Lobbying the Louts in Congress

We’ve recovered, somewhat, from the shock of last November’s election, and now we’ve turned to talk of resisting President (shudder) Trump. Resisting Trump won’t be easy, or fast, or done in one day. Here’s some tips from Rachel Maddow today, and I offer more below.

Progressives are great at protests; we can march circles around the right and our chants are cleverer than their chants. But we aren’t so hot at lobbying a hostile Congress. Persuasive lobbying requires a different set of muscles. Unfortunately, we are going to need to spend a lot of time in the next four years talking to Senators and Representatives who don’t agree with us.

After twenty years of working in progressive politics and policy, including a lot of time talking to GOP Congressmen and Congresswomen about education and the environment, I’ve found it’s easy to distill a few key pointers:

1) Don’t be partisan. A member of the GOP will take your letter or phone call more seriously if think there’s a chance you might vote for them.

2) Check your emotions at the door. Outrage is great for a march on the National Mall, but it fails to impress a Congressional staff person listening to a phone rant or reading a frothy letter or email. Hurling a Harry Potter Howler at Mitch McConnell may make you feel better, but it won’t be effective.

3) Stick to facts. We all tend to engage in hyperbole, especially those of us that spend a lot of time online. Don’t, it’s ineffective.

4) Ask for a response. As a citizen, you are entitled to a dialogue.

5) Letters and calls matter. The GOP Congress caved on their midnight plot to scuttle the ethics watchdog earlier this week, in no small part because we hit them hard.

I offer the letter below as an example. It’s real. The events described happened to me. I’ve removed some names, but this was actually sent to a GOP Member of Congress. The topic: gun control.

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Dear Senator:

I was very displeased to learn of your vote against gun background checks last week. I have not always agreed with you over the years but I have always respected your integrity. I do not expect my elected officials to respond to polls, per se, but when 90% of the nation supports background checks, I do believe that you should seriously consider the moral implications of betraying the will of the people.

Perhaps a story will help to clarify my views. Just after graduating college, I tutored high school kids in East New York, in Brooklyn. One fine spring day, I took the train out to meet one of my charges. A block away from the library, I noticed a crowd of people and police. At the center of attention was my tutee, lying dead on the sidewalk.

We never learned why a 16 year old boy splattered most of her brain matter over a couple of parked cars. We did learn that the weapon was purchased at a gun show in Virginia, as part of a huge bulk buy, and was transported north for sale on the streets of New York for a tidy profit. The gun runner in question had committed a string of violent crimes, from Maine to Georgia, and had spent most of his adult life in and out of prison.

Thou Shalt Not Kill is a precept we should take seriously. Checking the background of an adult before they are allowed to buy a piece of steel finely honed to snuff out a human life seems a reasonable thing to do. It will not bring my tutee back to her family. Your predecessors in Congress failed on that account, but it just might give another budding scholar a better lease on life.

I posted about background checks on a blog yesterday, and within hours the comment thread was besieged by “trolls,” including one commenter who said:

“Gun grabbers are the reason that 100 million Americans have 300 million guns and billions of rounds of ammo. Keep it up, trample our rights and we’ll stockpile even more. We know how to use it and unfortunate accidents happen.”

A second commenter quipped: ” The only way you are going to get the gun control you want [background checks] is by civil war.”

These were just two of a half dozen sinister missives my post provoked. All these comments were posted anonymously; the brazenness of the NRA member stops short at taking adult responsibility for owning their words in a public forum. I seriously doubt Thomas Jefferson would call these gentlemen fine upstanding defenders of freedom, would you? The Second Amendment was written to protect the right of a nation to defend itself against a tyrannical King, by men of gravity who took a rather dim view of “unfortunate accidents.”

You have spoken eloquently over your career about American family values and the Judeo-Christian heritage. How do these individuals’ comments stack up?

Not to put too fine a gloss on it, I am puzzled as to why you feel the need to hop in the political sack with such anti-Christian filth. It is shameful, and it is a betrayal of the trust voters placed in you.

Hate and boorishness are not family values, and stockpiling “ammo” does not make us free. When we feel the need to leave the house with a loaded gun, we have already lost our freedom, our human dignity, and our religion, just as I have irretrievably lost my faith in you.

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