Speak Up! Congress Will Listen.
In the months leading up to the August recess, Schrayer & Associates organized and scheduled nearly 1,000 meetings on Capitol Hill for citizen advocates dedicated to a wide range of important causes – from afterschool programs and gun violence prevention to healthcare reform and foreign assistance programs. For these citizen-lobby days, our team spent countless hours strategically planning how to maximize the voices on each particular issue and advance the public policy agenda.
While planning for these advocacy days requires a lot of detailed work – from writing talking points to conducting advocacy training to securing the right meetings on Capitol Hill – we know from experience that if done right, the results speak for themselves.
Over the years, what has been key is to put the “citizen voice” at the center of each advocacy day and the results for our clients have been impressive. A recent report by the Congressional Management Foundation found that constituent meetings in Washington are among the most effective advocacy tools for advancing public policy – 94% of congressional staffers assert that “‘in-person issue visits from constituents…have some or a lot of influence’” on policymakers still on the fence.[i]
Here are just a few examples of constituents making a difference:
- Afterschool Alliance rallied citizen advocates from across the country to come to D.C. late this spring to defend life-changing afterschool programs, including the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, that were zeroed out in the President’s proposed 2018 budget. In addition to organizing over 180 meetings, we helped plan and oversee a companion event on the Hill that showcased a range of programs and featured influential Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, including Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), both of whom spoke passionately in opposition to the proposed cuts. Such events are a hallmark of our lobby days as they provide a unique platform to demonstrate key bipartisan Congressional support aside from the individual meetings. The day yielded tangible results including the House Subcommittee approving funding for the critical 21st Century Community Learning Centers at a level significantly higher than the Administration’s proposed cuts.
- When it comes to gun safety, S&A’s client Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS) made a remarkable difference during this year’s advocacy day. Here is just one of many examples: Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) supported a bill to establish concealed carry reciprocity for years, making it easier for individuals with a concealed weapon to travel with their firearms across state lines. But according to the Senator, he “listened to Virginians whose families have been torn apart by gun violence” and during one of 130 Capitol Hill constituent meetings that took place during the 2017 Gun Violence Prevention Summit hosted by ARS and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Senator Warner announced his opposition to the bill. Before heading to the Hill, the roughly 200 participants received advocacy training, getting tips on engaging with legislators and policy background on the issues. This preparation was clearly critical to an impactful day on the Hill – for the Virginia constituents and so many others.
- The S&A team knows that meetings on Capitol Hill need to be targeted, prioritizing Senators and Representatives on influential committees, from key states, or who remain undecided. This strategy allows an organization to effectively leverage the limited amount of time its advocates can spend on the Hill. During the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s State Leaders Summit, we scheduled meetings with key members of the Foreign Relations, Appropriations, Budget, and Armed Services committees. We secured over 200 meetings with members of Congress and their staff this year, from the Freedom Caucus to the Progressive Caucus, from the Senate to the House of Representative. We were able to arrange meetings to showcase wide bipartisan support in Congress for U.S. development and diplomacy programs, a significant response to proposals to cut the State Department and USAID budgets by one-third.
There are over 1 million non-profit and charitable organizations seeking to gain the attention of lawmakers, and Members of Congress are continually inundated with thousands of emails and phone calls from constituents and advocacy groups each week. At S&A, we know that one of the keys to breaking through the Capitol Hill noise is to strategically ensure constituents are at the center of well-developed and executed lobby days – because when done effectively, Congress listens!
[i] Fitch, Bradford, Kathy Goldschmidt, and Nicole Folk Cooper. Citizen-Centric Advocacy: The Untapped Power of Constituent Engagement. Rep. Pg. 9. Congressional Management Foundation, 13 Feb. 2017. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.