Advocacy in Divided Times

Conflicted times March 17, 2020 By: Emily Rabbitt

As political polarization grows, associations will need to think beyond national-level advocacy. According to ASAE ForesightWorks, navigating jurisdictional conflicts to promote members’ interests will be a challenge.

Increased partisanship and the resulting federal gridlock are making it difficult for many associations to advance policy at the national level. In this kind of environment, says the ASAE ForesightWorks “Shifting Terrain for Advocacy” action brief, states and cities may take the lead on policy change, so leaders may be better served by a focus on those levels of government. Insights from local members and a clear and consistent message about advocacy goals will be critical.

City- and state-level efforts may complicate advocacy work. Local, state, and federal jurisdictions will have conflicting goals on some issues, resulting in contradictory laws that affect members. Clashes between federal, state, and local lawmaking bodies are likely to affect the public in different ways (think of issues like LGBTQ rights or marijuana policy). These conflicts are likely to occur between more liberal city governments and more conservative state legislatures. According to the action brief, dozens of states have passed legislation to preempt city laws on issues including minimum wage (28 states), paid leave (23 states), and ride-sharing regulation (41 states).

Engagement at state and local levels will require different tactics than national-level advocacy. To be effective, leaders need to activate local stakeholders and resources. Expand advocacy roles for chapter-level leaders and other local members to leverage their knowledge, connections, and resources to meet advocacy goals.

City- and state-level efforts may complicate advocacy work. Local, state, and federal jurisdictions will have conflicting goals on some issues, resulting in contradictory laws that affect members.

The combination of a divisive political climate and a 24-hour news cycle means that associations, and the members and industries they represent, can come under scrutiny at any time. Leaders should not wait until an issue goes viral to craft a communications strategy. Instead, practice consistent communication of organizational values as they relate to members and to the public. Then, when situations arise, leaders can reinforce and maintain the integrity of that message as they move forward.

Associations can be an oasis of stability and a trusted voice for their members and the public in a time of uncertainty and mistrust in institutions. According to ASAE’s Power of A campaign, this is part of what associations are formed to do: “Through our ingrained ability to collaborate, we set an example for others who must come together to achieve meaningful results.” In navigating turbulent issues, leaders should remain open to exploring new avenues and new allies for advocacy.

Emily Rabbitt

Emily Rabbitt is manager, research content and knowledge resources, for the ASAE Foundation.