Political engagement is vital to the success of hoteliers and the hospitality industry
Advocates for the Asian American community don’t have to search their memory to find a time when grassroots political efforts paid off in a big way. Last spring, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the AAPI Victory Fund were among the groups celebrating the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden on May 20, 2021. The bill was a response to the sharp increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans amid the spread of COVID-19, which originated in China.
The legislation aimed to make resources for reporting hate crimes more accessible at the local and state levels by increasing public outreach and publishing those resources online in multiple languages. It also directed the Department of Justice to designate a point person to speed up the review of hate crimes related to COVID-19, and it authorized grants to local and state governments for programs to prevent and respond to hate crimes.
Ahead of key votes, thousands of Asian Americans contacted their representatives to share stories about the racism they’d faced and the fear they’d dealt with ever since. By attaching their faces and names to this issue, they helped to ensure the bill’s passage, according to Terry Ao Minnis, senior director of census and voting programs for Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit is dedicated to advancing “the civil and human rights for Asian Americans and to build and promote a fair and equitable society for all,” according to its website.
“That’s certainly an example of when people took the experiences they were having on the ground and related that to their legislators so we could get a bill passed to address something that was being felt very deeply in the community,” Minnis said.
“Clearly, lobbyists have a role to play, but what they can’t convey is the individual stories and impacts, and I’m a firm believer that effective advocacy requires both the hard facts and those individual stories,” she added. “That’s often what’s going to really drive home why certain issues are important.”
Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance, a Super PAC focused on mobilizing Asian American and Pacific Islanders to vote, said his group encouraged everyone on its email list to contact their representatives in support of the hate-crimes bill. But he hopes those voters stay engaged instead of just waiting for the next important bill to come up.
For hoteliers and other small-business owners, engaging with politics often can mean inviting local representatives to your property for major events such as grand openings and anniversary celebrations, and attending their local events, including fundraisers and town-hall meetings, Nikore said. Even if scheduling conflicts prevent elected officials from attending your events, an invite shows that you’re politically engaged and puts your business on their radar, he added.
Engagement, Nikore added, also means visiting Capitol Hill and state capitals with groups such as AAHOA, showing strength in numbers and educating lawmakers about issues affecting the industry.
“What really moves legislators is face-to-face contact,” he said. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to focus on long-term relationship building so that when an ask is forthcoming, it’s much more effective than just some one-off request coming out of nowhere.”
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
Small-business owners and members of associations often underestimate the impact they can have by advocating for the industry, according to Gregory Jones, chairman of the National Black Professional Lobbyists Association. As president and chief executive of The Jones Group, a Montgomery, AL-based lobbying firm, Jones works on behalf of several clients, so lawmakers “are used to seeing me,” he said.
“But when a constituent from their district comes in and talks to them, that makes a big difference because they can’t stay in office without voters,” Jones said. “That trumps lobbyists almost all the time.”
Organizations such as AAHOA regularly provide legislative and regulatory updates to its members through social media, this magazine, email campaigns, and more. They often will provide templates and talking points for letters to legislators and will help members identify their representatives. Social-media sites such as Twitter also allow voters to engage with politicians and drive awareness of policies that could affect the industry, Jones said.
“Elected officials monitor social media, especially if their name is mentioned,” he said.
Minnis, of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said a coordinated response can make a big difference in whether proposed legislation gains passage, and each individual participating in that effort bolsters the industry’s case. Don’t assume that your local representative understands all the nuances of complex bills and how they might affect hoteliers, she said. Educating legislators about what’s at stake for your small business and its employees is at the heart of effective advocacy.
“If there are 10 people saying the same thing, that’s better than nine people,” Minnis said. “It’s important for them to hear from as many people as possible.
“You have the opportunity to make a big impact,” she added. “If a voter doesn’t say anything [about an issue], then you can’t really hold the elected official accountable for it. But if you do say something, either the elected official will do the right thing and address the concerns of your community or they won’t, and then you can hold them accountable at the ballot box in the next election cycle.”
Not surprisingly, donating money to candidates’ campaigns is an important part of political engagement, Jones said. Through political action committees such as AAHOA PAC, members can pool their contributions, and experts will distribute that money where it will do the most good for the industry.
In addition, hoteliers should consider donating directly to local politicians who have stood by the industry and are receptive to its concerns, Jones said. Contributing to their campaigns typically makes sense even if these politicians don’t represent swing districts and are unlikely to be unseated, he said.
By helping good candidates build a large campaign war chest and run up the score on election day, voters can dissuade potential challengers, who may or may not be friendly to the industry, from mounting serious bids, Jones said. In some cases, candidates who truly don’t need the money may transfer it to allies in tough races, increasing their political clout.
“The more [contributions]the merrier, because campaigns cost money,” he said. “Having a good showing financially is always important to candidates.”
ONE GAME AT A TIME
Nikore, of the AAPI Victory Alliance, said hoteliers should see political engagement as an essential part of running a business. When “you’re on the front-end of that relationship-building process,” instead of reacting only when major issues arise, you’re much more likely to get a quick response from legislative staffers when you have a question or concern, he said.
All elected officials care about job creation in their districts, so hoteliers should emphasize how proposed legislation could impact their workforce, either through increased hiring or layoffs, Nikore said. Weighing in early in the legislative process may allow hoteliers and their political allies to shape legislation, augmenting its benefits or limiting its harm, he said.
That kind of subtle influence is just one of the ways that steady, consistent political engagement yields better results than a full-court press immediately before a key vote.
“It’s common sense, but you wouldn’t believe how many folks just don’t view advocacy as integral to running their business,” Nikore said. “It’s in the same category as marketing, accounting, and sales. You have to get customers in the door, and you have to build relationships with your local, state, and federal legislators. That robust approach often is the key to victory. It can’t just be one-dimensional or single-layered. It has to go beyond that.”
According to the experts, here are five easily implementable steps to take when trying to create and foster healthy relationships with your legislators.
➲ Identify your state and local representatives, obtaining office contact information for each.
➲ Regularly invite those reps to onsite happenings, such as ribbon-cuttings, groundbreakings, and events.
➲ Reach out to your representatives via email and written letters, educating them on the nuances of issues that affect your business.
➲ Begin contributing financially to the campaigns for your representatives who support small-business issues.
➲ Make a concerted effort to make in-person visits to each of your representatives.