The always wonderful Maddie Grant directed my attention to a recent blog post by TechCrunch’s Semil Shah entitled The Dawn of Social Lobbying. The basic point of the piece is that big-moneyed lobbying where “suits” (his word, not mine) are paid hefty sums to peddle influence is being upstaged by an emerging phenomena known as social lobbying. Social lobbying utilizes networks to move or defeat legislation. I would argue that social lobbying has always existed. It’s called grassroots lobbying.
Grassroots lobbying involves networks of individuals with a shared interest who outreach to their legislators in support of or to defeat a particular measure. No association lobbyist in good conscience can claim that any legislative success was based solely on their work. I can go to the Hill and talk about the technical aspects of the bill (i.e. how much the bill will cost the government, how many people would be affected, who supports it…). However, my grassroots lobbyists give the issue a voice and a face.
I’m currently working with one of my committees on grassroots visits to discuss the Minority Fellowship Program (MFP). MFP is the only federal program that provides grants to support the training of ethnic minority mental health professionals. I’m neither a psychologist nor MFP Fellow. When I go on my lobbying visits, I talk about how cuts to the program would decrease the number of minority psychologists in the field. When my committee members go on their visits, they talk about how the fellowship allowed them to provide services to underserved communities where English is the second language or conduct research on minorities and HIV/AIDS.
While grassroots advocacy has been around for a while, I do agree that the use of social media in this area is fairly new and sorely needed. According the Congressional Management Foundation, Hill offices are being overrun by constituent mail including email grassroots alerts. As a result, Members of Congress and their staff are increasing turning to Facebook and Twitter to gauge interest in legislative issues. The recent debate over SOPA and PIPA serves as a great example of using social media at the grassroots level. It should provide lessons for association lobbyists trying to break through the glut of messages going to the Hill.