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Learning to Lobby - Another Step in Citizen Responsibility

future_citizen_lobbyists_2.JPGA couple of weeks ago on this blog [Evergreen Politics], Jon posted information on a session that the Sierra Club was holding to teach people how to become citizen lobbyists. It was held on Sunday, January 23rd in a library in Olympia. It was a blast, both informative and fun.

There were about thirty people from all over the Western part of the state in attendance. Some were long time active Sierra Club members; others were newly involved in the political process. When Holly Forrest, the facilitator, asked us what our burning issues were, they included urban sprawl, car efficiency and alternative fuels, global warming, toxic substances and green buildings.

Holly is the Legislative Chair of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, the Cascade Chapter, which includes all of Western Washington and some of Eastern Washington. She developed this program to engage interested citizens in the process. They are hoping to develop a corps of folks across the state to influence their legislators to help pass upcoming environmental legislation, assist in educating the wider public on the issues and elect more environmentally friendly legislators over time. As Holly said of the current Sierra Club strategy in a recent press release,

We have a strong agenda, some new environmental leaders we helped elect, and we're getting a lot of Sierra Club member who want to get more involved because they're so frustrated with what the Bush Administration is doing.

Holly ForrestDuring the four hour program, we got a basic rundown of how bills make it through to becoming laws from Nick Forrest, Holly's husband and a professor at Clark College in Vancouver and then a lesson in the political realities of Washington State from Craig Engelking, the Sierra Club lobbyist in Olympia. Craig talked about how the different individual legislators tend to vote on various environmental issues, what has changed since the last session and how the different voting groups can best be influenced.

Then Holly and Craig, along with other Sierra Club staff and volunteers, talked in more detail about what lobbying entails and how to be effective and then talked about the critical environmental issues that are on their agenda for this session. They stressed how much legislators want to hear from their constituents and how willing they are to listen to us. They suggested we all get on the email or mailing lists of our legislators and make ourselves known to them as people in their districts who are interested in key issues.

I personally signed right up with my State Senator as soon as I got home. A few days later, we got an email with two pages of opportunities to practice our new lobbying skills. There were notes on hearings to attend, calls to make and days set up to spend time with our legislators discussing environmental issues. They even make calls to set up appointments with our legislators for us at other times if we want. These guys are pros!

What jumped out for me is how much people are willing to go to the next level in making government work in this state and in this country. There were thirty people there and an equal number had been unable to make this session. Many of the participants had become involved in the elections last year and now wanted to be part of whatever comes next. They were willing to take the time to learn to lobby, to develop relationships with their own legislators and to learn how to influence others to do the same.

It is indicative of the resolve that I saw come out of the elections last fall. We seem to be ready to take our citizenship more seriously. I am hoping that the Democratic Party and other progressive organizations begin running similar sessions for their members and others interested in taking our involvement to another level. Holly said she'd be happy to assist any other progressive group develop their own lobbying program. You can also email her if you would be interested in attending the next session.


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