Make ‘Em Feel The Fire
Recap of “DeMystifying Lobbying” on October 11th as part of HUBweek.
Stephanie Coxe, Civic Series speaker and founder of Learn To Lobby, shared key two anecdotes of activism from her career as a political consultant and campaign manager on Capitol Hill.
In one story, a parent recognized the lack and inadequacy of community resources available to families and children (like her own child) with autism. Slowly but surely, she mobilized. Using her own experience, she spoke up and out about the specific issues that faced her son and others impacted by autism. She attended and organized community events, published articles in the local newspaper, and recruited other committed advocates. She built connections (and in turn, relationships) with her state representatives. By engaging in the day-to-day grind of civic action, she generated significant political awareness around autism and eventually made strides on pieces of local legislation.
In another story, we learned about an impassioned cohort of environmental activists that repeatedly approached representatives with hefty lists of broad, impractical demands. The group applied remarkable social pressure, but they were disorganized and overbearing. (Perhaps you can see where this is going.) They met lawmakers with intense, antagonistic distrust. Despite well intentioned and dedicated efforts to battle for effective, environmentalist legislation, they weren’t invited to seats at the table with other community stakeholders.
Predictably, Coxe’s political training center, Learn To Lobby, primarily leverages the former strategy to support community activists and civic leaders to advocate for their priorities. More specifically, Coxe’s model empowers constituents to organize within the political system. She emphasized that the preserved longevity of a movement depends on its understanding of the obstacles that lawmakers face and responding with actionable, realistic goals.
The Boston Cyclist Union (BCU), we learned from Executive Director Becca Wolfson, has creatively deployed a variety of lobbying strategies in its efforts to ensure safety for cyclists citywide. Behind a pledge to zero traffic accidents by 2030 (known as the Vision Zero campaign), Wolfson and the BCU are marvelously organized.
So far in 2018, representatives from the BCU have met with 12 of 13 Boston city councilors to advocate for safe cycling legislation. In response to these conversations, Michelle Wu, City Councilor at-Large, has agreed to go on a bike ride in every neighborhood in the city. Another city councilor, Matt O’Malley, participated in Bike to Work Day and was justifiably terrified by his commute experience. These connections with local lawmakers served as creative lobbying tactics. As a result, the BCU shifted attention towards cycling safety through press, and their relationship with state legislators significantly strengthened.
This kind of progress takes time. When a cyclist was killed by a reckless driver in May of 2017, the BCU mobilized. They coordinated with aligned organizations and flooded the Transportation Department’s budget meeting to demand the prioritization of safe corridors and bike lanes for commuter cyclists. Additionally, the BCU has held rallies to stand in solidarity with those killed in traffic crashes. These rallies apply pressure to local politicians and encourage (and demand!) them to consider their role in ensuring public transportation safety. In instances like these, it’s important to consider that impassioned, organized social pressure is indeed a form of lobbying that can and should have a role in social change and democracy.
The Boston Cycling Union recently honored democratic nominee for Congress in Massachusetts Ayanna Pressley as a champion of cycling safety. Pressley’s recognition was documented on video, and Wolfson, to conclude her Civic Series presentation, shared a clip from Pressley’s “Golden Cog” acceptance speech: “Consciousness changes not because people see the light,” Pressley declared, “but because they feel the fire.”
This Civic Series dialogue left audience members (notably advocates for adult literacy, clean energy, and racial equity) with a tingling sense that lobbying, in its many forms, has potential to ignite such a fire in consciousness around their cause.
— Cody Tracey