Wanted: Citizen Lobbyists

Citizen lobbyists with AARP are a common sight at the Capitol during the Legislative Session. Dressed in their unmistakable red blazers, the volunteers watch over countless committee meeting and floor sessions. Photo by Will Price, WV Legislative Photography.

BY: KATELYN CAMPBELL, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT POLICY VISTA, THE HUB

So, there’s an issue that’s getting you fired up and you’re ready to do something about it. What now?

While the idea of becoming a lobbyist might be a little off-putting to some, don’t be alarmed. Citizen lobbyists play one of the most important roles in the legislative process.

The popular understanding of the term “lobbyists” describes those who lobby as less than scrupulous characters. However, the true origin story of the term “lobbyist” is somewhat cloudy.

In reality, a lobbyist is simply someone who meets with an elected representative to educate or persuade them as to why they ought to take a particular action on an issue. This means that regular, everyday people can and should be lobbyists as well, especially if there is an issue that they care strongly about.

Here in West Virginia, we have a part time Legislature made up of 134 legislators representing the state’s 1.8 million citizens. While we provide regularly-scheduled input to these representatives through elections, it is the diligent work of citizen lobbyists that ensures that all West Virginians’ voices are heard year-round.

What does a citizen lobbyist do?

During the Legislative Session, citizen lobbyists:

  • Visit the Capitol to meet with their representatives on their own time or during issue-centered lobby days. (You can find a list of scheduled lobby days on the General Services website.)
  • Call, write, tweet, or Facebook representatives. All legislators have their district and basic contact information listed on the Legislature’s website, but an increasing number have active Facebook and Twitter presences where constituents can engage.
  • Track bills they care about and contact members of the committees they’re referred to. It’s relatively easy for a bill to be introduced. Getting a bill passed is a much larger feat. Representatives need to hear your priorities throughout the process, particularly early on when bills can get trapped in committee.

 

Outside of Session, citizen lobbyists:

  • Do their research. One of the important roles all lobbyists play is bringing information to legislators. Whether that’s a research report or a pile of letters detailing constituent experiences, the data points legislators receive will influence what they care about and how they vote.
  • Meet with their representatives closer to home. Legislators are often willing to take individual or group meetings with constituents outside of Session to listen to their concerns. These opportunities are particularly useful for citizen lobbyists who know they cannot make it to Charleston during Session.
  • Keep calling, writing, tweeting, and Facebooking. Session is often such a race to the finish that it’s hard for new ideas to make it onto the floor. The months in between Sessions are a great time to plant new ideas in a representative’s head and make sure that they are as much of an expert on your issue as you are.

 

Being a citizen lobbyist is hard but necessary work, and even though you probably won’t get paid, you can be sure that the work citizen lobbyists do creates a better West Virginia for current and future generations.

Stay tuned in the following weeks as we bring you tips on how to make lobby visits most effective, how to decide what to say when calling your representative, and more ways you can make sure your voice and voices of other West Virginians are heard at the Capitol.

Want support scheduling a meeting or finding where to start? Get in touch with our Policy Coordinator, Taylor Bennett.

Interested in more articles like this one? Subscribe to The Hub’s Legislative Hubbub email, sent every Thursday during Session. Sign up now »

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For too long, who and what it means to be a West Virginian has been defined for us. It’s time to redefine the Mountain State in our own words and in the eyes of the world. West Virginia can be anything we want it to be – let’s redefine it together.

Parsons

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Message from our Executive Leadership Team

Fifteen years ago, stakeholders building up local communities and economies in West Virginia convened to map a coordinated strategy to systemically grow community economic development activity in the state. From the shared vision and collaborative leadership of dozens of strategic partners across the state, the WV Community Development Hub was born.

Since that time, The Hub has grown into the anchor community development organization serving West Virginia. We have built upon the original vision to create a method for rural, community-led development strategies that is uniquely tailored to the needs and opportunities of our state.

As we have grown and developed a proven model for success, our partnerships with community and economic development practitioners, funders, and committed West Virginia residents have been foundational to every element of our work.

Over the past two years, the team at The Hub has adapted to the unprecedented challenges our communities have faced during the pandemic by leaning into our core strengths to deepen our impact. The Hub remains committed to tackling persistent challenges, and we have focused our attention on the most impactful elements of our work.

We are supporting community leaders to advance their visions for local development, creating new pathways for engagement and leadership growth through our virtual training platform, and leading strategies that lift up voices of community leaders to move forward solutions to long-held challenges to growth.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that nothing about the future is set in stone. While the coming year may present enormous opportunities for advancement in our state, they will also inevitably require significant capacity building, shared strategies that are grounded in trust-based partnerships, and extended efforts to support the leadership development of individuals and organizations who have been asked to do more during a time of extreme stress and strain.

The services that anchor organizations like The Hub provide are even more critical in this time, and we expect our work to scale significantly in the coming years ahead.

We look forward to continuing to do the work of putting into action the vision and the shared strategies envisioned by that core group of community economic development practitioners and funders fifteen years ago.

In Continued Accompaniment,

– WV Community Development Hub
Executive Leadership Team

Stephanie Tyree

Executive Director

Amanda Workman Scott

Director of Community Engagement

Emma Pepper

Director of Strategic Network Communications

Katie Loudin

Director of Strategic Development

Montgomery

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Smithers

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Kingwood

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Lewis County

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Meadow River Valley Region

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Monticello Neighborhood of Clarksburg

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Watch their community documentary.

New Martinsville

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Systemic Change

2021 became a time period of catalytic potential as we saw years of investment into our core strategies to enact systemic change yield new results. Our strategic focus areas include policy, communications, and supporting the community economic development system in leveraging unique financing opportunities such as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER Initiative and Opportunity Zones.

In addition, through our strategic policy support role within the Abandoned Properties Coalition, The Hub successfully advanced two key objectives: the creation of a statewide land bank at the West Virginia Land Stewardship Corporation and extension of the state’s Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. 

Through the Opportunity Appalachia program, 6 catalytic community projects located in WV-based Opportunity Zones received $250,000 for pre-development technical assistance. Three projects received additional private funding as a result of program participation.

Community Coaching

In 2021, we accompanied 16 communities through our in-depth, professional coaching programs. In addition to leaning into coaching and financing opportunities offered through these programs, participating communities leveraged an additional $2.8 million in funding on their own for community economic development projects. While participating in our entry-level coaching program, Cultivate WV, Montgomery and Smithers realized momentum-building success through access to $40,000 in seed funding for projects like farmers markets, public art, wayfinding, community events, and development of a trail system.

Six communities, Lewis County, Kingwood, Meadow River Valley, Monticello neighborhood in Clarksburg, New Martinsville and Parsons, graduated the intermediate planning program Blueprint Communities* with strategic plans in place. We also launched a new round of HubCAP, our flagship community economic development program, in six towns located in the Monongahela National Forest region: Cowen, Franklin, White Sulphur Springs, Elkins, Marlinton, and Petersburg.

Elkins

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. 

A core team led by Woodlands Development Group also participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Franklin

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Marlinton

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Petersburg

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

White Sulphur Springs

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Charleston

A core team led by Crawford Holdings, LLC participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Huntington

Core teams led by Thundercloud, Inc. and the City of Huntington participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support community development projects located in Opportunity Zones.

Grafton

A core team led by Unleash Tygart, Inc participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Leadership Development

As hundreds of people began to engage in our virtual training activities in 2020, we saw a critical opportunity to scale and deepen our impact. This year, The Hub team developed an accessible, virtual platform with options for self-guided and group learning activities as well as professional coaching.

Kickstart Communities is now the crux of our efforts to bring new people into the work and grow their leadership. These activities now form the foundational stages of a Community Leadership Development Pipeline to move motivated residents from seeing the challenges in their communities to proactively collaborating to resolve them.

Cowen

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. Read their community case study.