What I learned from the Native Plant Society
By Judy Herman, Foggy View Editor
The national election results hit David Berman hard. “I felt shocked, depressed, paralyzed, and afraid,” the president of the South Coast Chapter of the California Native Plant Society said. But he knew he couldn’t remain paralyzed. It was time to act. He invited staffers from officials’ offices to a CNPS meeting to teach how to influence legislators.
Representatives of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Congressman Ted Lieu, California Sen. Ben Allen and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi fielded questions at the April 3rd meeting.
The most effective way of influencing public officials is by meeting with them or their staff in person, the panel members agreed. Since Sen. Feinstein represents the entire state of California, forget about individual meetings with her, advised her field representative Sabiha Khan. But group meetings, town halls or community meetings are effective. Look for annual events like Earth Day and events honoring community activists. If your group forms a coalition with other groups, officials are more likely to attend your events. Sign up for officials’ newsletters to find out where they will be. Rep. Lieu is active on Twitter, according to his district director Nicolas Rodriquez.
Phone calls and meetings with field office staff are good too. It’s hard to get through to D.C. offices; local field offices are easier. Calls can be quick and painless, just long enough to say you are a constituent and you favor or oppose a piece of pending legislation, according to Andrew Deblock, Senior Field Representative for Muratsuchi. You can also spend more time getting to know staff members and sharing expertise you may have. Personal information and anecdotes help strengthen the connection and increase staffers’ understanding of why the legislation is important, and may make them more likely to discuss your views with their bosses, Deblock said.
How can you keep current on pending legislation? Good sources are representatives’ newsletters, contacts with their staff and social media. The Sierra Club was highlighted as a source for legislative priorities on the environment. (Check out the “Hot Links” at http://www.sierraclub.org/california, including 2017 Priority Bill List.) Other sources for current bills are http://www.congress.gov and http://www.leginfo.ca.gov.
For background to help make your case in favor of a particular bill, contact the organization backing it or the author of the bill. If you see a problem with a bill, connect your representative with an expert who can explain the problem.
Pressed to rank the influence of calls, emails, postal mail and petitions, of letters from prominent groups like the Sierra Club or from individuals, staffers demurred. They’re all important, they said. What about protest marches and rallies, like the March for Science and the Women’s March? They do have an effect. Khan said that when Sen. Feinstein saw the protests that spontaneously broke out at airports around the country when President Trump’s first travel ban was announced, she introduced legislation opposing the ban the next day.
Thanks to David Berman and the CNPS for organizing the panel and for letting me share what I learned. For more info about CNPS visit www.sccnps.org.