I would like to respectfully share a couple of thoughts based on my own experience personally lobbying Congressmen and other legislators on behalf to the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), discussions with my father, who spent several decades as a lobbyist on Capital Hill, and my own brief experience years ago as a intern on both sides of the aisle with Senator Carl Levin and Representative William S. Broomfield. Here are some suggestions:

If you find yourself in Washington, visit your Congressman's office on Capitol Hill and meet with the Chief of Staff and possibly even the Member. Particularly if you are a constituent from out of town, I guarantee that a staff member will be happy to speak with you. According to my father, 10 minutes with the Washington staff is worth 20 with the member.

Don't neglect your state senators and delegates. State law can't conflict with federal law, but, for example, state civil rights laws often have a much farther reach, better remedies, and more access to the courts than federal law. Also your state representatives may have better access to the Congressman than you; my newly elected Congressman spent years as a state senator.

Attend events at which your Member or state legislator is appearing. You would be surprised by the fact that they are not always well attended, and you never know when you might be able to get in a word or two.

Donate to the national NAACP and ACLU, but don't forget that they have local chapters across the country which are always hungry for volunteers.

Coalitions of local organizations are very powerful. I once had an opportunity to meet for an hour with Congressman Chris Van Hollen's staff and for about 20 minutes with the Congressman himself to discuss national security issues and surveillance as part of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition in his district, which includes representatives from a number of state and local organizations, including the ACLU. All politics are local.

Don't neglect organizations who might have a different point of view on other issues. My father used to say that the Congressman had to think very hard when he walked in the door as the company lobbyist accompanied by the union lobbyist when both had the same position. Most of us do not have the clout of a Fortune 100 company and the United Auto Workers, but don't neglect people like the Chamber of Commerce and local congregations. Maybe they won't respond, but maybe they will.

The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) has a lobby day every year in which groups of lawyers meet personally with members and their staffs for about 20 minutes.

According to Jack Sinclair, my former Congressman's AA, a contribution, no matter how small, gets you on the Member's list of contributors. Members notice if you are both a contributor and a constituent. It does not hurt to volunteer on the campaign either.

If you can find a substantial donor or even better, a fundraiser, a handwritten note approving an enclosed news article can have a real impact.

If you call your Congressman, don't just leave a comment with the receptionist, tell them that you have a question you would like to ask the relevant staff member.

I hope these ideas are helpful as people try to advocate for our rights as citizens and those of our fellow citizens.

I welcome and encourage people to make other suggestions.


© Charles Williamson Day, Jr., 2016. All rights reserved.

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