Five things you need to know about lobbying a senator:
1) Get the aides' names: The person scheduling your meeting — assuming it's not you — probably won't get the names. Best to just wing it and hope the phone-line-strangled receptionist knows what's going on.
2) Dress like a professional: Things may not always be "fashionable" on Capitol Hill, but that doesn't mean people don't appreciate some class. Pull out the three-piece suit for the Atticus-Finch look.
3) Bring a partner (preferably one who knows way more than you do): Lobbying is like making a presentation to a group of people who already know the speech. If those spitfire info classes didn't prepare you for the arena, shut up and let your partner fill in the gaps.
4) Bring business cards: What the heck are those things for, since you keep forgetting them at home!
5) Know your politics: Depending on what you're advocating, people may not be receptive. Usually, however, they will be cordial ... to constituents.
After three sessions of background education and training, I went with a partner to lobby Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz, on Monday.
Some background: For my "civic engagement project" here in Washington, I joined a group called Americans for Israel and Palestine, which while not affiliated with The Washington Center, recruit heavily from its ranks. I thought it would be a cool and easy way to take care of the project. In the process, I learned a ton about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ate free Middle-Eastern food at meetings.
The Capitol Hill meeting was definitely a cool experience — getting to see the Hart Senate Office Building, the senator's offices, the hardwood-filled, cabinet-lined offices with leather-upholstered seats. And I feel like I understand the workings of Washington much better.
On my part, it wasn't a stellar performance, but I had a very well-informed partner, whom I give credit for anything of depth during our presentation. I focused on the big — and, of course, less complicated — issues. Still, it feels good to have done something of substance, pressing the flesh and taking the names.
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