Florida’s student-survivors: The new face of law and lobbying in America

Florida’s student-survivors: The new face of law and lobbying in America
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Since the birth of our nation, lawmakers in the capital and in every state have accepted, and in many ways depended on, good lawyers and professional lobbyists as an important component of our unique and ever-evolving representative democracy.

Change is in the air, and out of the winter of our discontent we feel a new spring emerging. Through the efforts of citizens, and most recently our children, we are reacquainting ourselves with our inalienable rights and the power of the people.

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Lobbying is an honorable profession that can and should be practiced on behalf of the interests of all, not just the wealthy and powerful. Professional lobbyists play an important role in stimulating and shaping legislation, getting laws passed, and in capturing the imagination of our citizens around issues that either impact large groups of Americans or small groups of like-minded audiences.

 

Of late, though, we have become highly attuned to the ways new media can be employed to overcome imbalances in the ability to lobby. We have seen how people themselves can mobilize, focus attention, raise awareness and change perceptions. One only has to look at how well technology and media were leveraged by those citizens who organized to take back control of their lives through movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and Time’s Up. Like these initiatives, the Parkland Strong movement once again “woke us.”  

Against the drumbeat of today’s 24/7 news cycle, which raises social consciousness and molds attitudes around both hyper-narrow and expansive social, political and economic considerations, social media has enhanced and empowered personal and small group communications into arsenals of mass influence.

The student-survivors from Parkland, Florida, are thoughtful, well informed and impressively persuasive. They are digital natives and masters of networked communications tools, which empower them to change the dynamics that long have governed the professional management of influence. For that matter, like early American patriot soldiers outmaneuvering the rigid regimental columns of red coats, our children are revolutionizing lobbying by outflanking the impact of the establishment’s money and power to achieve or block specific policy goals. They are pushing a purpose-driven agenda that understandably is fueled by anger and frustration.

Their innate empathy and the stubborn impatience of youth propels them fearlessly to challenge the formidable defenses of the status quo and the complacency of their elders. But most of all, they aspire to make the world better. And by efficiently and effectively channeling what appears to be an abundance of intelligence and energy that seems to know no boundaries or stopping points, these students most certainly are disrupting and generating a seismic shift in the way lobbying — the way people influence our government — will be conducted during their own and their children’s lives.

The evidence of this megatrend has been building in the wake of the powerful citizen movements of the past several years. Now, the students concerned with gun violence are forcefully, naturally, with respect and civility, enlisting a vast volunteer army causing politicians, corporate leadership and average citizens to open their minds to a new form of sociopolitical and economic influence.

Overnight, the student-survivors and allies are taking on the arguably most powerful influence-brand in the nation, the NRA. Lobbyists and their sponsors should neither underestimate nor fear this student-movement. Rather, they must understand and embrace the students’ motivation, concerns and genuine commitment. The professional lobbying community certainly can learn from these youthful teachers. We all must understand what truly resonates with these impressive young people — and how and why their approach so strongly resonates with us all.

I doubt that our young Americans will stop at the guardrails or lose interest in the long, tough journey. They will not be satisfied with changing legislation around a single issue. They will continue to grow, evolve their thinking and master their skills. Many, I am sure — indeed I hope — will choose to go to law school to become more proficient in the details of how laws are made, enforced and changed in the endless pursuit of equal justice, opportunity, freedom from fear and want, and on behalf of individual expression.

Young and not so young, all of us are in a teaching moment that links generations with a mutual chance to learn from each other. While millennials and Zs have the fresh ideas and energy that are destined to extract decision-making from the smoke-filled rooms of the past and place it squarely in the sunlit arena of democracy and competing ideas, our generation owes them and their children our attention, support and the opportunity for them to perfect the skills that will help turn their dreams into the laws of our land.

Nicholas W. Allard is president, Joseph Crea Dean and professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. He serves as senior counsel in the public policy and regulation practice at Dentons, a global law firm. He worked on Capitol Hill for the late Sens. Edward Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.