By Ka-Chung Kwok
On February 23rd 2016 – I had the privilege to join supporters of the I-732 Carbon Washington Bill as a volunteer Constituent, and to meet with the legislators of my home district. As a first time visitor of the state capitol and an amateur activist, the thought of meeting face-to-face with a senator and a house representative seemed quite a daunting task. But eventually practice, guidance and mutual support with other fellow lobbyists throughout the day gave me good insight into the legislative process of Olympia, and understanding in the importance of great perseverance in order to have “a voice” that could be heard. Here is my personal crash course on how to become a Lobbyist –
[ Point#1 – Know your Pitch ] As a lobbyist you should be ready to “sell” a Bill to the Legislator (or staff) that you are meeting with. Senators, Representatives and staff all vary in knowledge to the specific Bills within the legislative process, their knowledge of your specific Bill of interest could vary from expert to uninformed. Since time is very valuable and attention spans are short at the capitol, one should always be ready to present the most essential facts of your Bill and to present your opinion. Always leave time to ask for the legislator’s feedback, offer your knowledge to answer any questions, and if appropriate ask for an endorsement.
[Point #2 – Regroup, Engage, Strategize…..then repeat again…..] There is an element of trial and error in the lobbying process that is very important. It is the process of sharing your meeting experience with fellow lobbyists, discuss different legislator responses and feedback, strategize on ways to better respond, and followed by going out there and trying again.
[Point #3 – Showing up may be the most important point] As much as you should be knowledgeable, respectful and convincing in your meetings with staff and legislators at the Capitol; there is a sense that being in Olympia and making the effort to represent your thoughts in person is in itself a major achievement. Legislator’s seem to appreciate and value supporters who show up in person more than a book of signatures (of course having both would ideal). The more supporters who show up in person, the more open doors there seem to be and opportunities to meet directly with legislators.
[Point #4 – Chaotic Order] There are lots of people, lots of interest groups and lobbyists representing many different bills and people walking around the capitol at all times. At first it seems to be an informal environment in the sense that legislators are always walking around from meeting to meeting having casual talks at random locations. But if there are specific legislators whom you would like to have a meeting with, you would very quickly be encountered by layers of staff and aids who would intercept making it very difficult to get serious attention.
[Point #5 – It’s a long, long road…..] The scale, complexity and politics that I experienced in Olympia made me realize that passing a Bill is a very long process involving lots of perseverance, countless people and continuous action in order to have a voice in the capitol. Legislation is a battle of perseverance and there is an established “system” for which it is almost impossible to bypass. If there is something you are passionate about and would like to change – make friends, look for comrades, provide mutual support and volunteer – start building a network of supporters and be ready to stay engage for a lengthy battle.