(The third in a four-part stream on arts advocacy resources)
A SNAPSHOT OF SUCCESSFUL ADVOCACY
In 2009 a small group of community/arts education advocates, led by a local arts consultant named Victoria Saunders, in San Diego successfully appealed to their school board to save their visual and performing arts department from elimination in a round of aggressive cost cutting. It’s a great case-study in organization, mobilization and civic agency—meaning our capacity to act cooperatively and collectively on common problems across our differences of view.
For the whole story, read Saunder’s “How I led a Small Group of Citizens to a 4-1 School Board Victory.”
Their victory was successful because they were able to:
NAVIGATE BUREAUCRACY, STRATEGIZE & DISTILL THE FACTS
They went to the school board website, found out about upcoming meetings, studied the budget.
SYNTHESIZING FACTS AND GAUGE POTENTIAL IMPACT OF CUTS
Asking the right questions: what does this mean? How many teachers are we talking about? How many programs? What is the ultimate impact of that cut? Asking the right questions of administration helped them understand the proposed cuts and the potential impact.
GET THEIR MESSAGE RIGHT – FRAMING THE ISSUE
When you started talking to your Community, it’s key that you frame the issue in a way that delivers the message (and call to action) clearly. In San Diego they framed the issue in terms of keeping the arts department—not a wholesale elimination of the arts in the schools. They were careful to speak the language of the school board; to do their homework on the issue. They distilled the message down to talking points they could share with advocates and give them the tools so they could deliver the message that was simple and actionable—presented in a reasonable, measured way.
LEVERAGE TOOLS FOR GRASS ROOTS ORGANIZATION/MOBILIZATION
Coalition leaders quickly implemented a website; created a Facebook fan page to help build community support and share information.
In combing through their Facebook “fans” they discovered that one of their supporters was the brother of one of the school board members. That helped them understand who they might leverage to help plead our cause. Another was a former head of the local taxpayer’s association and an independent political consultant.
MAKING IT EVERYBODY’S BUSINESS
Central to the campaign was that Saunders and others weren’t motivated by a risk to their own livelihood –they were largely volunteering their time, not part of the school district nor were they parents connected to the district—they simply saw arts education advocacy as a community responsibility.
Tim DuRoche is Director of Programs at the World Affairs Council of Oregon, member of The Right Brain Initiative’s Governing Committee, and Chair of Right Brain’s Advocacy Committee.