Wednesday, January 13, 2010

To Lobby or Not To Lobby

Yesterday I was down at our state capitol (Jefferson City for you non-MO folks) to lobby for protection of Family Farms. I won't go into all the details, but it was in opposition to a proposed bill that would set-up an appointed board to oversee livestock production in MO. I lobbied with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC), who is not necessarily against a livestock board to set standards, but is against a board that is not elected and would not have to account to the people it is "protecting". It is viewed as agri-business putting in place officials who would be favorable to CAFOs.

This post, though, is about the lobbying process. If you are interested in learning more about the proposed bill, shoot me an email and I will fill you in. I have never lobbied. Despite having a Masters in Social Work - specializing in social and economic development, I have never made it to the capitol. Kind of sad, really. When a fellow MUANN mentioned this opportunity regarding something dear to my heart, I jumped on it. Husband was able to take the day off, so a friend and I road-tripped it down there.

I know this will sound silly, but I was a little nervous because I have never done this before, and I have never met the people we would be lobbying with. My friend has also never lobbied, so we were both in the dark as to what to expect. Well, I am very glad we took the risk. It was an incredible learning experience on the whole process. Thankfully, the MRCC are very experienced lobbyist and the day was well planned. There were about 50 people present from a wide variety of groups. After learning more about the topic and being briefed on good talking points, we were divided into groups and given a list of Reps. and Senators to meet with.

I was so fortunate to be in a group with a person who has done a lot of lobbying. She owns a small farm and is very knowledgeable on the topic. Additionally, a fellow St. Louisan was there who works for St. Louis Jobs With Justice that partners with MRCC, so was able to help show that it a coalition of people interested in the topic. My friend and I represented UUs as the faith community representatives.

All we did was go through our list and show up at the Rep/Senators office. It was amazing that everyone we saw (without an appointment) welcomed us and , if they weren't there, their Legal Aid listened to us and took our information. I don't know what I was expecting, but I guess I figured it would be hard to get in the door. The exact opposite was true. We had a flyer with some brief bullet points that we covered. If we new anything about the Rep/Senator, we would tailor that message a little to appeal to them. Obviously, if it was our R/S, then we let it be known that we are in their district. Most stops took about five minutes, we didn't want to be annoying, but did want to get the message across. My group didn't have any contentious R/S, so it was pretty smooth sailing. Another group was assigned the Senator who will probably introduce the bill, and ended up having a ten minute discussion with him. All very respectful.

My impression of the meetings were that most R/S were appreciative of having some information and a person to contact if they have any questions. It was also good for them to see that there are real people that this is affecting and that a large number of them came to oppose this bill. I feel that it was very important to have some face time with them. As an interesting side note, though, I noticed the more senior the R/S, the little more self important they seemed. All the newbie R/S were on the first floor and were super welcoming. As we climbed the floors to the long-term R/S, a little less welcoming (and bigger offices!) they seemed. I wasn't the only one who noticed this.

I have no idea how big a difference this made, but I do know that the concerns we have are on many R/S radar. Without us making an in-person appeal, I am not sure the same impact would have been made. I am very glad I went.


Bridgett said...

I'm convinced we know people in common now. What an interesting experience.

plaidshoes said...

It was interesting! Well STL is a big/small town. I keep thinking I will run into you somewhere. Besides Mary, though, I am not sure who else. Probably all those friends of friends ;-)