Amanda Knief on How to Lobby

Sometimes you meet someone whose work you’re a fan of, and it turns out they’re a fan too. That was how meeting Amanda Knief went at the Midwest Freethought Conference this weekend. There was squee. It was good.

And then Amanda, who is the former Government Relations Manager and lobbyist at the Secular Coalition of America and current Administrative Director and In-House Counsel for American Atheists, gave her talk and blew me away. I’ve been to informative talks before. I’ve been to dense talks before. This one was neutron star dense. I lost some of it in my live-tweeting, and there are still nearly 700 words of good advice below. Read it all. Use some of it.

  • Now up, @mzdameanor to explain how to be a secular lobbyist.
  • “Politically active” does not mean yelling at TV commercials.
  • Local officials are largely part-time. Need lobbyists to educate them on relevant issues.
  • Read your local paper. Read the letters to the editor. Contribute by responding to the wackos with something more intelligent.
  • Use opposition as an opportunity to raise the profile of your groups, events, and issues.
  • If you used to be religious or have religious family, you speak the language of your representatives.
  • Consider how your issues more broadly affect others in your area.
  • We focus on elected officials, but we should not neglect our appointed, regulatory officials. What are they doing?
  • Local and state officials are accessible. Meet with them. Many national officials come out of this group.
  • If atheists go to school board meetings, they can have more control over keeping curriculum secular.
  • Zoning commissions control where (tax-free) churches can be located. You can have influence there.
  • “I’m not going to ask if you’re conservative. It’s okay. We’re all friends here. Asking about libertarians just starts arguments.”
  • We can’t neglect those who disagree with us. We can still have influence there.
  • Sometimes you want to share a personal story. Sometimes you want a show of numbers. Decide what you’re trying to do.
  • Lobbying groups are used to working together. They’re not used to us asking to work with them. Fix that.
  • Depending on where you are, you may meet directly with an official, or you may meet a staffer.
  • Keep track of whom you talked to when for ease of follow-up and tracking how long you’ve been asking for a meeting.
  • Be precise and honest about the issues you want to talk about so you’re matched up with the person who can help you.
  • Be prepared to identify everyone in your group for the meeting and their location. Prepare to be Googled.
  • Be nice to *everyone* you meet with. They’re all important.
  • Do your research. Be prepared to summarize *both* sides of your issue.
  • Research your public officials. Check their voting records. Get their newsletters. Find out where they’re coming from.
  • Prepare materials to meet behind. Give background on your group and your issue. Give it to them only at the end of the meeting.
  • Role play your meeting. Do both good and hostile meetings.
  • Let everyone who wants to have a speaking role. Do not let one person in a group dominate.
  • Dress professionally. Show the people you’re meeting with that you’re taking them and the meeting seriously.
  • Don’t ever assume that the gatekeeper at your meeting is unimportant.
  • Have a personal lobbying business card (name, contact info, issue). Don’t identify your group on it unless it is a lobbying organization.
  • Find something to thank the person you’re meeting for to leave a positive impression. Make a personal connection.
  • Ask for the official’s position. Ask them for the action you want. Include it in the leave-behind materials.
  • If @jteberhard can maintain his composure while meeting obstructive officials, you can too. Don’t end up in handcuffs.
  • If you end up with someone who is hostile, you can ask for another meeting with someone who can help you better.
  • Do *not* talk over your meeting until you’re out of the building and alone. Be discreet.
  • Always follow up with a thank you.
  • Find a matter of common importance to use to introduce yourself to a local official. Meet with them on that first.
  • Always emphasize why your issue is important to your official.
  • Want to meet and network with people who will be making decisions? Work/volunteer on political campaigns.
  • If you ask a question at a political event, identify yourself as an atheist when you do.
  • Have a barbeque with friends as a fundraiser for a local candidate. You’re an instant major contributor.
  • A defeatist attitude has never accomplished anything.
  • States have changed election laws this year. Volunteer to help people sort it out and get out the vote.
  • RT @abiodork: At @mzdameanor stresses importance of political involvement “Feel jaded about politics? Suck it up – start volunteering.”
  • If you make the anti-church argument to a zoning board, focus on the practical issues: economic, traffic, etc.
Amanda Knief on How to Lobby

2 thoughts on “Amanda Knief on How to Lobby

  1. 1

    •Let everyone who wants to have a speaking role. Do not let one person in a group dominate.

    Yes, but only if everyone who speaks has a compatible point to make and the remarks are thoroughly rehearsed. With volunteer groups, that can be difficult to accomplish. Otherwise, you’re likely to get contradictions, irrelevancies, and just plain destructive comments that turn the presentation into gibberish.

    •Dress professionally. Show the people you’re meeting with that you’re taking them and the meeting seriously.

    I’m not sure what ‘professionally’ means here. I hope it doesn’t mean faking your role in life, as with a plumber looking obviously uncomfortable in fancy dress he’s never worn before. Instead of ‘Dress professionally’ I’d say, “Be neat, clean, and well prepared, but be what you are.”

    Here, from extensive personal experience, is an item I think needs adding:

    *Be prepared for stony-faced silence.

    Boards and commissions are required to take public input. Most public officials feel obligated to do so. But that doesn’t mean they’re receptive. Even if they do actually listen, they often choose to withhold any hint of agreement/disagreement with what’s said. I’ve been in many meetings in which the only words spoken by the officials were, “Will the first speaker come forward” and “Next speaker, please.” Beyond that, the official(s) just sit there, looking blankly straight ahead.

    That doesn’t mean your presentation was wasted. You’re also there to influence others in the audience and above all to get your message to the reporters present. Identify them before the meeting, and introduce yourself. Immediately after the meeting, hand them a copy of what you said. Then mail the op-ed version of your remarks to their editors.

  2. 2

    […] a curriculum. I still find that a bit weird. I also live-tweeted and collected Amanda Knief’s excellent and useful talk about how to lobby. I used Rush Limbaugh to make the point that the way we characterize our political enemies often […]

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