A Look at Grassroots Efforts in the 1st Quarter of the 112th Congress

Grassroots advocacy in the first quarter of 2011 – a new year and a new Congress – presents some challenges, but even more opportunities for your organization and its members.

Let’s acknowledge that, in the first three months, it will be a bit difficult  to deliver your messages to Congress. What do you do when some offices haven’t been filled yet (some Senate offices won’t be filled until March) and many House offices aren’t yet fully staffed?

That said, the first quarter also brings tremendous opportunities to educate and engage members of Congress, particularly the freshman class, early on.

As Brad Fitch rightly noted in his post, New House Calendar Benefits Grassroots Advocates, the 2011 House calendar currently has 13 District Work periods – more than double from 2010. This means your organization and members have more opportunities to engage with your member of Congress at home, and your member of Congress has more face time with constituents from the district. This is a win-win situation.

The House freshman class is likely to embrace these home meetings, and will be eager to not only get out of Washington (which so many of them campaigned against just a few months ago) but to also engage with their voters where they are most comfortable – in the district.

Knowing they will be home more frequently will also  help these Congressional members  feel better about spending quality time with your group. In 2010, they were home so infrequently there was too much pent up official business to leave much time to meet with constituents. Now, with almost 21 weeks of District Work Periods scheduled, they won’t feel rushed and neither will you – which, again, is a win-win situation.

Additionally, it is important to make an effort to get to know the staff in these early months. So many people overlook establishing good relationships with both the D.C and the district staff, but these individuals can be some of your greatest allies if you take the time. Keep your meetings with them friendly, relevant and informative, and you will discover some of the best partners you could imagine. And don’t forget the most important rule of all – say thank you. When you get home, send an email or a note re-iterating what you covered in the meeting and thanking them for their time. A little thoughtfulness will go a long way.

The first quarter of 2011 is also a good time to discover who may already be a key contact to these new members. At the AMA, we typically survey our physician grassroots advocates about who they know and how they know them. We ask our physicians to self-identify their relationships with their federal office holders via an electronic survey. For a small price (or even free depending on what you want to do), you can set up an online questionnaire through a site like Survey Monkey (or set up your own internally if you have the capability) and walk your advocates through a series of questions about their political involvement. You might be surprised to discover that one of your members is a former fraternity brother of a new representative, or has hosted a fundraiser in her home for a newly elected official. Ask now, identify now, build on those relationships now and it will pay dividends in the future.

In the digital space, the first quarter of 2011 will be interesting. Again, many offices aren’t fully staffed yet, so it will be difficult to judge whether they are able to process emails. Online petitions, while not normally an activity I would recommend, might be an easier way to recruit followers to your issue, and an easier way to present your issue to these new members of Congress initially. On the other hand, this freshman class is more engaged in the digital space than any previous Congress. If you and your members are already on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, you may find educating and engaging these freshmen to be easier through those channels.

What are some additional activities you are planning to do, specifically during these first three months of the new year and the new Congress? What else do you recommend to your grassroots colleagues?

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