by Ayelet Hines, Founder and President, Change University
You hear a lot of jargon in Washington, DC. Iterative process, diffusion strategies, theory of change… For some reason people who work in politics like these phrases instead of, say, processes that evolve over time, spreading good ideas, or how you’re going to win. You know, language normal people use.
One of the most useful expressions you’ll hear in politics is “political cover,” borrowed from the military idea of air cover, when a warplane flies overhead to blow your enemy to smithereens while you do a ground or sea maneuver. Political cover makes it safe for your potential allies to stick their necks out for you. When state or federal electeds see a show of support like a sign-on letter or city council resolution, they have the political cover to take controversial positions because they know the people back home have their backs.
Politicians at all levels of government will love you if you give them the political cover they need. That cover could come in the form of positive news coverage about your event, a newspaper editorial, a blog post on a popular local or regional blog, or an endorsement of your position by a neighborhood association, church or coalition.
Even a policymaker who is already supportive, or who should be easy to persuade, needs political cover to point to when your opposition complains. If you don’t give them political cover, it may only take one or two squeaky wheels to derail your campaign’s progress, even with otherwise supportive policymakers.
Groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns and People for the American Way are doing yeoman’s work getting support from folks back home so that state and federal policymakers can point to that support on the controversial issues of gun control and campaign finance.
Teach and learn, baby. Are you trying to influence state or federal decision-makers? If so, what are some ways local decision-makers can show their support for your cause? How have you provided policymakers with the political cover they needed to help you?