How the "Little Guy" Catches the Attention of Congress
BOOK REVIEW: Congressional Advocacy
Author: Nicole Tisdale
Topic: How to Advance a Cause with Congress Members
Price: $9.99 (kindle), $20.78 (hardcover), $14.00 (paperback) available on amazon
Malakouti Star Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Feeling frustrated in my interactions with the office of a Southern California U.S. congressmember recently, I found myself searching the books section of amazon.com using the terms: “practical advocacy”, “how to lobby in Congress” and “Congressional Advocacy” when I came across the attractive bright yellow cover of Nicole Tisdale’s Right to Petition.
Enchanted by the subtitle, and the content of its seven amazon reviews, I clicked “add to cart” and took a chance.
Right to Petition is a 110-page congressional handbook that punches above its weight. The author, Nicole Tisdale is a former Congressional staffer of 10 years and she packs a lot of detailed, useful information in the text. The writing is lean, to the point and in a “bottom line up front” (“BLUF”) style.
Whether your cause is the plight of dreamers, animal rights, or even commercial local interests, the book gives the reader a panoply of tools with which to approach your Congressmember for support.
Tisdale quickly gives a primer on the basics of our representative form of congressional government and then moves on to the juicy details, including:
A staffer’s view of how congressional office staff are organized
the division of labor between the Congressional “home office” and counterintuitively named “personal office”
how work is divided between congressional staffers
·how to build valuable relationships with staffers
From there, the book steams forward to the brass tacks of the various types of congressional “asks” a person can make from a Congressmember to help further a cause or case. This is easily the most illuminating portion of the book as Tisdale lists the 45+ types of “ask”, their respective benefits, best context and tips how to make the pitch. As an immigration attorney, I sheepishly admit that I was only previously aware of about 7-8 of these asks and I am pleased to have been made the wiser for having discovered the rest of them through this book.
A few of these asks discussed in the book which may be lesser known to the general public are:
· Constituent Coffees
· Dear Colleague Letters
· Committee Statements for the Hearing Record
· Referral Meetings
If there is a criticism to be made of the book, it’s that it focuses entirely on “carrot” style advocacy resulting from a positive relationship with congressmembers. While I do subscribe to the old adage “You catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar”, the hard truth is that sometimes, you do need the vinegar as well.
I would have liked to have seen discussion of those tactics in the book as well, to keep congressmembers accountable, especially when they’re caught paying lip service to your cause in public while actually turning a cold shoulder to the cause in practice. I can only speculate this omission is perhaps due to Ms. Tisdale’s presumed desire to maintain valued relationships on capitol hill and of course, we don’t blame her.
Overall the book is packed with useful information for the concerned citizen or champion of a cause. I believe Academic and private educators will also find that Right to Petition would make an excellent assigned text for courses on practical advocacy or private lobbying in Congress.
I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5.