We get asked all the time: “What’s grassroots?”
We’d better have a good answer, since it’s right in our firm’s name!
Let’s start with what grassroots isn’t. There are lots of firms in state capitals that engage in what’s referred to as lobbying or direct advocacy. These firms’ clients are organized interest groups like corporations, labor unions, local governments and trade associations. Lobbyists advocate with lawmakers and other lobbyable public officials (e.g. Governors, Attorneys General, etc.) for a specific public policy or appropriation that will benefit their client. They assist in crafting and negotiating legislation, take meetings with lawmakers and staff to pursue their clients’ goals, and report back to their clients about the success of their efforts.
Grassroots advocacy, in contrast, draws upon the individuals who make up the trade associations, corporations, unions and others who hire lobbyists, to make their case for policies. Grassroots advocacy can take many forms, but what these forms all have in common is relying on everyday individuals to make the case for a policy, as opposed to the direct advocacy of hired, professional lobbyists. Frequently, these grassroots advocacy tactics are deployed in concert with a professional lobbying strategy, amplifying the effect of both approaches.
Examples of grassroots advocacy tactics include:
- Coordinated calls and emails to policy-makers
- In person direct actions, including in-district meetings with lawmakers and capitol advocacy days
- Earned media like press conferences, OpEds, letters to the editor, and rallies.
- Community organizing, including friend-to-friend recruitment, educational events, and listening sessions.
Whether deployed at the state, local, or federal level, grassroots advocacy is advocacy that is powered by people (as contrasted with institutions) and elevates the voices of community members to make a difference in public policy.
At Grassroots Midwest, our approach to grassroots advocacy is based on three propositions:
- Nothing is more effective at influencing policy-makers than a direct conversation, and
- Direct conversations are most effective in the proper context.
- Policy-makers respond to demand. The greater the demand, the more vocal those making the demands, and the more meaningful the context of those demands, the more responsive policy-makers will be.
To learn more about grassroots advocacy and the Grassroots Midwest method, explore our website, or contact a Grassroots Midwest executive to learn more.
You shouldn’t be intimidated by government and policy-makers. Just the opposite: they work for you. Like any employees, they work best when they get clear direction from the boss. That’s you. And we’re here to help.
About the author: Adrian Hemond is CEO and Co-Founder of Grassroots Midwest, Michigan’s only bipartisan advocacy firm.