“All politics is local.” Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill said it, and everybody behaves accordingly. Right?
Wrong. Too often, our organizations save our best shots for national figures – senators, governors, POTUS – and skimp on the research, prep, and follow-through that it takes to have an impact locally. Which is, if you trust O’Neill, where it matters.
Your campaign may have a headache the size of America. But local and county decision-makers, properly “reasoned with,” can and do respond to both local and national problems.
Either they solve the problems themselves, or they hammer on decision-makers higher up the food chain to get results. The big fish then respond because they know that local politicians know the hometown, get things done for constituents, facilitate fundraising, and otherwise get them re-elected.
Here are 5 key steps to winning nationally by focusing on local advocacy:
- Research everything you can about local and county policymakers you want to influence, whether they’re elected or appointed. Have the decision-makers deliberated about your issue before? Who supported what? What's their personal experience with your issue? If it's a kids’ issue, is the decision-maker a parent? If it's an environmental issue, does this person hunt or fish or live downwind? Has there been any local press on your issue? You’ll need to go in armed with facts.
- Don't go in with guns blazing. First, ask quietly for what you want. You might actually hear a yes. Don't show up with television crews until you know that's what you need, and don't lock yourself to anyone's desk. Yet.
- As with all busy people, do as much of the work for them as possible. Provide the draft city council resolution, bill language, press release, or “Dear Colleague” letter you want the policymaker to send to her colleagues on your behalf.
- If you need a broad base of support for, for example, a sign-on letter, start with the low-hanging fruit. Save yourself a lot of time by checking out the new Salsa database of local and county elected and appointed officials. Single out the officials you know will support you, get them to sign on first, and then start dropping names every time you call a new potential signer. “I was just talking to Sen. Smith’s office, and she’s signed on, and I wanted to give you the opportunity to hear about it and sign on as well.
- Follow through and share the glory. If local decision-makers are key to winning the support of a national elected official, be sure to thank the local leaders with just as much enthusiasm as you do the big fish.
Check out the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth for an excellent case study on a local campaign that won. Because of their success in Philadelphia, the campaign kept kids from getting hammered with alcohol ads on their way to school while it generated volunteers and political pressure for a national win down the road.