«Take Back Your Power and Make Them Listen!». How Crowd-Lobbying Can Impact World’s Agenda
If you are an activist for political change, lobbying should be part of your toolkit. However, if the belief that lobbying is only available to special interest groups and corporations makes you hesitate, crowd-lobbying is trying to change that. Crowd-lobbying – also known as citizen lobbying – is a practice of involving ordinary citizens and non-professional lobbyists in the activity of influencing government policy and legislation. Typically, crowd lobbying focuses on civil society causes that do not capture the attention of established interest groups.
The keyword to understanding crowd-lobbying is “technology.” The internet and especially social media have made decision-makers and legislators directly accessible and targetable with campaigns and advocacy activities. Professional lobbyists have already started to explore this opportunity by mobilizing trade and economic associations and civil society groups to amplify their messages to elected officials. But disintermediation offers anyone a chance to play a role in the democratic process. Crowd-lobbying platforms operate according to the principle that everybody deserves their voice to be heard by the centers of power and that everybody can.
Perhaps the most famous crowd-lobbying organization is Change.org, a platform claiming 400 million users, offers each and everyone the possibility to launch a petition, raise money for a cause, and, most importantly, the chance to change the status quo. Notable initiatives include over 2 million signatures in favor of the impeachment of former Brazil President Dilma Roussef in 2016 and a 2019 petition to get justice for George Floyd, reaching 19 million signatures.
In the US State of Virginia, CrowdLobby’s website used, for some time, to welcome visitors with the message, “Take back your power. It’s your government, so make them listen!”. Their campaigns include increasing state-aid for low-income students in Virginia and creating economic incentives for hiring individuals affected by autism. Crowdlobby works by raising money to hire professional lobbyists (listed on their website) for one of the causes they advocate. Other US platforms operate similarly.
In Switzerland, Crowd Lobbying offers a platform where citizens can join specific initiatives by selecting one or more members of the National Council – the lower house of Switzerland’s Parliament - to whom they want to send a pre-set or custom message. Members’ names and photos are displayed together with their stated position, focusing users’ efforts only on those whose stand is sought to be influenced. Active dossiers include providing healthcare to those affected by so-called “long Covid,” the extension of voting rights to 16-year-olds, and an initiative to reduce Switzerland’s net carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
Based in Brussels, The Good Lobby is an organization whose stated purpose is to “demystify and promote lobbying as a legitimate practice of participatory democracy.” It runs a school that trains citizens, NGOs, social entrepreneurs, and companies in the art of lobbying, campaigning, and advocacy. It also promotes its own initiatives, such as advocating for a law regulating lobbying activities in Italy.
In 1982, American sociologist John Lofland described crowd-lobbying as an ‘ingenious innovation’ consisting of “circumspectly assembling large numbers of grass-roots constituencies at governmental centers.” Thirty years and several technological revolutions later, crowd-lobbying appears rather as a constructive response to the ever-increasing mistrust in our political leaders. Above all, it is a sign that today, a growing number of people not only desire to be heard but also demand to play a more active role in political life. Those who do so by ‘learning how to lobby’ – as opposed to engaging in emotional and often instrumentalized protests - have a chance to concretely contribute to determining the world’s agenda and its goals.