By Pamela Kondé
Executive Director, Sosne Kondé Policy Solutions, PLLC
It’s a new world of grassroots advocacy. In the first few weeks of the Trump Presidency alone, millions of Americans marched in cities all across the country, federal courts overturned a Presidential Executive Order (twice), Senators staged a filibuster to stop a Cabinet nomination (unsuccessfully), and businesses spent millions on politically-charged Super Bowl commercials.
Since then, hundreds of thousands more Americans attended protests in support of immigrants, science, climate change, and truth, among other issues. Millions posted their opposition on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites, with daily updates and creative memes. Saturday Night Live and the late-night talk shows spent significant air time parodying the President and his Administration. These actions are exciting, inspiring, and sometimes humorous, but not strategic enough to effectuate change. Education budgets, women’s reproductive health, environmental protections, undocumented immigrants, medical research funding, and health care coverage continue to be threatened by Administrative budget proposals, Congressional legislation, and regulatory action.
Activists tell frustrated Americans to #Resist, stay vigilant, and get organized. Every individual can play a role, become informed, and inspire others. While meaningful advice, it can be exhausting and overwhelming, especially in response to daily Twitter storms, civic nastiness, and a constant need to fact-check. Instead, grassroots advocacy must evolve and apply a strategic approach:
- Study the issues and define the goals;
- Learn about the players, their needs, and their perspectives;
- Evaluate which activities are most effective to persuade and incite behavioral change; and
- Adjust accordingly and don’t give up.
Marches and other political protests are an essential component of grassroots advocacy. They energize the base and they inspire “regular” Americans to act politically afterwards, which is often the most critical aspect of the march. This can increase fundraising for a valued organization like ACLU or Planned Parenthood, local political party organizing, and contacts to Congressional offices (which are at their highest point now). Such activity also keeps the issue alive in the press and social media, which helps maintain that energy and inspiration. It also provides support and political cover for elected leaders to act more fervently, such as voting against a Cabinet nominee, staging a filibuster, or in the recent case of some Governors, filing litigation against Presidential action. After President Trump issued his Executive Order banning immigrants and refugees from seven countries, synergy was created by massive protests at airports, volunteer lawyers who showed up to represent families who were blocked from entry, and State Attorneys General who submitted detailed legal briefs in opposition. This resulted in a federal court stay and a success. In addition, during that same weekend, ACLU raised over $24 million, so it will be able to sustain continued legal action on this issue or others.
But marches are not enough to sway President Trump or Congressional leaders. The President minimizes their size and impact because they bother him, but they do not prompt him to change his actions. For example, despite 3.5 million people marching across the country in the Women’s March on January 21, 2017, there is no evidence that it convinced President Trump to change a policy or withhold an Executive Order. Instead, he seemed more fired up to make changes quickly, to show that he had power and strength. Days after the Climate Change March, he announced that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord. More importantly, many Republican leaders in Congress remain unconvinced as well, as political protests simply reinforce their narrative of liberal activism.
America has survived the first 100 days of the Trump Administration. American voters and political experts alike have watched, studied, analyzed, and reacted. It is time to combine the political and personal protests with strategic, substantive action on Capitol Hill. It’s time for a plan. The #Resistance needs to focus its energy, and there is a role for everyone, regardless of political party.
You can do this. Follow our strategic approach:
- CHOOSE A LANE – BE ISSUE-ORIENTED. Each individual can choose a lane – take on ONE issue. Americans all have a passion – education, environment, immigration, terrorism, science, health care, law and order, women’s rights, the economy, teen pregnancy, or poverty, for example. It’s easier than you think. Find the top three organizations that can provide information, donate to them, and follow them on social media. Learn the positions and the relevant policy implications. Share newsworthy articles and add your now-informed opinion to persuade others to act. Ask your friends to donate to the cause, rally around a particular proposal, or oppose a negative action. Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? It raised over $115 million that summer alone, which contributed to groundbreaking research on ALS. Individual people do have power, when wielded responsibly.
- LEARN THE PLAYERS AND HELP THEM – Who are the committee chairs that control your issue? What do they want and why? Are there local governments or governors who can act to save a program or persuade someone from their same political background? State representatives and locally elected leaders are generally very accessible. Meet with them, make connections, and give local examples, based on local facts and research-based evidence they can use. All government is inherently local, right, so give your Congressional representatives some local reasons to support your issue. Most importantly, start the dialogue. Talking face to face, understanding others’ perspectives, and contributing to a genuine discussion will improve civility and give a personal touch to political leaders’ decisions.
- BE STRATEGIC – Don’t give up and go home after the march, figuratively and literally. Meet with your fellow marchers, over a kitchen table or at a local dining hole, and think about what actions are needed next. Find out how to organize voter registration campaigns nearby. In some cases, groups like Indivisible and Emily’s List have encouraged newcomers to run for office. Attend and ask informed questions of the candidates at candidates’ forums, like the ones run by the League of Women Voters. Show the candidates that their electorate is knowledgeable on the issues and that they are expected to do their homework as well. Raise money for organizations that provide needed services. Volunteer to be a mentor or tutor. Contact your faith-based organization and ask to run one inter-faith event, a casual dinner for dialogue about how both groups can work together to contribute to a strong community. Post about THAT on your social media pages.
- SUSTAIN IT – Change does not happen overnight. Grassroots advocacy must be strategically planned, effectively managed, and sustained. Marches, personal connections, and small victories inspire us, then we need to strategize, re-evaluate, and act accordingly. As Harry Potter said in the Deathly Hallows, “We plan, we get there, all hell breaks loose.” Understand that plans change, but don’t give up.
Waiting, watching, and marching defined the “beginning” of the resistance. Now it is time to move forward strategically, issue by issue, individual by individual. #ResistStrategically