OK, I admit it. That was me you saw at the Barnes and Noble Georgetown on Saturday July 21st at 1:00am buying the new Harry Potter book. My husband, who went with me for the sole purpose of ensuring I wasn't mugged once in possession of said book, was extremely embarrassed. He made it clear to anyone who would listen that he was not there of his own free will. I guess he was under the Imperius curse (Potter fans, you know what I mean.) At any rate, I got my book, went home and read it cover to cover (I did have to take one nap ? hey, I'm old.
Give me a break.) For anyone out there who didn't spend all weekend reading the book (what? You have a life?), I promise there are no spoilers in this newsletter. I won't tell you anything about what happens. What I will do, though, is point out that Harry Potter is one of the most effective activists in the world ? both wizard and muggle ? because he knows how to apply five important advocacy rules.
What are they? I'm glad you asked: Rule Number One: Believe What You're Doing is Right. In the case of Harry Potter, it's pretty clear who's right and who, well, isn't. The bad guys are called "Death Eaters" for heavens sake. It's not always so clear in the advocacy world, where groups argue over the benefits of spectrum standard X versus spectrum standard Y.
Success comes, even in the case of arcane policy battles, only with a strong belief in the inherent truth of your position. Effective advocacy takes commitment and passion: if you're not feeling good about your issue, people (and, most important, elected officials) can tell. Apply the "tell it to your mother" rule to advocacy ? if you're too embarrassed to tell your mother what you're doing, it's probably not the right cause for you. As with all things, however, you do want to strike a balance. Believe in your position, while knowing that others believe as strongly in their position. Sure, they are horribly misguided ? but they need your help! Be open-minded to the possibility of compromises that may not encompass everything you support, but that move you in the right direction.
Rule Number Two: Have the Proper Allies. Harry Potter doesn't work alone. He relies on a host of others, including, of course, his good friends Ron and Hermione. Each has special skills they bring to bear in difficult circumstances. For example, situations requiring courage, loyalty and a knowledge of wizard chess fall within Ron's purview.
Hermione often finds herself in charge of research, analytical thinking and "difficult magic." Harry, of course, is in charge of all things heroic. Allies and coalitions are essential to any successful advocacy effort. Different groups bring different skills to the table ? some may have great mailing lists, others may have good PR connections and still others may have strong connections to unlikely allies (such as lawmakers on the other side of the aisle). Just as Harry Potter recognized the futility of "going it alone," so, too, should you. Remember: help comes to those who ask.
Rule Number Three: Have the Proper Tools. Nothing gets your message across like a good spell cast from a good wand. Imagine applying the "full body bind" curse to elected officials and have them, literally spell-bound, at your feet listening to every word you have to say. Once I figure that one out, I will definitely make it part of my advocacy training. In the meantime, consider other available tools for grassroots success.
You may not have a wand, but you likely have a bunch of other cool stuff. Your computer, for example, can be used to create and deliver action alerts, training materials and discussion forums ? like magic. Remember "Dumbledore's Army" from Book Six? Create your own well-trained, well-equipped "army" of grassroots network members all ready, willing and able to deliver your message at the drop of a hat. What about your board or leadership? How can you utilize their expertise and access to reach out to elected officials in a meaningful way? You wouldn't face the Dark Lord without a wand, a shield and a whole lot of friends behind you ? why would you face Congress without those tools? Rule Number Four: Persistence. J.K.
Rowling wrote seven books chronicling seven years in the life of Harry Potter. It takes seven years, on average, for legislation to make it all the way through Congress. Coincidence? I think not. Clearly, the Potter series is intended as a grand allegory for the legislative process. OK, maybe not. But important lessons can be learned from the boy wizard.
Did Harry Potter give up after his first six encounters with "He Who Shall Not Be Named?" No he most certainly did not. Now, I cannot say whether he was ultimately successful (again, don't want to spoil anything). However, I can say that in Books One through Six he certainly persevered through some difficult times ? even when he would have much rather handed the mantle of responsibility to someone else.
See, it's easy to persist when things are going well, right? But when you're up to your elbows in dark lords, misguided ministry of magic employees and disgruntled advocates, life's a little more difficult. When faced with those difficult times, think of Harry Potter ? unless your advocacy opponents are enormous snakes with venomous fangs, your battle will probably be a little easier. Rule Number Five: Luck. The success of many wizarding battles, like many advocacy campaigns, often comes down to luck.
But the really interesting thing to remember here is that wizards and muggles alike make their own luck. Harry Potter's luck stemmed from his courage and foresight (and, more often, the foresight of his good friend Hermione, who I want to be when I grow up). In the advocacy arena, luck often centers on an understanding of trends. Is it "lucky" that some groups have had success getting additional funding through emergency appropriations bills? Or did groups create their own luck by reframing their requests as responses to emergency situations? Is it "lucky" that groups supporting healthy eating are gaining more attention in the reauthorization of the Farm Bill? Or did groups create their own luck by noting the connection between healthier eating and healthier bodies? Effective advocates always ask themselves "what steps can I take today to improve my luck?" Those efforts will pay off when dark lords, or committee chairs, come a-calling.
Stephanie Vance, the Advocacy Guru, offers speeches and training sessions on effective advocacy. More information (and free resources) on her site at http://www.advocacyguru.com