LUTU Scores a Touchdown with Citizen Lobbying Workshop

by Mike Lewis, LUTU member

With the new year comes a new Trump executive administration in command of an emboldened 241–194 majority in the House, 52–46–2 majority in the Senate, and a soon to be 5–4 majority in the Supreme Court. On the state level, 2017 begins with the GOP holding 36 of the 50 governorships and 69 of the 99 state legislative houses. Even though the last election cycle just ended, things could not be more dire for progressive grassroots mobilization in 2018.

This means there is a mountain of work to do for progressives, and one organization is on the right track. Left Up To US formed in March 2016 out of the Sanders campaign in Central Texas, where Bernie won Travis county. Left Up To US has created a niche role in the community by engaging citizens to take action and stand up for the direction they would like to see their government go. In preparation for the upcoming 85th Legislature, as well as impending progressive fights ahead, Left Up To US hosted a community workshop on January 8 on how to both register people to vote and lobby state legislators on citizens’ issues.

More than 75 Volunteer Deputy Registrars were certified by the Travis County Tax Assessor/Collector, Bruce Elfant, who is fresh off his own victory of achieving 92.3 percent voter registration this past election cycle. These activists discussed plans for deep canvassing into low-voter-registration neighborhoods, and Elfant encouraged them to set up voter registration booths across town as well.

The event finished with a discussion with Texas State Employees Union lobbyist Harrison Hiner on how to effectively influence elected officials. Hiner laid out the state’s process of filing, debating, and passing bills and gave advice on organizing to participate in public hearings and making tactical visits to state offices at the Capitol.

This workshop’s intent was to lay out the basic nuts and bolts of participating in state politics in simple, digestible terms, in many ways reminiscent of Hall of Fame NFL coach Vince Lombardi’s famous “This is a Football” speech to his ’61 team. Six months earlier, the Green Bay Packers had squandered a lead late in the fourth quarter of the NFL Championship Game, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles.

After months of dwelling on the brutal loss, players were eager for advanced instructions on how to win a championship. But on the first day of summer practice, Lombardi had something completely different in mind. He assembled the team and with five words revealed his agenda. He held out the pigskin and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

Lombardi stuck to an obsessive focus on the basics of blocking and tackling throughout the season, and his team went on to win the next season’s championship game against the New York Giants 37–0. Lombardi never lost a playoff game again.

If progressives in Texas can stick to the fundamentals of registering people to vote and showing up with more people to the polls, we can have our championship run too.