Washington, D.C., Sept. 17 – From journalists to CEOs, influencers from around the nation gathered at the nation’s capital to discuss the advancement of people with disabilities and the future of the disability community at a summit partially made possible by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA). Rep. Sherman has long been an advocate for people with disabilities and shared concrete ideas with the advocates and leaders. He outlined six key steps to build support and progress for important issues: educate, show large support for your issue, identify the opposition to your issue, make a specific request, speak to staff when business is slow, and remember the “virtual circle.”
The summit was organized by RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. While RespectAbility does not lobby Congress, Sherman did talk to summit attendees about “how to lobby when you don’t have a PAC.”
Sherman’s first point: Educate the target. When visiting Congressional staff, Sherman said you must educate them. However, he stressed, do not solely focus on educating them to comprehend the issue. It is equally important to show the staff that their member of Congress has a record on that issue which can be found online or in voting records. This is because the staff members might not be aware of the fact that their member of Congress is interested into the topic that gets presented.
Second, Sherman said to emphasize the importance of the issue and the number of people that agree with you. Staff and members of Congress have countless meetings related to various issues around the nation. They also can focus on international affairs. To make one’s issue stand out, it’s essential to show that the issue is supported by an entire community rather than a few organizations or groups of people, Sherman stressed. It is quite simple: often a large number of supporters is what makes an issue valued more than others.
Third, Sherman pointed out the need to identify who is part of the opposition. No member of Congress wants to unintentionally create an enemy. “If you can identify who is on the other end of the issue, that is helpful and honest,” he said. He pointed out that no none should let a potential champion of their cause be blind sighted by the other side. Furthermore, he stated that pushing a program will always “face some resistance.”Fourth, Sherman said to make a specific request. Leaving the office with a general oral agreement does not mean much, he said. Asking for support in a particular way is key. For example, rather than asking for “support,” one could ask for their representative to vote against a certain bill or sign a letter. Asking for a specific request means the member of Congress does not have to come up with a solution to the issue. That is likely to lead to a better outcome since the solution would instead be proposed by the people with more expertise.
The final suggestion Sherman made: Visit the office when most members of Congress are absent from the office. When the member of Congress is absent, the staff is more likely to have fewer tasks and, therefore, more likely to be relaxed. Furthermore, staff members have deep expertise in their specific field, while the member of Congress has to work on an extremely wide arrange of issues around the nation and globe. So talking to a well-rested staff with the appropriate expertise can lead to a better result than talking to a member of Congress for a first meeting.
Sherman concluded his remarks with the importance of showing appreciation to whatever leader you want to bring to your cause. The recognition of a previous action drives the member of Congress to take the next move to support the same community. He calls this revolution of sequence, the “virtual cycle.” A small sign of gratitude for the member of Congress contributes to the cycle, and it will make this country better than what it was yesterday.