Survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, have garnered national attention with their calls for gun control. Their efforts are a good reminder about the effectiveness of grassroots advocacy to keep tough issues front and center on the nation’s policy agenda.
Following the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people, student survivors have gained national attention for their calls for gun control and inspired other students nationwide to organize walkouts calling for stronger gun safety laws.
This youth-driven movement also exemplifies the power of grassroots advocacy and illustrates how quickly an initiative can gain momentum and mobilize people.
Ensuring that a campaign does not stall and that advocates reach their ultimate goal are two of the big challenges of grassroots advocacy. And there’s no simple formula for a winning grassroots campaign, said Kristen Prather, grassroots manager at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA).
“It all depends on what types of advocates, how much you want to grow, and what your ask is,” Prather said. “To get legislation passed, you have to get people engaged for the long run, give them information quickly, and give them ways to stay engaged.”
As part of the Hike the Hill program, the CUNA advocacy team works with its state chapters to schedule two- to three-day visits to Capitol Hill during the year. While the effort began with 15 credit union advocates from South Carolina, it now includes more than 500 advocates from nearly 30 states, Prather said.
And, with its Member Activation Program, which started in 2013, CUNA is aiming to expand its reach.
“What we were trying to do is to see how we get beyond emailing 5,000 CEOs and access that huge army of 110 million people [that credit unions represent],” said Prather. To help with this, CUNA has created educational materials to help people understand what a credit union is and how it works.
“What we found is that the more you educate a credit union member about credit unions, as well as legislative issues and regulatory issues, [the more likely] they are going to take action,” she said. Thanks to the program, CUNA’s email list of grassroots advocates has grown from around 75,000 people to just under 300,000.
For a larger ask, Prather said associations should engage their “super advocates”—”people who have taken action in emails or made phone calls on several different issues.” To educate them about the latest issue you’d like their support on, Prather suggests hosting webinars and issuing issue-specific press releases.
But how can you get new voices or young advocates—like those impassioned students now leading the way on gun issues—involved in your association’s grassroots efforts? Prather recommends that older generations remain open to ideas and refrain from “stomping on creativity” that younger people may bring to the table.
Prather said figuring out the answer to this question may be a deciding factor in the success of many modern-day grassroots campaigns: “How can you tie multiple generations together with multiple tools behind a united purpose?”