So What?

Calling Congress Works

March 3, 2017  • Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program

The biweekly “So What?” guide highlights advice, events, and tips – mostly from the advocacy and evaluation worlds, selected by the Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program. We’re a consulting practice at the Aspen Institute that partners with foundations, nonprofit organizations, and individual funders to help them strengthen their efforts to bring about positive change in society.

Calling Congress makes a difference

If you have spent the last few months cursing your congressional representative for lack of responsiveness, it may come as a surprise that many representatives do care. That’s according to a recent survey in which 87 percent of congressional aides claim a phone call could sway an undecided representative on an issue, and 94 percent report that an in-person meeting has some influence on lawmakers on an undecided issue. This explains the utility and recent popularity of the Indivisible guide, a partisan instruction manual for civic action. The recent outcry at town halls provides a window into how effective these in-person encounters can be.

Better chants, better chance

Two weeks ago, we reported that a more inclusive protest is a stronger protest. More research backs up the claim that a more moderate protest makes people more willing to join in and feel that the protest speaks for them. The more militant the tactics, the more isolated the protest will be.

The more militant the tactics, the more isolated the protest will be.

However, the key to any successful coalition building is, of course, the chants. Gregg Opelka, a composer and lyricist, challenges protesters to get more creative with their chants. Getting lyrical, onomatopoeic, poetic — and, he suggests, even being a little crude — can make a message stick in people’s mind.

Turning awareness into action

Advocates and policymakers often attempt to raise public awareness, about the dangers of excessive drinking, for example, or the presence  of trafficked workers in our midst. Some campaigns have created viral hits that succeeded in fundraising and awareness, such as the ALS ice bucket challengeBut, as Ann Christiano and Annie Neimand point out, awareness is useless without action. Public awareness campaigns must empower the viewer to mobilize and take steps to act on their new insights.

This post has been edited to clarify the partisan nature of the Indivisible Guide.

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