Are You a Citizen Lobbyist? You Can Be!

What have you done for your country lately?

If you subscribe to HuffPost Politics, then you're probably concerned with some aspect of government. But when you do learn of governmental behaviour you don't like, what do you do about it, other than post angry comments online? What could you do about an issue that concerns you?

There's a common perception that the only two options for political involvement are to vote or to run for office. These avenues are certainly open to us all, but most of us seem to forget a third option: Lobbying. And the perfect how-to guide is now on the shelves.

Lobbying isn't the exclusive domain of well-funded groups with huge memberships and infinite political connections. You, the individual, can just as easily make an appointment with a government official and discuss matters you'd like addressed at a council, state or federal level.

You just need to know how.

The Citizen Lobbyist - A How-to Manual for Making Your Voice Heard in Government (Pitchstone, 2013) takes readers step-by-step from concept to results, whether one's issue is signage at a local intersection or an amendment to the federal constitution. Author Amanda Knief learnedly details the intricacies of the lobbying process, including how to identify and appropriately articulate an issue for lobbying, hands-on instructions on how to get in to see the right official, how to comport oneself during the meeting and follow-up procedures to ensure a favourable outcome.

Knief (@mzdameanor) is managing director and in-house lawyer for American Atheists. She has been both a legislative drafter in Iowa and a professional lobbyist for the Secular Coalition of America. Being from both sides of the lobbying equation, Knief speaks with authority and candour on which lobbying approaches will work and which will not.

The Citizen Lobbyist, also available as an audio book narrated by Knief, is filled with simple and practical advice that will instantly improve the likelihood of anyone's success in lobbying.

Less than 5 percent of all the bills introduced in the House and Senate in 2012 actually made it to the president ... These bills can be monitored for free on the Library of Congress's Web site, THOMAS, which tracks federal legislation and action. Knowing what topics are important enough for a member of Congress to sponsor a bill will help you learn who will be interested in your issue. THOMAS will also provide information about who cosponsored bills and what amendments every member of Congress offered.

Candidates for every office usually host some kind of public forum where the public is allowed to ask questions. These can be chats at a local restaurant or formal question-and-answer sessions. Be prepared with several questions about your issue and don't be afraid to be the first person to ask a question. You don't know how long the candidate will take questions or when something might happen to end the session.

The information about the issue that you provide the public official is known as a lobbying paper. It should be basic, simply including a few facts that summarize the issue, a statement that gives your point of view, and a declarative statement that includes "the ask"--what it is that you want from the public official. ... You want the public official to have something educational and tangible to take away from the meeting, but remember, no one has time to read a dissertation.

From the outset, Knief writes with an easy, casual manner, though this does not preclude her providing specific technical and legal information, where appropriate. By blending the jargon with an accessible tone, Knief ensures that even a first-timer can become a class-A lobbyist.

Too many books of this kind are so high-level that they are just too vague to be useful. The Citizen Lobbyist is a down-to-earth, actionable, eminently usable how-to guide that is an absolute must-read for every American.

In the foreword, Rev. Barry Lynn aptly states:

There is a dirty little secret in the world of "lobbying." It is that most people never do it. In one poll I've seen, under 20 percent of Americans have ever contacted an elected official about any topic--not the new roads in town, not the budget, not the separation of church and state, nothing. What this means is that the small percentage of people who do write a letter, dash off an e-mail, traipse to a politician's office, or pick up the phone can have a disproportionate effect on what gets done and what gets ignored.

What effect will you have on your government?

The Citizen Lobbyist is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Audible, Kobo and pretty much everywhere else.