Thursday, June 4, 2009

Advocacy in Action

I talked a little bit about advocacy last week and since then I have been involved in a couple of advocacy trainings and even met with some of Dick Durbin's staffers yesterday in DC. So I am jazzed about advocacy. One thing I learned that I thought was really interesting and inspires me to write more letters is that it only takes ten letters from constituents (that is real letters, not the ones someone sends you to send), for a legislator to take notice. Ten letters only, I don't think there is any one of you who doesn't have ten supporters to write a letter for you and imagine if it only takes ten what 200 will do. While we were waiting for Dick Durbin's staffers yesterday I started talking to the folks who answer the phone there (at 5:00 it was ringing about once every minute or so) and it was all people who wanted to say what they thought about a specific issue. Every one of those comments gets recorded and entered into the Congressional Record. The staffers told me that they were 95% negative because people don't call unless they are angry. But hey, if you call, your opinion gets recorded and entered into the congressional record. Maybe some of you knew that, but I didn't. A former state legislator's staffer said that a big part of his job was to find good works, do them and get credit for them.

Here's the deal, I'm starting to get the message that in fact, our legislators actually care about our issues if we care, but we have to tell them we care. So, let them know about the issues that are important to you but also let them know about the excellent work you are doing with city, state or federal funding, international exchange, whatever it is. Apparently they love anecdotes, so if you have a great story...tell it to them so they can repeat it when they make your case, which is, after all, their job.


1 comment:

Nick Keenan said...

Great points, Deb. I'd like to also draw everyone's attention to some successful group arts advocacy that happened last week.. Using twitter and blogs as a coordination tool, Travis Bedard and Jim on Light organized a nation-wide advocacy campaign (that included a lot of local constituency call-ins and language-management) that successfully removed some disastrous language from a bill that would have effectively ended the lighting design trade in Texas.

One of the reasons this advocacy was so effective was that it was clearly flawed language, didn't have a lot of support to begin with, and you're right... 95% of our advocacy action happens when we're angry. But it's proof that coordinated action and working with legislators (especially when it comes to political timing) gets amazing results when we can communicate clearly as a unified group.

We have access to a lot of people in Illinois who love the arts and who will work for the arts. What the Texas advocacy experience taught me is: I think all we're missing is being on the same page, and a working grassroots infrastructure to coordinate our actions and attention on political advocacy that we can get done through clear calls to action and up-to-the-minute updates on progress.