Like many women in this business, I started as a volunteer. I belonged to an adoptive parent group. We had decided to “do something” about an existing law that forbade the adoption of children across religious lines.

Through our parent support network we had learned that more than a thousand children, legally free for adoption, were “stuck” in foster care. While many of these kids were considered hard to place because they were older, handicapped, mixed race, or part of a sibling group, the main stumbling block seemed to be the adoption agencies’ unwillingness to place a child in a home where the religion was different from that of the birth mother. It was against the law, we were told.

Even though we did not believe that the religious background of the birth mother should have such a disproportionate weight in placement decisions, we tried for a time to assist in recruiting families with the correct religious credentials. It soon became painfully apparent that eager families with minority, mixed, or no religious background could never even be considered for the waiting children.

If only the law could be changed!

Of course, the law could be changed! I agreed to chair the legislative committee, and was lucky on three counts. I had a good state representative who helped draft the legislation and told me what to do and when.

I had the membership list of my adoptive parent group and was able to build an enthusiastic network of folks who were willing and able to talk to their own representatives.

Finally, the organization raised money to pay for phones, postage, and child care so that some of us could spend some time at the State House.

It was frightening and frustrating moving around the State House with all those important and powerful looking people, but we kept bumping methodically from step to step. Eventually we won, and the sweetness of that victory is just as fresh today as it was in 1972. We had actually changed a bad law and enabled hundreds of children to be freed for adoption.

We felt good. And powerful!

During that effort, we were given booklets and charts usually entitled, “How a Bill Becomes Law,” describing the three reading process in Massachusetts. But, I yearned to find the real book, one with the title, “How the State House Really Works.” Such a publication would reveal the secrets I suspected were shared only by the legislators, lobbyists, and staff who seemed to be forever huddling and whispering to each other in the corridors.

Years later, after participating in thousands of corridor conferences convened by boredom and dominated by idle gossip, a fellow lobbyist told me what he had said to a staff person as they watched me walk by during that first campaign.

“What do you hear?”

“Not much.”

“Who’s that woman over there with the kids? She’s been around a lot lately.”

“Something to do with kids stuck in foster care. She’s got a bill in Ways and Means.”

“Any chance?”

“I dunno, we got some letters. With pictures! This family in the district has a houseful. My guy’s sold.”

“Do you think I could get him if I sent in some pictures of cute bankers?”

“As long as they’re not mugshots.”

I stopped looking for the “How the State House Really Works” book when I finally figured out that there were no secrets, only a long list of planning and organizing activities, all adding up to what is called a public policy campaign.

Excerpted from Chapter 1 of Lobbying on a Shoestring

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