Lobby days are a fun and effective way to develop relationships with your congressional representatives. The goal of a lobby day is to inform politicians about the issues that affect the dental profession and the oral health of the greater community. Meeting with legislators during a lobby day will hopefully persuade them to vote in a certain way on active bills. But how do you plan a lobby day?
Start by contacting your state dental association. Most of these organizations already have a state lobby day and are eager to get students involved. They can teach you how to organize meetings, train you on the specifics of the issues and maybe even help you fund your involvement.
It is likely that one of your professors is involved with the state dental association and can help you determine who to contact at the organization. You can also search the association’s website, which should list the names of officers and staff members. A good person to start with is the government or advocacy staff member.
If your state does not have a lobby day, this could be a good opportunity to start one. Work with your state dental association and the dental political action committee to contact your legislators and start organizing. In order to set up meetings with your representatives, all you have to do is call their office. Inform them of the upcoming lobby day and ask to schedule a meeting. Do not be discouraged if you get a meeting with a staff person instead. They often have a strong influence on how the congressperson votes. Learn more about this process by watching “Contacting your legislator.”
Once you’ve planned the lobby day, then it’s time to build an interest group. The best way to get a group of students to attend lobby day is to engage those who are already passionate about the issues. Start early in the school year by educating students in your chapter about the issues specific to your state. Make them feel like they need to have an active role in dental issues. If you need ideas for events, check out ASDA’s Advocacy Track Program. Participating in ASDA’s Advocacy Month is also a great way to win prizes for your chapter and get students excited about advocacy and lobby day. As with any event, start promoting the event early and often. This will allow people to organize their schedules around the date.
1. Learn about the issues.
Your state dental association will most likely choose the bills you are lobbying for. Set up a lunch-and-learn to discuss these with your chapter. Ask someone from the dental association if they would be willing to speak at the event. You can even discuss what you should plan to say to your congressperson about the bill.
2. Dress appropriately.
You want to look like a professional, so dress in business attire. Also, lobby days usually involve a lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes.
3. Send follow-up emails.
When you leave the legislators office, remember to exchange business cards with the person you speak with. Send a follow-up email in a day or two. The contents of your email should include a sentence thanking them for meeting with you, a brief overview of what you talked about and a reminder of how you would like your legislator to respond to the bills you discussed.
4. Have fun!
Talking to legislators can seem a bit daunting at first, but remember that your representative wants to get to know you and the issues that are important to you. Think of it as a meet-up versus a meeting. If the conversation does not go as planned or as positively as you expected, don’t worry about it! By following these steps, you made a difference simply by meeting with a lawmaker and advocating for ASDA’s legislative priorities.
~Anushka J. Prabhu, Nova Southeastern ’19, Districts 4-5 legislative coordinator