Lobbying is Not About Policy

Dr. Chris Pepin-Neff
4 min readApr 5, 2021

“The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lobbying is about power, not policy. In my forthcoming book, “LGBTQ Lobbying in the United States” I argue that intersectional lobbying helps inform how we consider lobbying in Washington, D.C. For instance, intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1991) helps us understand lobbying by saying three things: That people are rendered vulnerable by systems and structures; that public policy issues cannot be solved without addressing people at the intersections of their identities; and that understanding these intersections gives us a fundamentally reconstituted view of citizen. As a result, the failure to lobby on behalf of the whole individual (the reconstituted individual) is an act of political oppression. It is from this place. The place of Dr. King, and the place of Professor Crenshaw that I approach an analysis of lobbying. And it is from here that I argue that lobbying is not about policy:

First, lobbying is about the structures that govern the distribution of power. This governing structure is cisgender, white, male, rich, not living with a disability, English-speaking, Global-North and heteronormative. It is a structure and system that is designed to deliver inequality. It relies on inequality as the means of delivering power back to the powerful. This is a system that perpetuates oppressions as a necessity to furthering heterosexual superiority.

Second, lobbying is the performance of returning power to the powerful. It is not about meetings, though meetings abound. And it involves legislation, but it is not about a bill. Lobbyists perform the function of negotiating within structural power dynamics. What we see as give and take is in fact political theatre designed to create a false narrative of compromise, in order to return power back to the powerful. Here we see that the performance of lobbying is often designed to construct a false historical record. A theatre of the politically absurd that establishes a public accounting of the policy process as a misleading and ambitious way to protect the powerful. Thus, lobbying as both performance and structure can be seen through the delivery of power.

Third, you can see the success of this system in the way it manipulates the gay movement into loving it, rather than leaving it. Some groups capitulate to this design by prioritizing market-tested political issues that score well with the public or which play well on the Hill. These groups ask for too little, too late, with too little passion, and too low a bar. They water down LGBTQ rights, like a gardener with a hose that will not turn off. These groups do this because they believe the trap of incrementalism. That political issues are like a pizza and you are allowed to have one slice at a time.

One slice is called HIV stigma, another marriage, or lesbian cancer rates, or Black trans violence, or Indigenous two-spirit rights, or youth suicide, youth homelessness, and youth despair, and youth poverty, youth food insecurity, and youth domestic abuse at home, and youth sexual assault. The big lie is that this is too much for the political system to handle.

This is the violence of incrementalism. Intersectional lives cannot and should not be dealt with piece by piece or slice by slice. To say to our brothers, sisters and non-binary family that they must wait their turn is a form of equality governance. Where less is less to the benefit of those with more. Here, waiting in line while you have cancer, or AIDS, or depression is more than tolerated, it is seen as respectable to those in power. However, anyone who asks you to wait in line for a system that is not designed to help you, that cannot help you, and will not help you, is complicit in your oppression.

This article was first published in the Washington Blade: https://issuu.com/washblade/docs/210402

Christopher Pepin-Neff holds a PhD in public policy from the University of Sydney. He is the author of the forthcoming book “LGBTQ Lobbying in the United States” from Routledge.



Dr. Chris Pepin-Neff

Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, focusing on the role of emotions in the policy process. Pronouns (they/them). Opinions are mine.