The months leading up to a Presidential race are always rife with controversy and scandal. A little financial frivolousness here, a little sexual harassment there … there always seems to be plenty to go around. If there is one lesson a person running for public office learns quickly, it’s that your past can come back to haunt you.
Well, the same goes for any grassroots advocacy campaign. Like any business’ or individual’s venture to gain support from the masses, it’s extremely important to maintain a clean track record. And for those of you thinking that a little controversy can be good because it equals free publicity, cut it out. That may work for celebrities, but it will not advance your advocacy initiatives.
Take ACORN for example. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now was one of the largest anti-poverty groups in the nation (until it filed for bankruptcy last year), working to improve working and living conditions for low-income Americans since 1970. While they achieved many victories at the local, state, and national levels, that is unfortunately not the first thing that comes to mind for the average American. Instead, the first words that pop up are usually “voter registration fraud,” which ACORN was accused of during the 2008 Presidential campaign. The aftermath that occurred as a result of this controversy inevitably contributed to their downfall.
Now this is an extreme case—it received so much media attention because it was wrapped around the Presidential race. But it’s still an important lesson for any grassroots organization, no matter the size and scale. A scandal may not mean bankruptcy is in your future, but it could cause you to lose supporters and diminish your ability to create policy change. If you stay true to your cause and never waiver from your morals, you can build and maintain a truly strong movement.
Okay, I know that last part was a little cheesy and fortune cookie-ish … but it’s true!