Two recent advocacy victories this week by PETA and my former colleagues at Defenders of Wildlife are a great reminder of a little practiced truth: organizations are seeing greater (and often easier) success in leveraging online advocacy to change policy at the state and local level.
I, personally, have a renewed interest in local issues after losing my power over four times in the last year. If I want to see someone hold my power company’s feet to the fire, it’s going to be local and state officials who make that happen– not my US Representative or Senators.
Just as with national advocacy, that local policy campaign will need some online/offline synergy to succeed. So, it’s still going to be necessary for activists to step away from their computers. But, grassroots organizing becomes a little easier when asking activists to do that at the local level. US Representatives spend most of their time thousands of miles away from their constituents in Washington, DC and have a long line of lobbyists and constituents jockeying for their time. They also represent hundreds of thousands of constituents and are often overwhelmed by the constant influx of inbound constituent communications.
In comparison, local officials are much more accessible and, for many constituents, reaching out to them is less intimidating. For organizers, identifying your grasstops, or influencers, has become a cinch in the world of social networking. All you have to do now is check out how many of your Facebook fans or Linked In connections are also connected to a councilmember that you are trying to target. Opportunities for your constituents to connect with local officials face-to-face are also much more plentiful than with national officials. Whether it’s on their Facebook fan page, at a neighborhood event, at public hearings, or even in line at the grocery store, your constituents have a lot more access to their local officials.
In fact, right after our major four-day power outage last summer, I only had to walk a couple blocks to the “National Night Out” event in my neighborhood park to bump into Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. It was the perfect opportunity for me to let him know how I felt about Pepco’s performance and ask him what he planned to do about it. As you can see in the picture, I also made sure that my 1-year old daughter shared her thoughts with our elected officials.
Unfortunately, I’m not yet able to point to a Pepco campaign as an example of advocacy success (I’m actually still trying to find a citizen group that is working on this). However, one of my favorite examples of successful local advocacy is the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) annual campaign to protect funding for the Bronx Zoo. The efficacy of advocacy has been debated a lot over the past year and this is one great example of how an organization is using advocacy for all the right reasons and with a great outcome. Year after year WCS runs successful budget campaigns and the outcome is not just a protected budget, but also a growing list of committed supporters who want to support an organization that knows how to win a legislative campaign.
The WCS success story is one of hundreds that happen each year. Share your advocacy success stories here in our comments section or if you are DC for the Nonprofit Technology Conference, stop by my session on March 18th.