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When advocating for policy change, be patient — but know your stuff

Ron Blount, Saleem Chapman and Felicia Bender taking questions at the March #ImpSolPHL meetup. March 10, 2016 Category: MediumMethod
Policy work can be a slog. As Saleem Chapman of the Sustainable Business Network put it, “Policy doesn’t happen overnight.”

Chapman, SBN’s policy and advocacy manager, spoke about moving mission into legislation alongside Reinvestment Fund Research Analyst Felicia Bender and Alliance Taxi Co-op founder Ron Blount at our March Impact Solutions meetup.

SALEEM CHAPMAN

SNB’s policy department began six months ago and recently had success advocating for legislation expanding incentives for sustainable businesses and B Corps in Philadelphia. Chapman also testified at a recent sustainable procurement hearing before City Council.

Advocates need to understand the circumstances of the problem they’re trying to solve before actually advocating for changes, he said. They need to connect with people who live in the affected community.

“An organization headquartered in the community is more likely to be an asset to that community,” Chapman said.

Politicians need to do that, too. To “bridge the divide” of understanding, advocates must first:

  1. Define the problem — Paint a clear picture of what the community is facing.
  2. Define success — Do the same in describing what solving the problem means.

There’s a need for a variety of roles in advocating for change, Chapman said.

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“Everyone doesn’t have to be a lobbyist,” he said. “Everyone has a role to play.” For instance, you could be supportive by being an organizer, or a media advocate — or by having his job.

RON BLOUNT

Alliance Taxi Co-op was formed in 2010 because many drivers couldn’t afford medallions, appraised at half a million dollars, according to Blount.

“How can we start coming together [to advocate for ourselves]?” Blount said the group asked.

Over the course of several years, they were told “no” numerous times by the PPA when applying for a dispatch license, which would allow the company to send its drivers — who are also its owners — onto the streets. They were finally approved in March 2015, after the group filed a discrimination lawsuit.

The co-op is made up of people of many nationalities and backgrounds who came together for this common cause, Blount said. Figuring out how to run an organization was difficult. But they overcame those difficulties by narrowing their plate of issues into a few shared by all drivers and focusing on tackling those with a vengeance.

The group has inspired similar groups in Montgomery County and Austin, according to Blount.

“The six-year struggle has given us a new pride,” he said.

FELICIA BENDER

Reinvestment Fund has both a data team and a policy solutions team — a rarity, but one that’s invaluable in helping the CDFI decide where to invest, Bender said. That data also helps politicians understand the importance of legislation proposed by the organization.

Her advice for meeting with legislators on Capitol Hill was sixfold:

  1. Highlight local projects — Keep your presentations relevant to their district.
  2. Have “Hill Day” packets — That is, folders stocked with data sheets and contact information so they have something to review after you leave.
  3. Do your homework on the staffer or legislator — Thank them for their past support on similar issues, if it’s relevant.
  4. Showcase your work — You need to show them how you’ve been successful before so they believe your work will have impact this time. “Have the story speak for itself,” Bender said.
  5. Follow up — “It’s kind of like an interview,” she said, so be sure to leave a good impression.
  6. Be respectful of their time — If you know you have 20 minutes, don’t take 30 minutes. “You want to end the meeting on your terms,” she said.

Bender also presented Reinvestment Fund’s PolicyMap, which allows users to find out who the congressperson is for the district they’re trying to get funding for.

“Overall, it really is about building sustained relationships,” Bender said. “A lot of this is just not going to happen overnight.”

Hey — April’s meetup has been replaced by our INTER/VIEW jobs and engagement fair. Unfortunately, it will not be held on Benjamin’s Desk roof. 

March meetup roof

Generocity Community Manager Mo Manklang and Reinvestment Fund’s Felicia Bender. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)

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