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How to Keep Advocating When Your Policy Stance Loses Steam

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s position in favor of getting rid of daylight saving time suddenly became on the outs after the Senate passed a bill making DST permanent. Here’s how the organization is adjusting—and what you can learn.

Congress works in unusual ways, to the point where an issue your organization might be closely following can shift seemingly out of nowhere, leaving you in response mode.

That was the position the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) found itself in when something it had long advocated for—a move away from the daylight saving time switchover—passed in the Senate. However, the bill would make daylight saving time permanent, rather than a reversion to permanent standard time, which is what the organization had been advocating.

“It was really a sudden thing, and there wasn’t really much discussion at all,” said Melissa Clark, AASM’s director of advocacy and public awareness.

Clark noted that the organization (which supports the Senate bill’s movement away from time shifts in general) had put in a significant amount of work to support permanent standard time. It had developed research-based policy in favor of its position, including a 2020 statement, arguing that daylight saving time goes against natural sleep patterns.

“The light/dark cycle is key in circadian entrainment,” the paper stated.

Upon the passage of the bill in the Senate, AASM revisited that position paper. While the organization stood behind its prior research, Clark said the association faced a policy-driven challenge: “Is this something that we want to put a lot of effort behind, knowing the battle that we might face there?”

According to Clark, the organization decided that, with other priorities in mind, it was still worth fighting for, and the association is going to continue to emphasize its effort in the House, where the bill is still up for debate. AASM is putting a lot of work into being a resource on the broader discussion around time changes, with the goal of ensuring that the House makes an informed decision.

“It is going to be an uphill climb. But now the science is on our side—standard time’s better,” she said.

Tips for Associations

It’s not unheard of for associations to be on the less-popular side of a debate like this, but there’s still plenty of room for them to promote their positions. Clark noted that associations in a similar position with advocacy have a lot of options even after a setback. Her advice:

  • Determine whether it’s worthwhile. If you’re on the losing side of a political debate, it can be a lot of work to climb that hill once again. Clark suggested taking a step back to assess if it’s worth leaning into. “The first main thing is to determine if you’re willing to put that work in, willing to prioritize that above or in line with other things that are high priority for the organization,” she said.
  • Know your expertise, as well as the counterpoints to your arguments. Clark said that despite AASM’s stance on standard time, other groups have valid concerns on this issue, and it’s important to know what those are so you can properly discuss them. In regard to the daylight saving battle, she noted that “it’s a complex issue that has economics and issues with schooling, and there’s a lot of different things that go into it, but we’re really the experts on the science and medical side.”
  • Make friends. AASM is one of many organizations speaking out in favor of standard time. The group has taken time to connect with other stakeholders on the same side of the issue, which will help amplify AASM’s position within the discussion—as well as that of allies. “Having more people on your side that can speak to the issue and that are behind the same endpoint will always be helpful as you’re going forward,” she said.
  • Keep the issue in the public eye. After a notable development is prime time to do interviews and other types of public outreach, as public interest is likely to wane once again. Clark noted that AASM used the bill passage in the Senate as a messaging opportunity. “We weren’t anticipating that the Senate was going to pass the bill, but when they did, we immediately jumped on the opportunity to speak about it to address it from our standpoint, to kind of keep it in the conversation,” she said.

One other important tip: Do your homework ahead of time. Part of the reason AASM was able to jump into the discussion when the bill was passed was because it had laid the groundwork in 2020, when it built its position paper and found other organizations aligned with its stance. Upon the passage of the bill in the Senate, it was able to lean into those factors to keep the discussion going.

“It’s really important to have those relationships built so that when something like this does happen, you can band together to address it as a coalition,” she said.

(nambitomo/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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