Anna Claudia Pinheiro Gomes, Elisar Khattab, Kristyna Robova, Tzuhan Yu
Forget the suit and the money. Grab your online toolbox and become a citizen lobbyist!
What is the impact of your daily actions on society? Perhaps you always wanted to make a difference in the world, but never knew how to channel this desire. On a TEDx, Alberto Alemanno, Professor of EU Law at HEC Paris, said that we usually think of only two ways to make progress in society. The first one is to vote. The second, to run for office. One seems to little, the other might be too much. But what if there was a third option?
Well, did you ever thought about lobbying online?
A quick search for “lobbyist” on Google Images gives us a variation of the same picture: a man on a suit exchanging money for influence. This negative connotation makes most of the people suspicious of the practice. That’s why the European Commission prefers to call it interest representation: “activities carried out with the objective of influencing the policy formulation and decision-making processes of the European institutions”. And who can influence these processes? You! You, me and everyone can be a citizen lobbyist!
Why citizens lobbying is important?
A great amount of the organizations that claim to speak for citizens’ lack representation. Studies demonstrate that the large majority of the population is excluded from the political system and have their opinions ignored over the preferences of a tiny segment of the richest. Today, 75% of the meetings between policymakers and external actors in Europe entail corporate interests.
This ‘David and Goliath’ scenario makes us feel powerless and think that we can’t directly influence political decisions. But it can be simpler than we think. “Citizen lobbying is about enabling citizens to voice their concerns by tapping into the repertoire that is generally used by professional lobbyists: sending letters to our representatives, holding them accountable through social media, starting off a campaign, an online petition… In short, it’s making sure we connect with our elected representatives in between elections”, affirms Alemanno.
Another interesting research shows that societies with assertive citizens are more transparent and accountable. Besides that, Alemanno gives us three reasons to lobbying:
- Lobbying works: if it works for corporations, why wouldn’t work for us?
- Lobbying is win-win: it allows you to collectivize your expertise and make society progress;
- Lobbying is good for democracy: it can fill up the gap between voters and elected representatives and promote the public interest.
The Digital Revolution of lobbying
The Internet’s global reach gives a huge contribution to advancements in democracy, social activism and advocacy. Although is arguable that everyone can get their voices heard on the Web 2.0, it is undoubtable that now it is way easier and faster to reach people.
The author of The Big Disconnect: Why The Internet Hasn’t Transformed Politics (Yet), Micah Sifry, sees some reasons to be hopeful about technology’s impact on political systems. One of them is the existence of apps like Loomio, used during Occupy Wall Street movement, that allow online groups to reach a consensus quickly and easily.
We have a lot of apps and platforms that aim to foster civic engagement. You have probably signed an Avaaz petition once or twice, for example, or used your Twitter account to reach a politician. Here (active link), you can find a Framework for Online Civic Engagement to understand when and how to use each online tool and start changing the world.
As we see, with a bunch of tools (read: “devices”) we as the users of digital-techs are in force to shape the democracy and national values together with those who are empowered to influence our future on the political level. Moreover, it is evident that with the use of the gadgets that are at people’s disposal the decision-making process is more transparent for us, which is essential for a democratic society. Such availability tends to stimulate more citizens to participate in political processes going on in the nation. Why not using digital lobbying actively now?!
Share your insights with us below in the comments!