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People-First On and Offline: How Advocates Build Lasting Change

Over the past year, advocates across the country have cried out for bold progressive change. Advocates working for gender equity, racial justice, fair wages, climate justice and voting rights swept the nation with a progressive agenda. Driven by dedicated community organizers, there was record voter turnout across the nation, which marked a turning point for advocates, bringing new hope that a more equitable future is on the horizon, though many challenges still persist.

As the Biden administration surpasses its 100-day marker, we are seeing bold, progressive change on the federal and state level. The 2020 election, powered by passionate community leaders across the country, did the work to ensure more people had a say in our country’s future, creating an undeniable force of advocates. We need to keep that momentum to push for bold equitable change on the state and federal level. How can we take the lessons learned from seasoned advocates, organizers and communicators to sharpen our communication strategies to be thoughtful, powerful and spark change in communities across the country? To start, let’s look to progressive wins in just over 100 days.

On the federal level, movement leaders have pushed President Biden to deliver legislation that centers on overdue economic justice, climate justice and racial justice through the passage of the American Rescue Plan, rejoining the Paris Agreement and issuing an executive order advancing racial equity.

On the state level, movement leaders and groups were pivotal in abolishing the death penalty, restoring voting rights of returning citizens and legalizing marijuana in Virginia this coming July. Advocates focused their efforts on activating policymakers and engaged community members as messengers to share the impact that these policies would have on youth in Virginia, their communities and the Commonwealth as a whole. These advocates used their expertise in criminal justice reform, paired with strategic advocacy to create a sense of urgency among Virginia state legislators that now is the time to be bold in pursuit of criminal justice reform.

The momentum of the progressive movement is strong – but how do we as communicators highlight wins, and continue to go after bold change? I’m sharing some best practices that have helped communicators create a consistent stream of social justice wins on the state and federal level through strategic communication.


1. Connect people to policy.

Politics and policy are personal. As communicators, we know that storytelling is critical to connecting people to policy, and ultimately, helping create and inspire advocates. Advocating for legislative change through storytelling helps people understand the issue in the context of the community, which can help shape, strengthen or challenge perspectives. Telling personal stories and connecting through shared values helps appeal to people’s emotions. This approach serves as a constant reminder to decision-makers at every level that policy has real-world implications for individuals, families and communities. Without these stories, the weight of policy decisions could quickly get lost in the political sphere. 


2. Advocates can be the most powerful messengers.

Communicators are centering activists in their strategies, recognizing the power of their voices. When one community activist has the tools needed to effectively communicate for a cause in-person or online, it unlocks the potential for a new circle of activism. This messenger is already viewed as credible and trustworthy to their social circle – hurdling over one of the largest barriers advocacy organizations have to face.

To build lasting impact, it is critical that communicators work hand-in-hand with local advocates and those who are directly impacted by the issue and legislative decisions. When doing this, communicators need to ensure this partnership is built on shared trust and respect that centers community members’ voices. As a communicator, this investment in community members will help you develop authentic messaging, meet your audiences where they are, and best support the communities that are driving change.


3. Recognize and leverage the power of being online.

Overnight, in-person organizing came to a halt and had to shift to meet community needs virtually because of the pandemic. In March 2020, this left many organizers scrambling to figure out how to run digital-driven programs that will clearly communicate their goals, gain community support, and engage supporters to become activists in their movement. We saw organizers getting creative online, leaning into going live on Instagram, engaging with supporters on Twitter, prioritizing digital content, and even launching new communications maps to engage with volunteers.

By meeting people where they are online, communicators have been able to activate new supporters and advocates that they might not have been able to reach before. This means that communicators need to stay informed on how different demographics spend their time online, and how to best reach their audiences. Our friends at Leaders Igniting Transformation were able to connect with their audience and explain their mission in this IGTV and encourage their followers to get involved with their work. This approach helps create a community online that yields real-world action.


Leaders Igniting Transformation IGTV Post


In just over 100 days of the Biden administration, there have been promising advances toward creating a more fair and equitable world – but there is still lots of work that needs to be done. As we surpass the 100-day milestone, let’s remind ourselves of the progress we made and reflect on how we can continue to refine our communication strategy to build lasting movements for social change.

This entry was posted on Friday, April 30, 2021 at 12:31 pm and is filed under Digital strategy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.