Stanford Progressive

Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport: Lobbying For Your Interests

By Shadi Bushra, published October, 2011

Anyone who follows the Progressive on Facebook is aware that the Internet can be used for much more than sharing LolCats or wall-stalking. As myself and other members of the staff surf the web on our own time, we regularly post links to interesting articles onto the Progressive page, which then shares it with all the page’s followers. It is a very low-key way for us to keep our readers and followers informed between issues.

But beyond this information-sharing purpose, I believe the Internet and social networking in particular can provide the oil to grease the gears that rotate between our political class and everyone else. There are the politicians, and then there are the lobbyists who represent the interests of farmers, car companies,  environmentalists, financial institutions, teachers, and public employee, to name a few. As it turns out, not all of these groups are as worthy of the revulsion elicited from most when the blanket term “lobbyist” is uttered.

Part of the reason the term is so abhorred is because it makes those Americans who are not affiliated to a group with lobbying power (or at least are unaware of their affiliation) unsure where they fall in the dynamic between the state and the people. An Onion article really hit the nail on the head: “America Hires High-Powered Lobbyist to Represent Its Interests in Washington.” Sometimes only satire can get across the strangeness of reality.

The Internet can connect voters with their representatives, or with organizations that put pressure on their representatives in Washington or their state capital — those despicable and manipulative lobbying groups. For example, I receive the occasional email from,, and other progressive pressure groups.They ask me to sign a petition regarding oil company tax benefits, or Congress members looking to defund the Environmental Protection Agency, or any of a hundred other topics. If I’m interested, I sign the petition — after the first time, it only takes one click to add your signature. If I’m busy (always a relative term) or do not support that particular cause, I do not. If I can think of better ways to spend the organization’s time and money regarding that issue, I post a comment on the petition. Many even allow you to create your own petition to circulate among your friends and acquaintances — a task made simple with Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter.

That of course begs the question, “Who cares if I sign this petition?” The truth of it is that no one cares. The Senate, the House, the President, and anyone in a position to make policy could not care less about your lone signature. But when you’re one of 20,000 voters, it’s hard to look at it as a drop in the bucket. And when you’re one of 20,000 on a petition wielded by an organization with years of lobbying experience and relationships with those who do make policy, your signature becomes a powerful bargaining chip. The lobbyists will present the petition to vulnerable representatives, or those with a vested interest in the issue at hand. They are wily political operatives, just as much as their better financed counterparts in big business.

Politicians are just as much concerned with power as they are concerned about the people they ostensibly serve. It is just as much about individual egos as it is about public interests. If they are made to believe that a significant number of voters care about the issue enough to sign a petition or to call their office, they will pay attention. One does not make it very far in politics by ignoring the demands of his or her constituency.

Lobbyists will not go away any sooner than corporations, unions, and farmers will. You can pontificate on the corruption of our system, the impossibility of the common man being heard, the undue influence held by those with money or power, and drown the world in your eloquent apathy.

Or you can get politically smart and, for no money, minimal time, and negligible effort, find an organization that is willing to be in your corner. If you think you have better things to do with your time, that’s your decision. But if you’re not going to participate, then shut up. Democracy is not a spectator sport, and those who show up to play most often and most prepared are the ones who win.


  1.  martin, December 3, 2011 @ 8:17 pm

    That the question, Who cares if I sign this petition?

  2.  rebecca, December 10, 2011 @ 6:40 am

    yeah you are right, internet does provides a bridge between politicians and common people, i have seen profiles of Britain PM on google plus and yet thousands of people are following him so hoping that they can be listened

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