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Grassroots Legislative Advocacy Training: Rep. Markey Case Study

So this is the final stretch of our
training. You’ve already developed a campaign of escalating tactics to move
your legislator and we’re now just going to talk about how to implement your
campaign. And we’re going to do that by, sort of, going in-depth with the case
study that we’ve been talking about – about the campaign to move
Representative Ed Markey in Massachusetts to get him on board HR 676.
Now, in the single-payer school, we’re going to give you all of the materials
that were used during that campaign. So if you need a place to start, you can go
to that to get templates for, you know, press releases, petition language, open
letter language, whatever you need; all the materials that came out of that
campaign. Now, a bit of background for our Ed
Markey campaign… like will be the case for a lot of you, we had previously tried
to get Ed Markey on board HR 676 three years before and he had said no because
he had a particular problem with one part of the bill. He claimed that he
didn’t have an issue with single-payer health care in principle. And, in this
case, it was difficult because we actually agreed with his criticism. So
what we did was, over those three years, we worked with Representative Conyers’
office and we actually got the bill fixed to address Rep, Markey’s concerns. So
this campaign, we were coming back and saying, “All right. We’ve addressed your
concerns and now we really expect you to become a co-sponsor”. So, one takeaway here
is that you were almost always going to get from legislators some form of
push back, reasons that they give for not wanting to sign on to the bill, and it’s
going to be your job to distinguish between whether they have a substantive
reason that they’re not signing on or whether they’re just being evasive. So, having addressed what we felt was the
one substantive reason that Rep. Markey had for not signing on to the bill, we
came back with a campaign plan to get him on board as a co-sponsor. And our
campaign was pretty simple. It was four tactics, moving from a preparation tactic
through one low leverage tactic, and then escalating to two higher leverage tactics. Our preparation tactic was to draft an
open letter to the legislator providing some background to what we had already
gone through with him and asking him to sign on as a co-sponsor of HR 676. We
then collected signatures from folks. And we only collected a little over 50
signatures before we handed it in to him, but among those 50 signatures were all
of the organizations on our power map — you know, union leaders, community
organization leaders, the folks who would be known to the representative and who
we felt had a measure of power and leverage in his district.
So, one takeaway here is to really stick to your power map that you built at the
very beginning of the campaign, and each tactic that you use should either be
showing the power and the leverage you have or should be actually using that
power. So when we submitted the open letter to
the representative’s office, we actually asked for a meeting with his staff in
the district office visit – which we got – and, again, we turned out about 20
constituents to the meeting and we made sure that the folks who were in that
room reflected the organizations who were on our power map. So at the district
office meeting, the rep’s staff told us that, once again, he had a couple of
detailed issues with the bill that were holding him back from becoming a
co-sponsor. Now, you know, we responded at this point that we had already gone
through a process of trying to address any of the rep’s substantive concerns with
a bill, we had a whole good-faith process where we actually changed the bill in
response to his requests, and at this point, although we were happy to continue
working on it with him (on improving the bill), we really expected him to become a
co-sponsor. So, in this meeting, we actually told the
rep’s staff that if he hadn’t signed on to the bill as a co-sponsor by a certain
date, that we would be organizing informational pickets outside of both of
his district offices on a specific date. Now, immediately after this district
office visit, we sent out a press release to the media announcing that a campaign
was being launched in the district to try and win over Ed Markey to sign on to
HR 676. We described the meeting we had had with his district staff and that we were
going to be holding these informational pickets on a specific date and at a
specific time. Now, one takeaway here is that
legislative campaigns are much more effective than just using a single
tactic in isolation, like showing up at a town hall meeting and pressuring
the legislator with a bunch of people, specifically because of the promise of
escalation to higher and higher levels of public pressure. But for that to work,
you really have to publicly announce your campaign – the fact that you are
going to be using escalating tactics. So you need to tell this to your legislator
and you definitely need to spread the word through social media and through the press. So the day before our informational pickets, we sent out
another press release for the media to cover them and, the day of the pickets, we
showed up with about a dozen people at each district office and we armed them
with large signs so that they could hold them up and be visible to car traffic.
And lots of colorful leaflets; the leaflets were for handing out to
pedestrians, but also we put them on the car windshield of every car in the block
so that when staff walk outside of their office all they would see was, basically,
our public education campaign. The leaflets themselves asked constituents
of Rep. Markey to call his office and to urge him to become a co-sponsor of HR
676 and they maintained a very polite tone; we were supportive of the
legislator, we acknowledged all of the other important things he’s done, and his
history of support for universal health care, but that we really needed him to
become a co-sponsor and to champion single-payer health care. Before leaving
our pickets, we made sure to stick our head into the district office and we had
a quick sort of impromptu discussion with the legislative staff there. We told them about our intentions as a next step of starting a canvassing
campaign where we’re actually going to do door knocking in the district, urging
people again to call the legislator about HR 676, and this became a very
tense meeting. The staff were really, obviously, not happy with us that we had
escalated to public pressure tactics. They were starting to give a significant
pushback that we shouldn’t be using these tactics, that it wasn’t appropriate,
that we were hurting our own cause, and it’s natural for this to happen at this
stage. Now one important takeaway: when you reach this stage where things get
tense — maybe legislative staff start lecturing
you, really giving your significant pushback, trying to get you to back down from your campaign — you don’t want to develop an antagonistic relationship with the legislator’s office, engaging in back-and-forth and, sort of, of accusing one
another. Stick with your campaign of escalating
tactics and your strategy, but in your verbal communications you have to remain
polite. And my suggestion would be that, when talking with the office, to just
keep coming back to your own reasons for why you were running this campaign: that
honestly it’s too important for you and for your family, and for the folks in
your district, or your union, or the members of your organization; that real
lives are at stake and this is so important to you, that this is why you were carrying out this campaign. So what happened after our informational pickets
and our very tense meeting with staff, the next day the largest newspaper in
the district, a local newspaper, ran a front-page article covering our pickets
and also, sort of, an in-depth discussion of Medicare for All as a healthcare
alternative. And almost immediately after that, we heard from Rep. Markey’s
office that he would be signing on as a co-sponsor of HR 676. So we sent out
another press release announcing victory for our campaign and thanking
Representative Markey for becoming a champion for single-payer health care.
And our last takeaway from this is to make sure to do press work and social
media work at every stage of your public pressure campaign. So that’s the end of
our training. I’m sure you still are left with lots of
questions, and probably many of you have incredible experiences of your own that
we can learn from, so I hope that you’ll engage in the forums on the single-payer
school which you can ask questions of other folks – you’ll have a great
community on there to help one another – and I hope that you’ll share with us
your experiences and what you’ve learned from trying to move your legislators.

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