Thursday, September 27, 2007

Freedom of Text?

Last week, Verizon prohibited NARAL, a pro-choice group, from sending text messages to its customers. Even though customers had signed up for the texts, Verizon refused to send them saying that they were too controversial.

However, news reports today are showing that Verizon has changed its tune. According to a New York Times article, Verizon spokesperson Jeffery Nelson said the decision to prevent the texts was “... an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy.” He also stated that he understands texting is an important part of our political process and has “great respect for this free flow of ideas."

In a press release, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said "Let's hope Verizon has learned a lesson today: citizen participation in democracy is neither 'unsavory' nor 'controversial. '" According to the NARAL website, more than 20,000 messages were generated to Verizon in response to their initial decision to ban the texts.

As our communications stray more and more from the typical phone calls and flyers, it's important groups can stay in touch with the people who request that information. I think that was a key point: these people had specifically asked for texts from NARAL. It wasn't a spam situation.

Meanwhile, the question is: do phone companies have the right to censor messages?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Gen Y, Coming to an Advocacy Arena Near You

MTV has launched its ThinkMTV social networking site, oriented around GEneration Y's desire to make a difference in the world. The site allows users to bring attention to social issues and causes they care about. In addition, a number of tools are provided to engage other network members in advocating for their cause.

Although I don't necessarily agree 100% with some of the tools (sign a petition? please), I do think there's something here in terms of how this generation will seek to impact public policy. Advocacy organizations around the country would do well to ensure that their issues are part of the discussion.

In the future, I'd love to see MTV or other activism oriented networks, adopt some of the techniques that were discussed at a recent Internet Advocacy Roundtable discussion I attended. In an exchange between leaders in the online activism community and hill staffers, a number of really interesting ideas came to the forefront. One is a new technique of posting questions for elected officials and having other constituents vote on which questions they are most interested in having answered (a la Digg). It serves as an online petition of sorts, but ensures that the most interesting (or at least the most "voted for" questions rise to the top). Then the elected official responds to the top 3 (or 5 or whatever).

Perhaps if MTV can serve as a link between Gen Y and government -- we'll have to see what happens!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Twitter for Advocacy

OK, imagine a bill your membership cares deeply about is being considered on the floor of your state legislature or the US Congress. Now imagine that you really want to provide up-to-the minute updates on who's talking, what they're saying, what amendments are up, how the vote is going, etc.

Sure, your group could watch C-Span, but it's not always clear what's happening, especially to the lay person. What if I told you there was a quick, easy and free way to post updates as often as you want on your website using the text function on your cell phone?

I've been playing around with a service called "Twitter" on my "other blog" (Plugging In), and although I haven't seen it in use for Advocacy campaigns yet, I can see it's amazing potential. Through the site, you can set up an account and post brief (up to 140 character) messages on "what you're doing right now." OK, so most people use it to post updates on their food consumption and the rockin' band they're listening to.

But imagine using it as a continuously updating feed on your website! You're at the Capitol, your arch enemy is about to make a speech on the floor and you can let your membership know by texting a Twitter message that will post in real time on your website. Really. Pretty cool.

Let's talk about the possibilities, shall we?

Friday, September 14, 2007

What do Staff DO with all That Paper?

At a session I did early this weekfor a group of people heading up to the hill to lobby Congress, someone asked the very clever question "what do the staff people do with all the paper we leave behind?" Good question, right? Who wants to lug around reams of paper if they don't have to?

The GR staff for the group pointed out, very correctly, that Congressional staff are people, too. Some will keep it, some will throw it away, some will keep it for a short period of time then throw it away -- they're all over the map. The point was also made that many staffers these days are all about electronic versions of materials. If you store the materials in electronic version on your website, in many ways you're doing their filing for them! All they have to do is bookmark it (i.e., stick a label on it) and they're done!

My experiences as a former staff person and friend of current staff bears all this out. The more materials you have available on the web, the more your stuff will be read. Likewise, keep in mind that staff have very limited room in their cubicle space. If they can keep anything you give them, it will probably be one page. But there is infinite (or near infinite) storage space on the web -- help them keep track of all the issues by making your site as accessible and friendly as possible.

Another approach staff take? Sometimes they'll hold on to the paper you give them for a couple months -- just to see how serious you are about what you asked for. See, if you don't come back a-callin' (or a-emailin') within a couple months to follow-up on what you asked for, you probably weren't that serious. And that's when your materials are likely to be dumped in the round file.

One last tip: consider providing your very brief, very concise follow-up materials in plain old, unfancy manilla file folders. Then all staff have to do is stick the folder in their filing cabinet. Much easier to hold on to that way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Online Debates and the Over 65 Crowd

According to a recent story in Online Media Daily, surveys show that as the Presidential debate migrates to the Internet, the group most like to tune in to online debates and discussions with candidates is, surprise, surprise, the over 65 crowd.

Really! Believe it or not, older americans are flocking to the Internet as a tool to provide them with the information they need to make decisions on key issues, such as who should be president. Other groups likely to turn to the net? Middle income ($25 to $50K) wage earners, households without children, people in the South and West and minorities. Wow. I don't know about you, but those stats surprise me. I assumed it would be young, upper middle-class people most in major cities.

While traditional media such as newspapers and magazine are still the number one source of information, it's clear that the people accessing this information on the Internet isn't always who we think it is. For any Association Executive or Staffer who has thought "but our members aren't on the web", I'd encourage you to think again!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What to Eat on the Primary Trail

Besides politics, food is my favorite topic of conversation. OK, who am I kidding? I hardly ever talk about politics! You'll often find me at parties chatting about people's eating habits - You ate WHAT for breakfast?! - and sharing recipe ideas or food finds. Rarely will I venture into political territory.

So I was really excited to learn about Trailmix, a blog experiment from Jonathan Martin, who covers the presidential primaries for

"Besides politics, I also happen to really like food. Particularly, I'm fond of local joints that serve whatever the regional delicacy happens to be. So when out on the trail, I like to take advantage of the chance to chow down on, say, corn in Iowa, chowder in New Hampshire and BBQ in South Carolina."

Martin is taking tips from locals about the best places to eat on the primary trail. Yum! Count me in for this political discussion.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

We're Plugged In!

Advocacy Associates is getting plugged in this week. We joined MySpace and posted a video on YouTube.

Visit us at and be our friend!

See Advocacy Guru Stephanie Vance in action.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

They're BACK!

Yes, just when you thought it was safe, Congress has decided to return to Washington, DC and start in again on that legislating thing they like to try to do. September is always, ummm, interesting, because September 30th marks the end of the fiscal year. As such, Congress is supposed to have all the appropriations bills for the start of the FY08 completed.

As of now, they have 0 completed. Yes, that's Zero. Nadda. Nothing. (For the current status of Appropriations bills, check out the Library of Congress' Thomas website.) Everyone fully expects what's known as a continuing resolution will be passed near the deadline date (perhaps one of several). This approach will basically allow the government to function at its current rate of spending until such time as the official appropriations bills are completed.

Now, before you get to ticked off at your legislators, bear in mind that the appropriations process is NEVER EASY. Imagine in your own life having to create a budget for your household with the agreement of 535 of your friends, family and complete strangers from all around the country. The people assigned to your budget from California might, for example, think that spending money on hot tubs is important while those from Texas might want more money to go to household fuel (the oil and gas state? get it?).

Before you could start spending money, you would have to get all these people (or at least 1/2 of them) to agree on priorities. Yes, it's their job and they should be able to get it done. But remember: it's a tough job. So have a little mercy.