Sometimes you might feel put off, or even insecure, to speak up when you think something isn’t quite right and should be changed. There are those who insist in a “representative” democracy that you should simply vote for your representatives in Congress and your state legislature and leave it to them to make the right decisions. It is easy to think that you are just one person, one small voice and you can’t possibly make a difference. Plus, just who has the time to get involved these days? Who can compete with all those corporate lobbyists who have such great access and influence when it comes to lawmaking? What about those powerful NGO’s and well-funded Interest Groups? Sometimes, even advocating for a stop sign in your neighborhood can bring stressful opposition from your neighbors. And, trying to agree with one another can certainly be difficult. Avoidance might often seem the better choice.
I hope you don’t think so.
Let’s first define the difference between advocacy and lobbying as often they are confused. Advocacy is the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause or policy. Lobbying activities are aimed at influencing members of a legislative body on legislation.
Recently, an unprecedented landmark Supreme Court decision, called “Citizens United”, unleashed unlimited corporate money that can now be donated to political campaigns. This means that good ideas that come from the people, from the grass roots, can be challenged even more greatly than they already are by the guys with the big bucks. Constitutional scholars and policy wonks will be discussing this decision for decades. And, there is already an effort brewing in Congress to pass laws that will rescind this imbalance of power in our democracy, which could potentially destroy it.
This SCOTUS decision is perhaps the most important reason to get involved with issues that will affect you and your business colleagues, and hopefully it is a wake up call. It is my opinion that getting involved is not only a right, but a responsibility. If we believe in the value of our democracy, it is up to us to participate vigorously to insure it exists for our children and grandchildren. Here are a few “pep talks” that will hopefully stir you off the sideline.
1. One person can make a difference. Asking an elected official for support can produce results that serve the public and bring awareness of the issues like those of small business to more people. A single advocate – a respected individual in the community – has been able to bring together like-minded people to convince a key member of Congress to change or eliminate language in a bill if he/she is convinced of the adverse consequences.
2. Advocacy is essential to our democratic form of government. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of the people to petition the government – the simple act of informing our policy makers about important public issues. Without advocacy, our issues simply will not be considered.
3. Lobbying is easy. There is nothing mysterious about lobbying. At its heart, lobbying is the simple act of telling a story and being persuasive. An advocate can make an important difference in a legislator’s position on an issue or pending bill by explaining through personal experience the importance of your cause to the affected community.
4. Policy makers need your expertise. Legislators depend on solid information to help make their decisions, and they want to hear from the people they represent. Becoming a reliable source of information for your legislators will carry weight in their decision-making, especially if you, the advocate, are the expert on the issue.
Those of us who are Indie Beauty Network members are fortunate to have Donna Maria Coles Johnson at the forefront of issues facing small personal care products businesses. She is drawing terrific leadership from within her membership and organizing a cohesive message for greater impact. Currently, we are working to oppose H.R. 5786 Safe Cosmetics Act 2010, which, we believe, will have grave consequences for not only personal care products manufacturers, but others who use manufacturing ingredients such as essential oils in an alternative practice. You can read the petition statement and sign the Oppose The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 petition.
Thanks for listening.