8. Use a resolution strategy

Passing legislation is mostly about politics rather than policy.

Progressives can have the greatest idea, backed up by a mountain of reports and an army of experts, and get nowhere near enacting it. At the same time, our opponents often have a terrible idea, which experts and their reports overwhelmingly condemn, and yet it becomes law.

Much of the time, the problem is that our side’s grassroots and “grasstops” support is not broad or strong enough.

There is a straightforward solution that has won many major legislative battles over the past 20 years but is still underutilized. It’s a resolution strategy which, like the six-step program in Chapter 6, was devised by Vinny DeMarco. You can read more about it in The DeMarco Factor: Transforming Public Will Into Political Power by Michael Pertschuk.

A resolution strategy is based around the creation of a document (like the ones on displayed below) for organizations and individuals to endorse a specific policy before that policy is crafted into legislation. This is not a resolution that’s introduced in the state legislature, it is a statement of policy that can be adopted as a resolution by state and local civic, labor, religious, professional and advocacy groups, from the state Bar Association to a local garden club (depending on the issue, of course).

The resolution can be adopted by local city, county and town governments and endorsed by mayors, county executives, police chiefs and sheriffs. It can be adopted by colleges, hospitals and individual corporations, and endorsed by prominent doctors, lawyers, psychologists, professors, and chief executives of every kind.

These are all “grasstops” allies. Once enlisted in the cause, these organizations and leaders can mobilize their own members and supporters when the campaign needs to generate calls and letters or turn out people for demonstrations and lobby days. Many groups also have paid lobbyists on staff who can make a crucial difference when general policies become specific legislation.

It is far easier to get organizations and individuals to endorse a resolution than a bill. Many groups will never get involved in legislation but can endorse a policy direction. Many groups are justifiably wary of the crucial details of legislation but are okay with a relatively simple, freestanding statement about policy.

The point is to get as many entities as possible to endorse the resolution, especially groups that have influence with policymakers.

The process of getting groups and individuals to support the resolution activates people in a very effective manner. It makes policy advocacy accessible and understandable to individual, nonpolitical residents. It gives them something to do that is practical, achievable, and requires little technical knowledge. And once a volunteer wins a small battle to have the resolution endorsed by a relatively friendly town council or civic group, that individual is ready and eager to win the next, bigger battle. (See the Ladder of Engagement in Chapter 10.)

A resolution strategy helps you build a powerful ground-up movement. Here are a few “best practices”:

  • The resolution should be no more than one page.
  • The resolution should be thoroughly poll-tested before advocates begin using it. This is the policy that will ultimately turn into legislation. It’s better to find the best framing at the beginning instead of changing course in midstream.
  • The resolution works best when a handful of core policy groups—and funders—agree to it upfront. Stop the all-too-common intramural bickering before it starts.
  • The creation of and advocacy for the resolution, if done correctly, is an exercise in public education under IRS rules. It can be done with tax-exempt 501(c)(3) funds.

To win significant policy battles, we need to channel the beliefs and aspirations of a broad coalition of residents in a way that regular people can understand and policymakers can feel. That’s what the resolution strategy does. In the words of The DeMarco Factor, it helps transform public will into political power.