What does it look like to create a movement? At Ecumenical Advocacy Days March 23-26, hundreds of Christians gathered to raise their voices for a faithful federal budget — and to learn how to do so effectively.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the education and lobbying effort tackled the theme of “Is This the Fast I Seek? Economy, Livelihood and Our National Priorities.”
Led by Meredith Dodson, director of U.S. poverty campaigns for the anti-poverty lobby group RESULTS, participants learned how to make the best use of candidate forums and town hall meetings.
First up: the who. Faith groups should work with other groups for a common mission. For example, a church concerned with environmental issues could work with a sportsman’s club to help protect the environment.
“Thinking outside the box can actually strengthen what you’re trying to do with that policymaker,” Dodsaon said. “Being able to demonstrate a broad base of support will have a huge impact.”
It’s also important to include the voices of those directly impacted by the program you’re lobbying for, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Next is the what. Make sure to ask representatives to do things that actually make a difference, Dodson said. Bringing petitions to meetings is kind of a waste of time to bring to a meeting; instead, ask the policymaker to co-author an op-ed or co-sponsor an event.
“Spend your time with the things that make a difference,” she said.
How to be an effective advocate?
“Be in touch with what inspires you,” Dodson said. “You are going to be most effective when you’re really fired up yourself.”
Advocates should be able to articulate in one sentence the reason they’re passionate about an issue. Share personal experiences from childhood or mission trips. The “why” doesn’t need to be philosophical — it needs to be shared clearly with others.
When you’re able to state your reasons for being involved, it’s easier to bring in others to your cause. Invite people to come to events with you — Dodson recommended asking them to bring a dish or supplies so they have a responsibility and are more likely to show up. Talk to people about how a policy affects them personally. Give them specific suggestions on how to get involved. Follow up with them and build relationships.
“Sending out emails does not build a movement. Posting on your Facebook page does not build a movement,” Dodson said. “What builds a movement is direct conversations with another person about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how they can do it with you.”