Grass-Roots Advocacy: Make Yourself a Trusted Resource
- By Julie Piriano
- Aug 01, 2010
If you could use the passion you have for your business and the beneficiaries
you serve to infl uence public policy, what would you be willing to do?
Would you invest 20 to 30 minutes a day to keep current on federal and
state legislative and regulatory changes?
Could you make three phone calls or write three e-mails a month to your
members of Congress and update them on the positive or negative impact
of change on their constituents? Can you afford to support your members of
Congress at a fundraiser?
Can you afford not to?
The real power of our industry is in these types of grass-roots advocacy
efforts, and there is no better time to begin or continue these efforts than now.
This summer, from Aug. 7 through Sept. 13, your members of Congress
are home in the districts that elected them. This year the summer recess is
particularly important, as it is an election year for all members of the House and
one third of the Senate. Democrats are trying to hang on to their majority, and
Republicans will be trying to take it away.
If you are dissatisfied with how your members of Congress have represented
you, your business and the beneficiaries you care for, now is your opportunity
to effect change.
Healthcare reform, the elimination of the first-month purchase option for
standard power chairs, competitive bidding and the complex rehab separate
benefit initiative should provide a sufficient number of topics for conversation.
But first you must establish a relationship with your members of Congress, or
Grass-roots advocacy is nothing more than building a relationship, establishing
mutual trust and helping one another. The key to success in grass-roots
advocacy is ensuring your legislators know you and what is important to you,
and vice versa. The most crucial thing you can do between now and January,
when the 112th Congress is seated, is to establish a relationship with your
elected officials or their opponents.
Step 1: Find Out About Your Members of Congress or
Read your member’s biography, find out what legislation he/she has sponsored
or co-sponsored, and read his/her official position on a variety of issues
at thomas.loc.gov to find an area of common interest. You can also obtain
contact information, district and D.C. office locations and sign up to receive
e-mail correspondence from your member. To find out about your member of
Congress or his/her opponent as a candidate, do a Google search for information
on campaign office locations, events, endorsements and platforms.
Step 2: Find Out When & Where They Are Going to
Be in the District
What events will your members, or their opponents, be attending, sponsoring
or participating in? In an election year members take advantage of every opportunity
they can to meet and greet their constituents.
You may be able to obtain this information from their office schedulers, if
they have them. However, in order to protect
members’ privacy and ensure their safety,
there are many instances when this information
will not be provided to the public at large.
To receive timely updates as to where you
can meet face to face, it is best to sign up
to receive e-mail updates from their offices.
The closer the event is to your place of business,
the easier it is to make an initial connection,
but any event within your service area is
worth the effort. Finding these opportunities
is easier in an election year.
Step 3: Show Up, Shake Hands,
Introduce Yourself & Say
“Hello, Congressman/Senator ____. My
name is Julie Piriano, and I own/work for a
local ____ company. I want to thank you for
being here today to break ground for the new library/open the new ice cream
shop/kick off the parade, etc. I really appreciate all that you do (or plan to do)
for our district and the people who live here.”
If you have an opportunity, engage them about the event you are both
attending, and listen for areas of common interest. Unless it is an industryspecific event — healthcare-related town hall meeting or disability awareness
day — it may be too soon to engage them on issues that are of concern to you,
your business and the beneficiaries you serve. That will come later, once they
begin to know you.
Step 4: Develop the Relationship
Look for additional opportunities to meet and engage your member of
Congress, or his/her opponent and his/her staff. Find areas of common interest,
and ask if there is anything you can do for him/her. Common interest is a great
conversation starter and helps them remember you.
Did you go to the same high school? Are your kids on rival soccer teams? Did
your fathers serve in WWII together? It does not matter what the connection is,
but if you can find something in common, it is easier to remember the face with
the name and establish an initial level of trust.
Step 5: Commit to the Relationship
After several encounters, attend a fundraiser for your member of Congress, or
his/her opponent, and support his/her campaign. A modest personal contribution
is an investment in the future; just remember that a campaign contribution
should not be linked to your “ask” and cannot be presented on government
property or time.
You can, however, get to know him/her a little better by engaging in a
conversation about where you work and what you do to help his/her constituents
remain safe, mobile and independent in their homes and community. Find
out if he/she has any friends or family members who use wheelchairs or have
used them in the past. He/she will either relate an experience or be thankful not
to have experience in this area. In either case, he/she will make the connection
that you are “the wheelchair guy,” and you have now built the foundation to be
a resource and ask for his/her support.
Step 6: Foster, Protect & Expand the Relationship
Get to know your elected official’s key staff members and find out what they
know about the issues that are important to you, your business and the beneficiaries you serve. In D.C., where legislative activity takes place, it is essential
to establish communication with a member’s health legislative assistant. In
the District office, which is primarily responsible for constituent services, key
contacts include the district director and the constituent services representative
who handles healthcare-related issues. Your member of Congress is very busy
and relies on his/her staff to gather information and provide advice. Let him/her
know that you know the member, and win their confidence.
Establishing yourself as a trusted resource is the goal of grass-roots advocacy
and lets the lobbying begin. You are helping your member of Congress
to better serve the constituents that elected him/her and he/she is ready to
This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of Mobility Management.
Julie Piriano, PT, ATP/SMS, is VP, Clinical Education, Rehab Industry Affairs & Compliance Officer for Pride Mobility Products.