Raucous pop-up and planned weekly public demonstrations, jam-packed town hall meetings, and millions of donations, emails, phone calls, social media posts, editorials and petitions have all been commonplace with the new administration and the 115th Congress.
Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, and issue advocates have all aggressively been tapping the new wave of grassroots capacity. Once thought to be an optional tactic, grassroots is an essential component to any overall government relations and advocacy communications strategy.
Grassroots advocacy itself has the power to sway hearts and minds of elected officials, regulators and the media, tapping into public sentiment to feed itself and refresh its ranks with new activists that are unafraid to participate and anxious to contribute both in time and treasure to a cause in which they believe.
Following an election that dominated the 24/7 news cycle and political/policy news continuing to garner headline after headline, the overall political efficacy of the nation has increased. Demographic groups that have otherwise taken a sideline approach to political activism are now on the frontline trying to enact political change or halting the agenda of the administration and Republican-controlled Congress.
Many of the unanticipated Trump voters in swing states continue to support the 45th president of the United States and new coalitions of liberal activists have been bolstered by the shock of the electoral outcome and all that has come with it. Whether you support or oppose a particular side of an issue or agenda, all organizations have the opportunity to cultivate new relationships and build significant grassroots capacity.
A recent study by the Congressional Management Foundation found that, “Direct constituent interactions have more influence on lawmakers’ decisions than other advocacy strategies.” The same study from CMF also notes that 79 percent of the Congressional staff surveyed believe that personal stories from constituents related to a bill or issue are helpful in shaping their opinions on issues. Personal, local, and direct constituent grassroots advocacy contact towards members of Congress and staff have been proven to be effective time and time again.
Americans of all demographics are more poised now than ever to take action and to get involved at all levels of government. Associations, non-profits, coalitions, consultants, think-tanks and others involved in the political and policy process are now tasked with harnessing this grassroots capacity. They must help develop meaningful outlets to exert this collective influence and creative strategies to maximize their effectiveness.
Can this level of activity by average citizens being a part of the political process be sustained and channeled towards electoral outcomes? Is post-election grassroots activism as important or more important than grassroots groups coming out at the ballot-box? Is the right, left, or center better positioned to activate their grassroots capacity to measurably affect the political process? Where does grassroots advocacy fit into a holistic government relations strategy? These questions remain for many in the working political class across organizations, associations, and political designations.
The influx of grassroots action may well establish a truism that has long been discussed, but never fully confirmed, that an advocate is more likely to be a donor and involved in other parts of the organization. If this connection is vetted and fully accredited, the role of grassroots advocacy will be further substantiated and the role within an organization will be expanded. The acquisition and activation of people willing to take a role in the political process would not be limited to that sole role. This is certainly an area where research is needed to establish a positive correlation.
The public emphasis on grassroots involvement makes research like this probable along with innovation in creative communication techniques, technology, and new mediums to channel grassroots involvement. Associations, membership organizations, and issue advocacy groups are incubators for developing these new formats and forums for coalescing political activism.
While this new citizen engagement is at a fever pitch, grassroots professionals and government relations professionals must find ways to build it and learn how to measure it so our First Amendment right to petition the government is maximized and democracy wins.
Mike Fulton directs the Washington office of the Asher Agency and teaches public affairs in West Virginia University's Integrated Marketing Communications program.
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