Friday, February 23, 2007

The Seven Deadly Sins of Lobby Days

My new tipsheet is up outlining the seven deadly sins of lobby days. They include non-constituency, assumption and inflexibility. Learn how to live a virtuous advocacy life (or how to absolve yourself if you have, in fact, commited these sins.)

Monday, February 19, 2007


If you're thinking that our democracy has become just a bit removed from real life, consider joining the democratic nation of Vorovoro. For $230 a year (think of it as taxes) you can become an official Vorovoran and spend time (the exact amount still being voted on) relaxing in the middle of no where (currently without any facilities whatsoever). The island, located near Fiji (which is located near Australia, in case you're wondering), is being leased by a Mali tribe to a couple of Brits who are hoping to establish an eco-friendly commune, complete with direct representation and voting rights for every resident. However, unlike what we usually might associate with tribes, their website ( has a blog, wiki, and running chat. Hmmm. Doesn't sound like any tribe I've ever heard of.

This experiment is, of course, fascination on many levels. On the democracy front, it will be interesting to see how quickly to Vorovorans become tired of having to vote on every little thing (shall we have compost toilets or pit toilets? what thread count shall the linens be in the communal living area?). OK, these may be a little esoteric, but you get the point. It's the reason why the US decided to go with a representational democracy in the first place...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Who New Parks Could Be So Interactive?

Instead of urging people to "go play outside," we might want to start urging people to "stay inside and read the National Recreation and Park Association's blog." They are offering up a real time look at their Legislative Forum (which ends tomorrow) at Really current events like the launch of the new PLAY legislation as well as their keynote addresses and other resources have been posted on the site on a daily basis. This is an exceptionally cool tool that all Associations should at least consider for their own lobby day events! And, the nice thing about this is that you can set up a blog for free at (hey, that's how we set up our blog!)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Politicians are People Too

In an attempt to take a closer (or should I say refreshing look) at the 2008 presidential race that is quickly shaping up, the Washington Post has begun a series where they will be sharing stories of the candidates from people who knew them in earlier points in their lives and careers. They started this past weekend with Senator Barack Obama. Friends from childhood through to the present day shared stories of their memories with Barry Obama. After reading about the beat up car that he cherished and his glory days as a basketball star, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how refreshing this article was. Politicians are constantly on the campaign trail and everything they say and do is perfectly calculated so we often forget that they are regular people too. This series gives us a glimpse into the lives of the politicians but even more importantly it serves as a reminder that politician are people that we can all relate to on some level even if we do not agree with their politics.

MySpace "Stock" Exchange Ticker for Presidential Candidates

Check out the new Techpresident blog, which maintains a daily count of the number of friends presidential candidates can boast on MySpace. Overall, the Democratic candidates have vastly more friends -- maybe they're just friendlier people. Obama leads the pack with 38,462. You can also access campaign sites, candidate blogs and other "techy" stuff related to the elections.

Just when you thought it was safe to get on the internet!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Really Cool Use of YouTube for Advocacy

The Parkinson's Action Network has put out a call to members to post videos expressing their support for passage of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. The alert offered up detailed instrutions for posting videos on You Tube as well as a proposed text to be personalized. Frankly, it's one of the most innovative uses of YouTube for advocacy that I've seen so far! Check it out at:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Protesting from the Safety of Your Couch

Being in Washington, DC (and being somewhat old), I remember the days before the Internet, when people actually physically drove (or flew or walked or biked) themselves down to the Capitol Mall to take part in a protest. Apparently, this is not the case anymore. While it is true that some large-scale events can garner some warm bodies (such as a recent rally on the mall in opposition to the war in Iraq), it turns out that many people prefer to participate in cyber protests.

In a recent Washington Post article (Where Have All the Protests Gone? Online), writer Jennifer Earl discusses this issue, noting that the Internet has become a powerful organizing tool for protests. Not only does it help provide logisitical support for the old fashioned approach (directions, downloading signs, providing travel information, etc.), but it has, perhaps more important, become an important new venue for registering discontent.

Advocacy organizations need to consider these new approaches when figuiring out ways for their members to participate in any type of activism. And we're talking more than just sending e-mails here. The world of online activism is filled with all kinds of social networking activities -- online activities that often lead to offline action.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Happy Budget Day

In an annual rite of February second only to Groundhog Day, today is the day the Administration delivers its multi-tome budget blueprint to Congress. The document does more than suggest spending targets – targets that are routinely ignored by Congress anyway. The budget also outlines the President’s policy goals and agenda since those programmatic assumptions are built into the budget.

Of course, this year is a far different Budget Day than in recent years. Every year I’ve been in Washington some Congressman or other calls the budget proposal “dead on arrival” but certainly with the change in congressional leadership the phrase rings truer than ever.

What’s this mean for advocacy? Plenty.

Most groups fail to keep their supporters informed until a crisis point is reached. Action alerts work best when you’ve laid a careful groundwork with advocates and they understand the issue. Begin that conversation today. Don’t just issue a press release about the budget proposal and the implications for your priorities. Talk to those folks out in the field and let them know what it means.

Next, encourage advocates to begin talking with their congressional representatives about your priorities and any budget-related issues. It’s never too early in a session to begin building that relationship and understanding between advocate and congressional staff. Most legislative battles have two components: authorization and appropriation. Many times the budget targets directly affect all the legislative action that follows. So, don’t wait to engage your grassroots.

Lastly, if you’ve got grasstops with representatives on the Budget Committee, get ‘em fired up and active.

Want to dig into the budget?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Facebook, Obama & the Future of Grassroots

Yesterday a few thousand souls turned out at George Mason University to hear Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) first political rally since announcing the formation of his presidential exploratory committee. Unremarkable you say? Well, what's interesting is that this event wasn't the product of political consultants, campaign operatives, or even the good Senator himself. According to the Washington Post, the event was organized and promoted through two groups of students who support Obama's run for the White House.

Last summer Meredith Segal was a rising junior at Bowdoin College in Maine. Her enthusiasm for Sen. Obama led to a Facebook group, Barack Obama for President (subsequently renamed "Students for Obama"). Yesterday, she took the podium in Fairfax to introduce him. Her group now counts more than 56,000 members. Another Facebook group of young people supporting his candidacy numbers a whopping 200,000. Segal and her compatriots are now working to transition from an online group to a true grassroots network with regional organizing and other networking tools (website, blog, etc.)

Young people have traditionally been considered low turnout voters largely disinterested in politics. In the grassroots world -- particularly for associations and other DC interest groups -- they are usually third class citizens. Afterthoughts. However, the times they are a changin'. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement studies voting patterns among 18 - 24 year olds. Among their findings:

The Pew Charitable Trust found that in certain targeted districts the 2006 youth vote turnout more than doubled from '02 levels. This happened in 36 congressional districts ... more than the current Democratic majority in the House.

Could it be that young people can be mobilized as a significant element of a grassroots network or campaign if we use the right tools? Most grassroots campaigns mostly ignore students and young professionals. That's a mistake. A growing pool of data suggests these may be some of the most passionate advocates ... and they usually have time and energy to be engaged. Trouble is, we can't just throw the same old grassroots tools at them and expect results.

New tools can lead not only to more participation but also the kind of participation that launches a student from a New England campus computer to sharing the stage with a high-profile presidential candidate. What I'm saying is that they don't to just want to passively belong, they want to really engage.

Technology is certainly part of the answer to turning young people into grassroots activists. But, the real trick is the work Meredith Segal is trying to figure out right now: translating online interest into offline action.