How Politicians React to Pressure

In a better world, you would mobilize, the politicians would immediately agree to do everything you want, the policy would be changed, and we would all live happily ever after.

Of course, it rarely happens that way.

When a provision harmful to homeschooling parents was located in the 1994 Education Bill (H.R.6), Mike Farris’ Home School Legal Defense Association directed some one million calls and letters to Congress in a three-week period.  The amendment to strip out the offending language passed the U.S. House of Representatives 434-1.  Another amendment by Representative Dick Armey (R-TX) to positively protect home schoolers passed 374-53.

It was a rout.

The rout occurred not just because the home schooling community was so mobilized (though they were) but because they were mobilized for a very specific purpose, to which there was virtually no organized opposition.

It was an easy decision for members of the House of Representatives.

This is not the case for most controversial issues.  It is certainly not true for any legislation relating to the right to keep and bear arms or abortion or right to work.

So how will a politician react to your organized pressure when he knows there is or is certain to be, organized pressure against your position?

The first thing the politician will do is try to make you go away without giving you anything of substance.  If he gives you anything of substance, then those organized on the other side will be mad.

So most politicians will try to make you quit by intimidation, explanation, or buying you off.

Many politicians — especially those used to being treated like royalty rather than public servants — may try to threaten and intimidate.  Statements such as, “If you ever try something like this again, I’ll vote against you for sure,” or “I’ll tell the newspaper you’re a trouble-maker” are not uncommon.  A rudely spoken, “I don’t know who you think you are, but that’s not how we do things here, and no one will work with you again” followed by a slammed-down phone receiver is another favorite.

Remember, you are not running for office.  The politician is.  Then remember the three percent plus one voter margin, and double your efforts to mobilize.

Before long, even this politician will go to a new tactic.

Most likely, a politician (whether or not intimidation is attempted) will seek to placate you by “explaining” what he or she calls “the political reality.”  Sometimes the explanation may be made by a surrogate for the politician; a member of his staff, a lobbyist or even, in many cases, a well-known advocate for your issue.

The message usually takes the basic form of, “I’ve been doing this for a long time and believe me, I share your concerns but we just can’t pass that bill right now,” or “even if we could pass what your people want, the Governor (or President or a judge) will kill it,” or “It’s the best we could do,” or simply “We’ll lose.”

First of all, so what?  Rome was not built in a day, nor is major policy passed overnight.  Sometimes it may take years.  But policy will never change if politicians never vote on it.

Policy is changed one vote — one politician — at a time.

Second of all, the reason this is often true is that politicians succeed in ducking difficult votes, thus preventing voters from ever knowing exactly where they stand.

Your job as a grassroots leader is to convey to the politician your supporters’ insistence on his or her personal, public and on-the-record support for your position.

Of course, you do want to pass your legislation (or defeat your opponent’s legislation), but first and foremost, you want the politician’s complete public support.  As an aside, a commitment in writing is better than a verbal commitment, and a vote on the most controversial piece of the bill (not necessarily final passage) is better than a written commitment.

Private promises are worthless.

When you have insisted on the politician’s support for your position, they will then try to buy you off.  Here is where the best grass-roots leaders fail.

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