Build your policy coalition

Posted on April 12, 2017

[This is the sixth in a series of columns about best practices for state and local advocacy groups. The first five are about proactive legislation, a Resolution strategy, a 6-step multi-year advocacy program, how to meet with a lawmaker and how to build and use your volunteer base.]

Progressive advocacy groups (and legislators) are not likely to win a major battle all by themselves. Nor are they likely to do so by joining with “the usual suspects,” the group’s circle of close friends. In every instance, progressives need to broaden the coalition, seek out groups that are not often asked for help, and incorporate some unexpected partners. For example, to make a major impact, health organizations have to form alliances with faith and business groups; environmentalists have to form coalitions with business and labor organizations.

The Resolution Strategy, discussed here, offers the perfect opportunity to recruit the largest possible coalition. But whether or not you use the Resolution Strategy, to achieve a major victory, advocates must seek out support from individuals and groups that probably do not agree with you on all policies, but have reason to embrace one particular piece of legislation.

Reach out in all of these directions:

  • Groups that promote equality: pro-women, civil rights (racial and ethnic), LGBT, other identity organizations.
  • Groups that work in a specific policy area: about the environment, economics, guns, abortion, etc.
  • Labor unions and pro-worker nonprofits: especially teachers who are overwhelmingly trusted by the general public compared to almost any other profession.
  • Faith groups: Our movement doesn’t do nearly enough outreach to the faith community. Faith leaders tend to be excellent speakers and compelling spokespeople. Faith groups truly represent the “grassroots” and bring real diversity—racial, economic, religious, political—to your cause. Many denominations are quite progressive on economic and social justice issues. And the media loves political stories involving the progressive faith community, especially when the issue involves an “evil” opponent.
  • Professional associations: doctors, lawyers, psychologists—whatever is relevant to your policy—and especially nurses who are the most trusted professionals in any poll.
  • Business associations and individual businesses.

Ultimately, you want other groups and their members to persuade lawmakers to support your legislation from a different point of view than yours. They bring a different type of credibility to the debate.

For example, the most powerful allies for gun violence prevention advocates, generally, are law enforcement authorities. The most persuasive allies for green power advocates, generally, are businesses that build, operate or use green power facilities. The most important allies for teachers, when they’re explaining the negative impacts of “education reform” gimmicks on children, are probably child psychologists and the parents of children who are adversely affected.

Look at the Drug Price Affordability Coalition in Maryland, which includes health advocates, unions, professional associations, the faith community, educators, civic groups, consumer groups, and business organizations. They just passed first-in-the-nation legislation that empowers the Maryland Attorney General to file suit against prescription drug companies for price gouging. Copy their success!