t petition our representatives into taking action then corporate interests may dominate the discourse and skew policies in their favor.

Lawmakers tend to know who is a paid spokesperson, and who isn’t. This means that when an average person takes time out of their day to speak to their representative, it builds credibility for an issue because it’s coming from an authentic, grassroots source.

Approximately 50 people attended the training, including 20 students from Spalding University, most of whom were part of Professor Jennifer Jewell's policy analysis class.

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Halfway through the training, people were asked to break off into pairs and act out a scenario in which a citizen lobbyist and a legislator discussed the issue of restoration of voting rights to former felons. Everyone in the room turned to their neighbors, introduced themselves, and tried their hand at a mock lobbying session.

The simulated lobbying exercise highlighted a few key components of civic engagement, particularly the notion of relationship-building. According to the training, anyone who wished to lobby a legislator should start by building a relationship with members of that legislator's staff. 

In other words, establishing a rapport with legislative staff helps put a face on an issue. Personal stories and anecdotes, supported by statistics and basic facts, are crucial to effective lobbying. This is why it’s important that citizen lobbyists know as much about a specific bill as possible before approaching a legislator.

Knowing the bill number, who the sponsors are, and where it is in the legislative process, will allow individuals to effectively inform lawmakers about issues they may not otherwise be familiar with. However, citizen lobbyists should always remember that the ultimate goal is to directly ask for a lawmaker’s support, pinpointing exactly what needs to happen and why.

Myrdin Thompson with RESULTS – an international citizens advocacy organization – also spoke at the training and explained how activist-minded people can bring their message to a wider audience.

According to Thompson, lobbying is about educating fellow citizens as well as educating policymakers. For instance, writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper is useful when trying to engage a community on a certain issue, especially if that issue has been receiving an increased amount of news coverage.

As the training drew to a close, people were given information on how they could become more active during the upcoming 2014 legislative session:

  • Find out who represents you in Frankfort by visiting http://lrc.ky.gov or calling 1-800-372-7181
  • Call the toll-free legislative message line (1-800-372-7181) to leave a message for any legislator or group of legislators.
  • Set up a meeting with your legislators in your home district during the off-season.
  • Join KFTC for rallies and major lobby days in Frankfort.
    • Wednesday, January 15: Restoration of Voting Rights Lobby Day and Rally
    • Thursday, January 23: Economic Justice Lobby Day
    • Wednesday, February 5: Clean Energy Lobby Day
    • Wednesday, February 12: I Love Mountains Day
    • Wednesday, February 19: Fairness Lobby Day
    • Wednesday, March 5: 50th anniversary of MLK Jr’s March on Frankfort 
       
  • And never forget that we are our best hope for a brighter future!
     

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