One lesson learned at the Personal Democracy Forum last week: There’s a lot of crossover between tech geeks and political geeks. Both groups, for instance, care a lot about FCC and telco issues. There’s also a big difference: Political geeks know how the system works, and how to influence policymakers. Tech geeks tend to watch from the outside, puzzled.
The good news for my tech-minded colleagues: It’s not impossible to get your voice heard in Washington. I’ve done it.
During the last debate about open access on U.S. spectrum, I helped create a group that got interviewed by big media like NPR and the WSJ, and we testified at Senate and House hearings. Better yet, we got some of what we wanted accomplished. Here’s how you can, too:
1. Find an issue that matters. A big one, not a pet issue. Be pragmatic.
2. Find the big players who are on your side. There usually are some. Start with the public interest groups like MoveOn.org or Free Press, and get them to steer you to the monied interests that you may not have realised agree with you. Like Microsoft, or Aetna, or GM or someone. They and their lobbyists will be happy to coach you with the rest of this.
3. Figure out why you matter to this dialogue. Here’s a good argument: “I am a successful, job-creating, innovative entrepreneur and this issue is relevant to people like me”. Washington is full of big companies and lobbyists, but few entrepreneurs. Government likes the idea of entrepreneurs.
4. Rope together 19 other people like this and create a “Coalition”. Make a website. Write a press release.
5. Draft a letter to some of the key players. Socialize it with the big players on your side, to make sure you are hitting themes they care about too.
6. Get your Coalition to all sign it.
7. Time it right. Are there hearings coming up? Debate happening?
8. Get the aforementioned big player to leak it to the top insiders. For example, a major newspaper.
9. Send letter to key players.
10. Call them and ask for 1 on 1 meetings. Go to Washington.
11. Visit C-SPAN while you are there. C-SPAN has a lot of hours to fill.
12. Get/make a list of the top reporters covering this topic, and call them to tell them what you just did. Point them to your Coalition’s website. Give them some cool quotes for their balanced piece on this topic.
13. Cross your fingers and hope Google (GOOG) doesn’t flake out of the 700 MHz auction process in the end…Oops. Scratch that. Revise to suit your case.