Long time readers of the tipsheet know that the guru and her husband often go to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. If you aren’t sure what that is, check out www.nojazzfest.com. If you want to know what others are doing in New Orleans check out the webcam at Tropical Isle on Bourbon Street anytime after 6:00pm or so…
As usual, in the midst of three days of fun, frivolity and fantabulous jazz I, of course, got to thinking about advocacy. I mean, wouldn’t you? And this wasn’t just in a daiquiri-induced haze while wandering around the French Quarter. No, in fact, I was struck by the similarities between Jazz Fest and every advocacy campaign with which I’ve been ever been affiliated.
Following are five techniques you should use to get you through any advocacy campaign – or music festival for that matter.
Strategize: One does not just walk into Jazz Fest and wander around. With eleven stages offering up multiple acts, only careful planning will ensure that you’ll catch what interests you most. At Jazz Fest, this tactic applies doubly to your food options. Before the festival, my husband and I looked over the musical acts and decided what we wanted to see in about ½ hour. We spent another 3 hours drooling over the food. Jambalaya. Bread Pudding. Po Boys. Muffalettas. See, no one can eat everything. But you can eat some of everything with a good plan – and stretchy pants.
The same applies to your advocacy efforts (the strategizing, not the stretchy pants). Think of your strategy development in four stages: First, you want to outline your specific goal – usually in terms of dollars or policy outcomes. Then you want to look at the variety of ways to reach that goal. For appropriations, for example, this might include earmarks, additional line item funds or even report language directing the agency to spend more. Third, consider the competition, distractions and road blocks standing in your way, such as other worthy programs in need of funding (yes, there are a few). Finally, in light of all this information, identify your preferred path. We navigated through Jazz Fest using this four step process – I know it will work for advocacy.
Develop Themes: Themes help you develop a strategy and stick with it — even in the face of temptation. Saturday, for example, was “fried things” day in the food court. Sure, I was tempted by the chocolate dipped strawberries and the Veggie Mufaletta. But I had made a commitment to “fried things.” I wasn’t going to let “fried things” down. I stayed focused and the fried green tomatoes and fried eggplant did not disappoint. Then on Sunday I shifted my theme to “things with cheese,” thus reveling in many other delights at the festival.
Advocacy efforts can be as distracting as the Jazz Fest food courts. One moment Congress is happily focused on transportation issues – two seconds later they’re debating the War in Iraq and then the Farm Bill. It can be difficult to stay focused on your issue when 25 different and equally compelling issues are being waived in your face. Don’t be tempted! Find a theme and stick to it through thick and thin.
Improvise: On the flip side, all the strategizing and thematic development in the world won’t help you when all your best laid plans go awry. Maybe that fabulous act (or fabulous Congressman) that you were looking forward to turns out to be not that fabulous after all. Disappointed, for example, in one of the acts I went to see, I stopped by another tent and danced, bopped and shouted my way through a phenomenal show from a blues / soul / jazz artist named Ruthie Foster (really, go look her up). I had never heard of her before and would never have found her if I hadn’t improvised.
Every once in a while circumstances might dictate that you abandon all your strategies and themes and just make stuff up as you go along. Don’t like that member of Congress? Go see if you can find a new one. Aren’t pleased with how the legislation is progressing? Find new and creative ways to change it in to something you can support.
Build Coalitions: On Saturday I parked myself in front of one of the three main outdoor stages and waited for one of the acts I REALLY wanted to see later in the day – Santana. I quickly became dependent on the kindness of strangers – as they became dependent on me. See, when you’re smack dab in the middle of a throng of 10,000 people, it’s hard to get out. So we built alliances and assigned jobs. Some people had the job of foraging for beer. Some went for food. Others shared umbrellas (as shields from the sun). My job was to help coalition members map out the shortest route from our fiefdom to the outside world. Without their help, I’m not sure I could have survived 8 long hours in the 90 degree heat.
Effective advocacy campaigns rely on coalitions as well. Maybe your partners aren’t helping you get beer – but in a winning coalition everyone performs specific tasks that keep the group moving toward the mission.
And, of course, there’s persistence. Votes won’t always go your way. Legislation won’t always be introduced in a timely fashion. The food court might even run out of Spinach Artichoke casserole (hey, it happened). But every year it gets a little easier and you learn a little more. You learn to bring your mud boots with you in case it rains. You learn to buy your sweet potato pies from Mr. Williams’ pie stand on Friday because he attends church on Saturday and will not be selling pies. You learn to stuff yourself with spinach artichoke casserole as soon as you get to the festival. Armed with this information (and enough beer, sunscreen and advocate motivation) you will be able to persevere until the fat lady (or Santana) sings.