[AAACE-NLA] Why what works works?
Bickerton, Robert P
RBickerton at doe.mass.edu
Fri Sep 8 08:58:06 EDT 2006
I have found that what turns out to be successful advocacy (tactics) is very
highly dependent on:
(a) who is doing the advocacy and
(b) whether the goal of such advocacy contributes to something the elected
official(s) already wants.
With regard to "who" I am referring to whether the interested party has
actual/intrinsic or is perceived to have power. In most cases this is
directly related to the amount of money the advocate(s) control. We all
know that applying this money to donations goes a long way, however, it's
not always necessary. Power often gravitates to power so even without a
donation, wealth can generate a response, perhaps because of the networking
potential or perhaps simply because they're already speaking the same
language. Access to position(s) that can deliver in some manner that may be
valuable to the elected official confers similar advantages. For them, the
tactics of a few letters and/or some on or off the record conversations may
be all that's necessary. I know that I'm articulating the obvious here, but
my point is that the tactics that will be successful for those possessing
power/wealth/position are quite different from the tactics that must be used
by those without such advantages.
For those without power/wealth/position successful tactics must include
creating the perception of power. The challenge lies in the fact that any
seasoned elected official has learned to withstand a flurry of activity --
they've seen them come and go without a price having to be paid for a non
response. So even a relatively large number of phone calls and/or letters
on an issue may elicit little response even if the case is compelling --
unless, of course, you figure out how to pitch (or get lucky with) the
message such that it contributes in a compelling way to what the elected
official already highly values/wants; we've had "champions" emerge from
"hits." I stress "highly" because I've found that a well crafted message
about the work we do and the students we serve will touch the hearts (and,
perhaps, minds) of the majority of elected officials. The problem is, they
understand that unless they are in a key leadership position, they have to
focus their efforts on their top 2 or 3 priorities in order to succeed.
Being number 10 or 15 on their list is nice, but it doesn't translate into
any meaningful action.
So what tactics WILL WORK for an overwhelmingly poor and disenfranchised
constituency? Well, first, make sure elected officials understand
undereducated and limited English proficient adults are, in fact, a
constituency -- and a constituency that's well organized and prepared to
act. Second, the actions need to be tenacious over time, i.e., they must
overcome the "flurry of activity" approach. Use both volume AND personal
contacts over time to stay in their field of view; they need to really know
who you are and that you're never going away. Third, research each and
every elected official you intend to approach and make sure that at least
part of your message is specifically targeted to their background and if
possible, to issues/interests that are at the top of their priority list.
Fourth, don't be shy or too round about in getting to precisely what you
want them to do; educators and those without power are often too reserved
and polite about their agenda for this kind of work. Fifth, keep contacting
them even when you don't have a specific "ask" -- in fact, if you have an
opportunity to thank them for something they did you consider beneficial,
whether it's about adult ed or not -- or, connect them with or even invent
opportunities where they can market themselves -- speaking at a fundraiser,
a graduation, an issues forum, etc -- they value face time and you need to
as well -- it keeps you in their field of view as a constituency that
shouldn't (can't !?!) be overlooked. Sixth, don't engage in wishful
thinking -- a kind or supportive word from an elected official can work
wonders -- and get them off the hook with regard to what you need them to do
-- push below the first/surface response. Seventh, bring in other
interested partners who can advocate on adult ed's behalf without coming
across as personally self-interested -- which is how people collecting
paychecks (almost no matter how small) are often perceived. Eighth, and
perhaps most important, we need an ADVOCACY SYSTEM so that these aren't
individual or program specific actions, but are broad based, highly
organized, and self reinforcing so tenacity over time be sustained. As such
systems mature, new dimensions can emerge -- such as a feedback mechanism so
the advocacy campaign leadership can more accurately assess the officials
position. On the other hand, a maturing advocacy system can also get
worn/burned out if it isn't successful in drawing new people/energy into the
work, including at the coordinating/leadership levels. This later dynamic
can erode the advocacy efforts ability to sufficiently tenacious over time.
Ninth, timing is important. Take a look at the immigrant advocacy efforts
over the past several months. The leadership attempted to follow up a very
powerful turnout a few months ago (when Congress was actively debating the
issue) with another rally in D.C. this week (while it's pushed off the
active agenda). The anemic turnout will probably prove more harmful to the
actual and perceived momentum from the first actions than if no
demonstration had been held at all this week.
I've just re-read my preceding paragraph. My apologies for it being so
wordy and for being so daunting in the demands it places on adult educators.
But I was a community organizer before I dedicated my life to education and
I've always believed that if we really care about poor and disenfranchised
adults and families taking control of their lives (at least in part through
education), then we cannot afford the luxury of ONLY being educators -- we
must accept that a major portion of our job is advocacy. Convincing every
adult educator that this is an essential part of our work will be the final
component for successful advocacy I'll post today.
bob bickerton, MA
From: aaace-nla-bounces at lists.literacytent.org
[mailto:aaace-nla-bounces at lists.literacytent.org]On Behalf Of Andrea
Sent: Thursday, September 07, 2006 3:26 PM
To: National Literacy Advocacy List sponsored by AAACE
Subject: [AAACE-NLA] Why what works works?
In advocacy--does anyone know why what seems to work does actually
work? I mean letters to reps, or any other technique that makes people
pay attention or cough up money.
Is it a plea to conscience?
is it attention to voter requests?
Who knows? What evidence?
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