“Sometimes people will ask, 'How do I get involved in politics?'. The answer is get involved in politics,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA-13) said.
Over the past few years, Rep. Boyle acknowledges that many Americans have grown more cynical that their voice doesn’t matter. As a result, Boyle’s office has utilized a number of strategies to improve his engagement on issues that matter to his constituents, including the formation of the Blue Collar Caucus after the 2016 election.
We went Behind the Desk with Rep. Boyle to learn more about his new caucus, how his office approaches constituent engagement, and how advocates can advance their issues.
Rep. Boyle founded the Blue Collar Caucus to engage with working class constituents on policy conversations he felt his party was neglecting. He had seen the issue caucus work as a model for other constituencies and issues, and knew it created an opportunity to engage blue collar voters.
“[The reasons for starting the caucus] really fit into two categories—policy and politics. First, the political reason was the 2016 presidential election got the most attention for not just the fact that Donald Trump won but the dramatic underperformance that our party did with working class constituents, working class voters.”
Boyle has led listening tours with labor and industry leaders to learn what has worked for them in adapting to the future of work and where legislators can intervene to be helpful. He noted that some of the most effective conversations have come from unexpected advocates in the blue collar space, such as tech companies.
“[If you] think you have an interesting story to tell or something that would be of interest to our members, reach out, call our office, knock on our door, we’re very open,” Boyle said. “This is supposed to be a vehicle for policy, but first and foremost for learning and listening.”
When asked what form of communication gets his attention, Boyle didn’t rank a preference, even noting that he checks his Twitter and Facebook notifications on a near daily basis to respond to constituent inquiries and comments.
His best practice when engaging with his office, no matter your medium of communication, is to personalize it.
“I always say this as a good rule of thumb, the more personal the better,” Boyle said. “A personal email is better than just signing your name to a form email.”
Boyle has had policy ideas—specifically the formation of the Blue Collar Caucus—inspired by constituent outreach, showing the value of writing an email, picking up the phone, or scheduling a meeting.
“If you’re someone who shows up to one of my town halls, if you bother to pick up the phone and call our office, that is listened to,” Boyle said.
To amplify the voice of your organization, Boyle recommends partnerships that can find solutions uniting multiple interest groups. An example of an effective partnership Boyle experienced was with a group called the BlueGreen Alliance, which focuses on policies that help both blue collar workers and improve environmentally friendly practices. With expert knowledge from both sides of a potentially contentious debate, it is easier for the member to bridge the gap between competing priorities.
“A lot of organizations today, you’re seeing a split between traditional labor interests and environmental interests,” Boyle said. “How we can bridge that moving forward and make it a win win for everybody, recognizing the importance of climate change and the importance of being environmentally sensitive yet at the same time people need to have good jobs and put food on the table and trying to figure out ways that these don’t end up being a false choice.”
When calling on advocates to take action or get involved, there are many mediums in which they can do so. Look to what kinds of actions your advocates are most likely to take and which members you should be focusing your activity, rather than concentrating on what mediums are most likely to reach a member’s desk.