What is Advocacy?
Is advocacy meeting with your elected officials? Or drawing awareness to a cause? What about coordinating a campaign? Advocacy is a general term that applies to all this and more.
Advocacy takes place on the grassroots level and the organization level. Most organizations have staff that specializes in government relations; these people develop and execute an advocacy plan specific to their organizations’ issues and work with constituents in the organizations’ networks to understand how major policy issues affect communities around the country.
While government relations professionals possess the expertise necessary to build an effective policy agenda, it is their grassroots counterparts that seal the deal. “Grassroot” and “grasstop” activists refer to people in a community who want to make a difference on behalf of an issue. These individuals are passionate about an issue because it directly affects them or a loved one, or they simply just want to make a difference. They are willing to make phone calls and legislative visits, and even to rally in order to promote an issue.
Organizations depend on these grassroots activists to propel an issue from concept to implementation. An organization’s government relations specialist will develop a policy strategy, but cannot get the job done alone. The specialists need people who are willing to take action to step up to the plate. Often this collaboration is accomplished during a Capitol Hill lobbying day. These events are typically coordinated by an organization and are held during peak times in the legislative cycle in which advocates will congregate to promote their issue and meet with their legislators.
The most effective form of lobbying is when a constituent directly affected by an issue meets with her legislator.
I have been witness to the power of advocacy from both ends of the legislative process: as a congressional aide for a member of Congress and as a registered lobbyist for a non-profit organization. As a congressional staffer, I saw advocacy organizations and constituents with various policy agendas educate members of Congress about their issues and urge support for related legislation. And later, as a federal non-profit lobbyist, I joined coalition groups and organization constituents to promote and take part in the education of an issue in order to impact legislative decision making.
The most effective form of lobbying is when a constituent directly affected by an issue meets with her legislator. Legislators work for their district, so when a constituent takes the time to share a heartfelt story and facts about the issue, it has the potential to influence a legislator, especially when support for the issue is in line with the legislator’s political agenda. Career lobbyists study the issues intently and understand how to navigate the legislative cycle, but when an individual with a personal story meets with a local, state, or federal representative, it is most impactful.
Often the mission of patient advocacy organizations is to educate so they can
effectively advocate and pave the way for greater research, better treatments, and eventually solutions.
Many non-profit organizations focused on supporting a patient community work on advocacy on a variety of levels to stay engaged and further the issues associated with their cause, such as access to care and increased research funding. They communicate with constituents around the country to learn what issues are affecting their community as well as partner with coalition groups to stay in the loop on the issues that other patient advocacy organizations are handling on a larger scale. And they may also work with companies in various capacities in order to educate different populations and spread awareness.
Over 100 million people in the United States suffer from chronic pain. However, a large portion of our society, including many lawmakers, remain unaware of exactly how chronic pain affects their communities. Often the mission of patient advocacy organizations is to educate so they can effectively advocate and pave the way for greater research, better treatments, and eventually solutions.
They regularly strategize on how best to promote patient issues on the local, state, and national levels. And they always need support and help from individual advocates. You can help spread the word about chronic pain and related legislative issues. Even if you do not have a lot of time or cannot travel, it is easy to stay involved. You can write a letter or call your legislator to share your position on an issue you care about. It is also helpful to sign up for notifications with advocacy organizations to be notified when to take action on certain issues.
For more information on advocacy initiatives or how to be involved, go to the CPC’s Pain Cooperative and check out the various organizations representing patients with chronic pain conditions.
Making a Successful Legislative Visit
- Research legislators (political affiliation, their involvement or stance on the issue, etc.).
- Prepare talking points for the meeting (issue facts, your personal story, etc.).
- Put together a packet that contains information about the issue (fact sheet, background, position paper, etc.) and your business card or contact information.
- Take notes so you can keep track of the legislators’ positions/opinions and be effective with your follow up.
- Be clear on what the meeting is about and what action you are asking the legislator to take (e.g., vote yes or no on a certain bill).
- Send a thank-you note to your legislator and/or any staff you met.