Election Year Advocacy? YES, You Can!

Election 2016 is here. With votes counted in Iowa and shortly in New Hampshire, election season is upon us. It's certainly fun for political junkies, but it can often put a chill on policy making.

Still, election years hold some unique opportunities to advance a pro-planning agenda. Even if you aren't endorsing candidates, elections open up your advocacy options. Elected officials are often particularly focused on constituent ideas and input during election season. In addition, most state and federal elected officials are spending more time back in the district making them more accessible than usual.

You don't have to work on a campaign, make contributions or formally support a candidate to promote important issues and raise awareness about the value of planning. Here are some ideas for your election year advocacy plan:

Participate in town hall meetings or local debates. Most elections feature plenty of events where voters can meet and engage with candidates. A simple but effective strategy for advocacy can be to simply show up and ask questions about planning. Just making a statement or asking a question forces campaigns to consider your issue and raises the profile of planning issues.

Participate in small venue events. Often Members of Congress will hold a series of small, non-campaign meetings as way of demonstrating their openness to constituents. These “meet and greets” or “congressman on your corner” events are great opportunities to meet elected officials one-on-one in a low-key environment. These are chances for informal conversation about important planning topics and a good way to link federal policy with local projects and build a stronger relationship with your representatives in D.C.

Check platforms for local opportunities. Take a look at the issues that seem to be important to candidates. You can check their websites and watch local media coverage. You may find an opportunity to link a prominent area of interest to a campaign to a planning-related policy issue. For example, candidates talking a lot about health care may be willing to engage around the relationship of planning and health. You can use those connections to do basic outreach or more sophisticated advocacy, like site visits. Be sure to share any relevant issue papers or platforms with candidates.

Invite them. Candidates are often in search of venues to meet voters and hear local concerns. If you are having an event, you might consider whether you want to invite candidates to participate and engage with local planners or residents. Other options might include inviting both candidates for an office to write something for a newsletter, blog, or website explaining their views on planning. Just be sure to extend invitations to all candidates to avoid seeming to endorse one side.

Be social. You can engage with candidates via social media. Twitter and Facebook have opened up next ways to speak to campaigns and get your views and interests aired. Campaigns now pay close attention to social media. Consider posting about key planning issues or priorities that feel relevant to candidates and include both candidates' Twitter handles in your post.

Join APA's Advocacy Network. APA has a new, free advocacy network. You can access lots of information about effective advocacy and get involved on key issues. Sign up now at www.planning.org/advocacy.

About the Author

Jason Jordan is APA's Director of Policy and Government Affairs.

March 20, 2016

By Jason Jordan