Using Constituent Advocacy for Grassroots
But not all grassroots activity is created equal.
A certain kind, constituent advocacy, where local voters raise their concerns directly to decision-makers, is potentially the most effective of all.
It’s been on the rise at town halls, local councils, and even some lawmakers’ district offices all across the country. And some groups, particularly those feeling threatened by the White House or Congress’ initiatives, are using employees as their grassroots base.
The science and environmental protection community particularly, has seen a big uptick in activist activity since Trump’s election, particularly with the moves the new administration has made toward shifting the priorities of the Environmental Protection Agency.
But even before Trump’s election, environmental groups knew the power of grassroots advocacy and have been putting it to good use for years. Connectivity spoke with several leaders in this movement to garner tips from their grassroots success.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), in Cambridge, Mass., has 20,000 scientists in its network, along with half a million grassroots advocates, according to Danielle Fox, manager of the campaign and science network at UCS. The group combines technical analysis and advocacy “to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future,” which the group now feels is threatened by many of the regulatory proposals and bills under the new administration. “It’s an all-hands-on deck situation,” Fox says. Her advice for effective advocacy include:
Put a local public spotlight on what’s really at stake. “Oftentimes, the activities that happen on the Hill and in federal agencies—regardless of what impacts they have on our everyday lives—can feel far away or not something we need to follow,” Fox says. “But, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
UCS uses all local opportunities, including newspapers and news stations, public education events and legislators’ public forums to inform families and local citizens about how activities in the administration and on Capitol Hill can affect their lives, Fox says. “Get the story out there and raise the political cost for any elected officials who aren’t accountable to their constituency’s safety and wellbeing.”
Partner with other organizations. UCS has found that partnering with other like-minded advocacy groups can up your impact. UCS has partnered with the Science Network to bring activities, tools and trainings to teach and motivate their grassroots base. “When groups work together, they are best situated to make real change,” she says.
Give grassroots advocates easy ways to get involved with online links. UCS has set up a website where advocates can “thank a scientist,” as part of a campaign to support federal science and environmental agencies. Grassroots supporters can easily post comments to Facebook and Twitter with just one click. In a similar manner, UCS has developed a website that hand-holds grassroots constituents on how to write a letter to the editor, complete with one-click resources for finding the right publication for submission. OCS has a similar website to help with calling elected officials. The group also has a website to register grassroots advocates for activity and a toolkit for helping them get involved at the local level.
Natasha Leger, interim executive director for Citizens for a Healthy Community, in Paonia, Colorado, is comprised of 500 local citizens who have effectively defended against the oil and gas industry’s hydrolic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas in their region. In 2012 and 2013, when the Bureau of Land Management proposed opening up 50,000 acres for fracking near Paonia’s farms and schools, “the community erupted,” Leger says. BLM received 3,000 complaint letters as a result of CHC’s efforts. “Don’t believe something can’t be done because you are a small group,” she says.
Think outside the box. Data is important because it can be used to provide a visual image of a situation to lawmakers, Leger says. CHC wanted to have benchmark data to show how clean their air is, before it was threatened by fracking. Without the ability to prove what was in jeopardy, it would be difficult to defend. Most groups might feel they can’t afford a scientific study. But, CHC didn’t count themselves out. For $30,000—acquired through grants–CHC put air quality monitors on volunteer activists to gather data “at the breathing zone,” she said.
The Sierra Club has added nearly half a million new members and supporters since Trump’s election, according to Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. This is good news for Sierra Club because, “grassroots advocacy is the most important tool in our toolbox,” she says. “It’s the number one secret to our success.” In Sierra Club’s case, most battles over energy consumption are fought at the local level, and for that, it takes sustained grassroots campaigns over long periods of time.
Since 2010, through grassroots efforts, the Sierra Club has been responsible for closing 248 coal plants in the U.S. and is effectively campaigning to have them replaced with clean wind and solar energy, according to the Sierra Club. The organization is also a sponsor of the People’s Climate March on April 29, in Washington, DC.
Allow people to work locally to affect a national or worldwide cause and it will empower them. People want to act locally and see it connected to a bigger campaign. “That’s very motivating to people,” she says. That also helps with breaking down a giant goal –like climate protection – into smaller achievable goals. The victories feed more victories. “Once people understand their own agency and the ability to make change, there’s no going back,” Hitt says. “In our case, we’re not just changing how we make electricity, we’re changing the political landscape.”