Beyond Rallies: Five Grassroots Activities That Probably Are Easier (And Just As Effective)
By Jennifer Wagner
Everyone loves the idea of a rally to support their cause: thousands of people with clever homemade signs and catchy chants filling a public space. Television cameras everywhere! Public officials listening to meaty speeches layered with compelling personal stories. It sounds amazing, right?
Thing is, rallies are hard. Even if you can pull off the scene described above, you’ll probably get a little bit of glow in exchange for a whole lot of sweat. So unless you have 100,000 parents ready to fill the streets and advocate for school choice, which would be fantastic, we’re pleased to present five outreach alternatives to spread the word and nab attention.
Convening thousands of people at the Statehouse depends on so many factors, including weather, the most unpredictable ally in many states. Getting those people to sign a petition that gets delivered to the Statehouse by a smaller group allows for the same show of force without all the variables.
You can print out the signatures and make a cool photo opportunity; I’m not all that artistically inclined, but my personal fave is a little red wagon filled to the brim with petition sheets individually tied with brightly colored ribbons. Alert the media that you’ll be delivering X number of signatures at a given time to the person or people you’re seeking to influence, and boom, you’ve got yourself some potential coverage.
Even better: Take your own video and photos of the delivery so you can create your own story to share on social media in case reporters can’t make it.
Don’t have time to gather human beings at an event or signatures for delivery, but you’ve still got something important to say? Hold a press conference. Now, we can’t guarantee that putting together 10–15 minutes of content and sending out a media advisory will actually lead to reporters showing up, but a press conference is pretty easy to plan.
Here’s the thing, though: You can’t hold a press conference every day or even every week (that’s what statements and press releases are for), so make sure you’ve got something that’s actually newsworthy to announce. Again, even if no one shows, you can still record the event and disseminate it later — and practice always makes better.
Statehouse Action Day
Closely related to the traditional rally, a Statehouse Action Day may be equally difficult to pull off but is almost certainly going to be more effective. Yes, you have to get lots of people to one central place at a given time, but instead of chanting and marching, you’ll be asking them to (and helping them) set up one-on-one meetings with their elected officials so they can share their personal stories.
If you want to include a rally or press conference, that’s icing on the cake, but our original research on state legislators shows that they care far more about what their constituents think than what they read in the media or what lobbyists tell them in the halls.
Even if you don’t have the capacity to bring hundreds of folks for a single action day, you can always gather small groups and help them connect with their elected officials face-to-face. You’d be surprised what a difference those meetings can make.
Got a lot of people who are all spread out but super-duper-active on social media? You have the makings of a Twitterstorm: a sudden spike in activity surrounding a particular topic on the popular social media platform.
Most of the time, these get started with a hashtag, and they work best when they’re pegged to a narrow window of time — think committee hearing or floor vote. You can circulate sample tweets if you’d like, but the most important thing is to make sure everyone is tagging what they’re saying so you can follow along, like and retweet their content.
Coordinated Email/Phone/Text Campaign
These can work a few different ways, but the most successful ones we’ve seen center on sharing stories — either with elected officials or with an organization that can collect and amplify them.
If you have the resources, you can pay for a tool that will help your supporters send their emails or direct their phone calls and texts to the right folks, but if you don’t, you can do it the old-fashioned way: post or link to a list of contact information or have everyone email your organization, collect the stories in a central place and then deliver them on behalf of the authors. If you’re someone who prefers convening people in person, organizing a phone bank is as easy as ordering in some pizza and setting up card tables for an evening.
The goal of grassroots outreach is twofold: motivate change and invigorate those who already believe in your cause. Rallies check the latter box, but they don’t always do much in the former category. So get creative.
Most important? Make sure you’re telling your existing supporters what you’re doing — and why — and then asking them to recruit new folks to your movement. That’s how you grow over time, after all.
Got a great outreach activity that’s not listed here? Send it our way: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Wagner is a mom, a recovering political hack and the Vice President of Communications for EdChoice, a national nonprofit that supports and promotes universal school choice.