Today, we’re excited that grassroots activist Tamera Lynn Stewart is joining us to share why she got involved in politics as an “accidental” grassroots activist and how you can make a difference for the causes important to you.
Let’s get started and learn how government red tape led to a nightmare in Tamera’s journey while fostering children for her family and how that jump-started her accidental political activism…
Ten years ago, I was the typical stay-at-home mom who enjoyed a relatively quiet life in the mountains of Arkansas. I worked alongside my husband and enjoyed running the home where local kids congregated. When we had the opportunity to become ‘kinship foster parents’ while a family member took some time to get back on their feet – it was an easy choice. Our family doubled in size overnight, and I couldn’t have been happier. Our seemingly idyllic life became chaotic when during one of the children’s mental health crises, we learned that the guardianship paperwork we had was not sufficient to seek the right treatment. We then learned the paperwork was also inadequate to enroll the children in school or get their immunizations or even see a doctor. What happened next has guided my decisions and movements since that moment.
I sprang into action and did what seemed most logical to me – I found out what documentation was needed and learned why I was unable to obtain it with reasonable effort. Turns out there were gaps in the state law big enough to drive a truck through. These gaps allowed a large number of children to fall through the same cracks every year. This is where I was incredibly thankful I paid attention during my freshman civics class; I knew where the laws were created. I decided to make the 2-hour drive and march directly into the capitol building in search of my state representative’s office. The rest is history…and, in my case, repeated itself five years later in the form of another issue within state law. Once again, overlooked and/or unintended consequences of likely well-intentioned policy were threatening the life we had built for ourselves, as well as millions of others this time. I have never been satisfied with sitting behind a screen complaining. When something is wrong, I take action.
Sometimes life throws you a curveball requiring you to take a stand and fight for what you believe in. Sometimes that curveball is something impacting thousands or millions of others just like you, and you have to decide if you are going to join others sitting on the sidelines complaining or if you are going to do something about it. You don’t need to be a professional lobbyist or have a lot of money. All you need in order to take that first step is a passion for a cause and the willingness to speak up. Being a grassroots lobbyist, also referred to as a citizen lobbyist or volunteer lobbyist, means taking responsibility for your community and government. It means being an active participant in the democratic process and working to make sure that your voice is heard. It’s not easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding.
Getting involved in grassroots lobbying is simple but certainly not easy. Start by learning about the issue you want to advocate for and educate yourself on the laws and policies that affect it. This sounds straightforward, yet because of each of our own biases, it can be difficult to look beyond the popular narratives or talking points to determine the real cause. Often, an issue we have been told was caused by the ‘other party wanting to harm us’ turns out to be a gap or loophole in public policy which has existed for years, maybe decades. We quickly learn when there is a small group of influential people who benefit from a loophole or gap, as they take every opportunity to create a divisive narrative steering those impacted to blame each other instead of looking to the source.
Once you have fought past your own biases and dug down to find the root cause, the next step is to reach out to your elected officials and let them know your thoughts and concerns. Attend town hall meetings and rallies, and join grassroots organizations that are working on the same cause. This boils down to getting in front of elected officials as often as possible. Connect with like-minded individuals and make sure your name and your story are not forgotten by those with the power and influence to change things. One side note…sharing your story does not mean repeating your entire life story every chance you get. Try to have the highlights of your story, as they apply to the issue you are lobbying for or against, down to a 2-5 minute ‘elevator pitch’ and take note if one part gains more reaction or causes discomfort and adjust accordingly. Expect to attend meetings, make phone calls, and potentially testify at hearings. It’s also so important to stay informed and knowledgeable about the latest information on issues you’re advocating for.
The benefits of grassroots lobbying are numerous. By participating in the political process, you can make a real difference in your community and potentially improve the lives of others. It also allows you to have a direct impact on the laws and policies that affect you and your loved ones.
However, it’s important to be aware of the drawbacks as well. grassroots lobbying can be time-consuming and emotionally draining, and it’s important to be prepared for the possibility of disappointment or rejection. Oftentimes reliving the trauma which led to the need to speak out in the first place can be a struggle. Individuals who lack the knowledge and effort to address their prejudices may reject a relative who seems to be collaborating with an opposing group. However, it is often crucial to collaborate with both sides in order to achieve progress. Additionally, money and campaign donations often play a large role in politics, and it can be difficult for grassroots to compete with the resources of large corporations and special interest groups. It can be difficult to get your message heard when you’re competing against large corporations and organizations with more resources.
Money and votes move politicians, and that’s the essence of all lobbying. Whether you’re a traditional lobbyist or a grassroots lobbyist, the goal is to mobilize one or both to make a change. If you want to make a difference in your community, don’t be afraid to get involved. Fears of being targeted for speaking up or working with your elected officials are overblown. In most cases, elected officials are glad to have a constituent share concerns and work with them to fix gaps or loopholes in public policy – it is impossible for each elected official to know every aspect of the law plus have a working knowledge of every issue his/her constituents could face. Often a lobbyist, professional or otherwise, is an elected official’s best source of information about the array of issues they must learn to address.
The image that comes to mind for many Americans when they think of lobbyists is of shady, corrupt individuals bribing politicians to achieve the desired results for their clients. However, this stereotype no longer accurately represents the majority of lobbyists in today’s society. A new, more ethical generation of lobbyists is emerging, and they are becoming valuable assets for elected officials who are committed to serving their constituents. The best way we as Americans can preserve our freedoms is to speak up when an issue threatens our way of life. Take the time to educate yourself and actively examine your own biases, which can often lead to a divisive “us versus them” or “left versus right” mentality.
As long as there are intentional or unintentional gaps, goofs, and loopholes which cause unintended consequences to the people, there will be a need for grassroots lobbying. If you are someone who is struggling with an issue caused by public policy, find your tribe. Look on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, or other social media for existing groups formed to fight your issue. Do an internet search to see if there are existing organizations or nonprofits created to take the issue to policymakers. Join groups and organizations which align with your issues – but be aware these will often be composed of people from every corner of the political spectrum and will require you to be able to look past partisan talking points and begin to work across the aisle for the greater good. If there is not an existing group or organization, consider starting one.
I may have become an accidental activist, but I am proud to be standing here today fighting for important issues that affect my community and government. Grassroots lobbying is a powerful tool for change, and I encourage everyone to get involved and make their voice heard. Together, we can make a difference and steer our country back in the right direction.
Would you like to connect with Tamera?