Making a Change Through Grassroots Campaigns
Grassroots lobbying is one way for small businesses to control how they will be influenced. Grassroots lobbying is defined in Wikipedia as the creation of a movement where the group supporting it is natural and spontaneous in its origin, as opposed to a movement orchestrated by traditional power structures. Grassroots movements are often at the local level, as many volunteers in the community give their time to support the local party. Grassroots lobbying is when everyday citizens contact their own legislators to try to influence legislation and policy. Often the grassroots approach is the nudge legislators need to help a particular cause.
Small businesses are faced with a wide array of factors influencing them. Some of the most impactful are those imposed by the different government entities in their sphere of business. Some recent examples include the following:
- The medical device industry has a special tax under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposing a 2.3% on all sales of medical devices.
- Tanning salons have an imposed tax of 10% on all tanning services.
- The Affordable Care Act has laws such as the definition of full-time and part-time work that affects insurance coverage for employees.
- At the state level, there is Senate Bill 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Act. When this became law, small businesses across the state were concerned about the effects.
- Many smaller communities have worries about connectivity infrastructure and the plan to improve technological capabilities in their communities.
How do you get involved?
- Start at your local level – Attend county and city council meetings. Attend networking events such as “meet your mayor” events or breakfast with your councils. Introduce yourself, talk about your business, your employees and your successes.
- Get Connected. – Like and follow your legislators on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Sign up for their newsletters. Write letters, send emails, make phone calls. Create an email writing campaign with your customers or fellow like business owners (any form of hand written letter will be inspected before it gets to the Legislators office).
- Meet them face-to-face. – Many legislators have open houses around the state. You can make an appointment and potentially get 10 to 15 minute one-on-one time with your legislator. At the local level attend events such as Lincoln Day Dinners. These are dinners hosted around the State of Indiana with the intention of meeting legislators and candidates.
At the federal level, visit their constituent offices, meet their staff at events or make a trip to Washington DC. You can visit Washington DC, with advance notice, you can get a meeting at your legislator’s office. You may not get to speak with the actual Congressman or Senators, but you will get a meeting with someone on their staff.
- Do your own PR. – Send out media press releases to let the average citizens and powers that be see the importance of your particular cause.
- Create a call to action. – Make the ask from legislators, customers and citizens. Know the process will take time. Grassroots lobbying is not a sprint, it’s more like slow walk. Many people will interpret your message differently. Your customer may have goals because it has a financial impact, regular citizens may have goals because it has an impact on their basic beliefs and your legislators have goals because it has an impact in the media or citizen interpretation.
How does your message get heard?
- Show community value.
- Talk about your issue with professionalism and facts. State how the law or proposed law affects your business, employees or customers.
- Know the issue, any action previously taken, bill numbers and it helps to know which side the particular legislators fall on the issue.
- Rest assured there is another side to the issue, don’t engage in issue warfare. Be respectful and knowledgeable. You may try to come to a compromise decision with the opposite camp.
- Volunteer for political events, kiss babies, hand out flyers, walk in parades representing legislators, and work their fundraisers.
- Raise money for campaigns, even small amounts matter. Campaigns are expensive and all money is welcome.
- Don’t go in “guns a blazing”, you want to be seen as knowledgeable about your issue. Take the emotions out of the conversation and state facts.
- Be Polite.
A great example of successful grassroots lobbying is Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). A mother who lost her daughter to a drunken driving accident started a single chapter of MADD in Florida in 1980. She found like parents and began the process of lobbying through grassroots efforts. Today MADD has been the driving force of many of the local, state and federal drunk driving laws.
Another example at the local level, a small group of business owners in New Albany, IN lobbied to the town council, mayor and anyone who would listen about a dangerous intersection and after a great grassroots effort, the city installed a traffic light.
In 2013 and 2014, I lobbied on behalf of the tanning industry at the state and federal level to combat legislation being introduced that could negatively impact my business and industry. I visited Washington DC on numerous trips to support my business. Beyond the grassroots campaign, I lobbied at the State House on several occasions, along with a few trips to the podium to share the facts about my business and the laws surrounding tanning to bring awareness to the legislation. With the help of State Representatives and State Senators from my district, I was able to assist in passing Senate Bill 50. The Bill is restrictions on tanning under the age of 16.