Published May 12, 2018 / Updated August 7, 2020
Grassroots Activism: How much contact with elected officials is too much?
Are You Pestering, Ghosting, or Relationship-Building?
What’s your level of grassroots activism with politicians and decision-makers? Do you call the same lawmaker every week? Do you just show up for a lobby day and then disappear from the official’s radar? Or are you engaging in soft touches every few months, building a relationship and trust?
Politicians do take notice when constituents are engaged. Constituents are “the bosses” of their elected officials. But like the bosses we’ve all had, most constituents callers fall into three categories:
Frequent callers who call about each and every issue they are upset by. Politicians can’t possibly advocate with equal weight on every issue that bothers them. They have to prioritize. And when callers don’t understand that, they convey a naivete about how politics works. At a certain point these callers erode whatever political capital they had.
These callers send the message they aren’t really invested in the outcome of the issue they’re advocating about. There’s no follow-thru and the lawmaker never sees them at community events so there’s no accountability on the part of the lawmaker.
Voters who stay engaged show they are paying attention to what the lawmaker does (i.e. voting like they said they would). They thank them when a vote or action goes their way, express (pleasantly) their disappointment when it doesn’t, and they introduce themselves and just say “hello” to the lawmaker and their staff.
Specializing your grassroots activism increases your credibility in the eyes of lawmakers.
The really “good bosses” are known for their passion on one or two subjects — broad buckets like “immigration”, “small businesses”, or “housing”. Rather than calling about everything they’re for or against, they prioritize. They keep their “powder dry” so when they call, those politicians take notice.
Activism Tip: More isn’t always better in advocacy. Specializing your activism helps boost your credibility and manage your time better.
In addition to building credibility, activists who specialize build relationships and trust.
If you do this well enough, some politicians and their staff may even eventually reach out to you to get your opinion on the quality of a proposal in your bucket or to ask how a vote on that proposal will play in the district. Specializing in your grassroots activism boosts your credibility. Pick your 1–3 buckets for yourself and then keep track of how often you contact lawmakers and their staff. If you’re calling more than a couple of times a month, you might be diminishing your efficacy.
Stefanie Coxe is the founder & principal of Nexus Werx LLC, a political training company offering the Learn to Lobby line of online and in-person training products: Effective Activism 101, Lobbying 101, and Campaigning 101.