The Power of Community Advocacy
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
US Anthropologist (1901 – 1978)
This quote has been used for many years to inspire and motivate folks to speak up and work for change. It captures the notion that one person, or one small group, can turn the ship around. But after a lifetime of working as an advocate, I’ve learned that there are some critical elements, strategies, and skills that could help the “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” enhance their likelihood of success.
First and foremost is the ability to believe that you, or your organization, can indeed make a difference. A recently published study by Independent Sector reported that a generation ago, nonprofit organizations regularly advocated for various issues. But it seems we are now much more reluctant to do so. That’s a pity because some of the greatest policy victories in the public health arena have been achieved in large part because of the passion and hard work of those in the nonprofit sector.
Think of the “tobacco wars.” In the 1960s, 40% of all Americans smoked. Then in 1964, the US Surgeon General’s Report provided a clear link between smoking and lung cancer. Thus ensued a 60-year war against Big Tobacco, fought by a host of like-minded organizations, like the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association. The result? Tobacco free restaurants, workplaces, airplanes, and government buildings. A ban on cigarette advertising. Higher taxes on tobacco. American smoking rates are down to just 11.5%. We are breathing easy!
As the prevention network prepares for upcoming legislative sessions, we can follow the example of the tobacco wars: identify like-minded groups and form coalitions, pool resources, conduct research so that you are armed with data-driven solutions. Part of that research will be to visit the websites of your state legislatures and learn about their process. Here are some links to get you started:
New Mexico www.nmlegis.gov Session begins January 15
Texas www.capitol.texas.gov No Session in 2024
Louisiana www.legis.la.gov Session begins March 11
Arkansas www.arkleg.state.ar.us Session begins January 8
In future newsletters, we will provide details on building relationships with policymakers and becoming a credible resource of data-driven information, followed by the do’s and don’ts of legislative advocacy.
Anne Roberts is a lifelong advocate for the health and well-being of children and youth, having served for 20 years as CEO for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, followed by 10 years at INTEGRIS Health as Director of Legislative Affairs. In these roles, she was a registered lobbyist and worked with state and national policymakers to advance positive changes for Oklahoma families. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Oklahoma.