Indivisible States: Defining a Strategy in Your State

In the current federal political climate, it feels like every value we care about is under attack — but we have to be intentional in deciding how to fight back in the states. In any given state legislative session, hundreds or thousands of bills may be moving at the same time. A big challenge for new state advocates can be simply choosing what legislation to work on when it’s impossible to work on everything.

You’ll need to prioritize in order to maximize your impact. It is critical to prioritize what legislation you decide to advocate for in order to meaningfully engage and have an impact. If you try to work on too many things at once, you’ll spread your group too thin to be effective. Start by creating consensus around the issues your state’s Indivisible groups care about; then, identify what bills have been introduced around those issues and where you can have most impact. Connecting with aligned issue-based groups can also provide insight into where you can be most helpful.

Check out our resource for some ideas about how to prioritize what types of state legislation you might advocate for.

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Build a Strategic Campaign Plan

After you decide what you’ll work on, it’s useful to map out a campaign plan. In your planning, you should think about the different steps of the legislative process that the bill will need to pass through, consider who the key decision makers are in each step, and plan appropriate advocacy tactics to pressure those decision makers to vote in your favor. You’ll want to:

1. Define Your Goal

It’s important to be explicit about your goal. Is your goal to get a bill passed? Is your goal to stop a bill from being passed? Is your goal to move the bill and the conversation around a specific issue forward in a multi-year effort?

Though specific goals will vary by state, district, and municipality, there’s a convenient way to think about each goal you set to make sure you’re planning for success. SMART is an easy acronym to think about your goals:

  • Specific: straightforward and simple.

  • Measurable: include a metric to determine success that can be either qualitative or quantitative.

  • Attainable: goals can be lofty, but should remain achievable in that you have the power to make it happen.

  • Realistic: similar to achievable, make sure your goal is something you can feasibly work toward

  • Time-bound: include a specific frame of time that the goal is accomplished within.

You can have more than one goal at a time, but make sure you’re intentional in setting each goal, and that you are setting your group up for success by not having too many goals at once.

2. Map out Your Bill’s Trajectory

The first step in your advocacy plan is to figure out the path of your bill. You should know some basic details if you’ve learned generally how your state’s legislative process works. A great first step is to meet with the author of the bill or other organizational cosponsors. Let them know that you’d like to help mobilize grassroots support for their bill and they will be very happy to talk to you. It’s critical to understand the history of the issue you’re working on too — if a bill has stalled for the past 4 sessions, you need to understand why. Talking to bill authors and organizational stakeholders can help you understand the landscape and the history. These relationships will also help you stay up-to-date on the bill throughout the legislative process. In your planning, identify key votes (e.g. committee and floor votes) and the strategic pressure timepoints for action (e.g. in the week or two leading up to a vote).

3. Determine Who Holds Power to Make the Change You Want to See

Power mapping is an organizing tool used by advocates to identify the most strategic targets that you need to influence in order to accomplish your goal. For each step in your bill’s trajectory, you should figure out who has the power to move the bill forward so that you can target your advocacy tactics effectively. Here are some questions to consider while power mapping:

  • To understand who the powerful decision makers are:

    • Where is the bill in the legislative process?

    • What chamber is it being considered in?

    • Who is the leader of that chamber?

    • What committee is it in?

    • Who is the chair of the committee?

    • Who are the members of the committee?

  • To understand who the other stakeholders might be:

    • Who is the author of the bill? (likely your ally)

    • Who is working against the change we seek? (likely your opponent)

    • Who is this taking power away from? (likely your opponent)

    • Who has hired lobbyists? (likely to have influence on the fight)

    • Who are the organizational cosponsors? (likely your allies)

    • Have there been previous bills, and who was involved then? (likely to have knowledge that could be useful to you)

    • What communities are impacted? (likely to be stakeholders)

Once you understand who the players are, you should determine where they fall on your spectrum of allies. Are they already on your side, are they adamantly opposed, or are they leaning in one direction? We need not convince our most committed opponents, so much as merely move them towards neutral. Similarly, turning a neutral target into even a weak ally can shift the broader needle on the fight. This type of power mapping exercise allows you to target your strategy to be most impactful.







 

Active Support

Passive Support

Neutral

Passive Opposition

Active Opposition

More Power

Less Power

         

4. Develop Your Strategy

Your strategy is how you turn the resources you have into the power you need to get what you want. In the case of state advocacy, your strategy will define how you organize your resources to push those who hold the power to accomplish your goal of passing or stopping legislation.

In developing your strategy, you should finalize your target(s) based on your power mapping exercise, and determine what is most likely to move them. Generally, your strategy will likely involve moving your representatives through the use of constituent pressure. You should also identify key opponents you may be able to neutralize and key people on the sideline you may be able to get on to your side. Finally, you should explicitly note with whom you will build partnerships.

5. Actually Build a Campaign Plan

There are a variety of powerful tactics that you can use to pressure your state lawmakers. Some of these tactics are very similar to those we use for federal advocacy, but there are some tactics that are are unique to state legislative work. Check out Chapter 5 for more details.

It can be enormously helpful to actually write out a campaign plan, outlining your strategy in tactics and identifying resources you will need and the timeline for execution.

Check out our sample campaign plan!

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Track State Bills Through the Legislative Process

Once you’re in the throes of a state advocacy fight, you’ll need to be able to track your bill through the legislative process so that you know what committees it’s going to, and when there will be hearings.

  • Contact the bill author’s office. The person who will know the most about the progress of a bill is the legislator who wrote it. It’s useful to have a contact point in the author’s office that you can check in with whenever you have a question. When you call, ask to speak to the staffer who is working on your bill of interest. Let them know that you are interested in supporting their bill and would like to check in with them regularly about its status. If you are planning to actively oppose a bill, you may not want to tell them that you’re planning to oppose the bill — just ask more general questions.

  • Work with partner organizations. We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to work with partners.

  • Get to know your state legislature’s website. Just like no state legislatures are created equal, neither are two state legislature websites similar. Most legislatures’ website have a feature to search for bills by number. Usually, this is where you will be able to find the most up-to-date bill text and information on status. In some states, you can even sign up for free email alerts for specific bills to stay up to speed on any activity. Some states may even have video streaming of committee meetings or floor deliberations. So even if you can’t travel to the capitol on a given day, you can still stayed informed on what’s happening with the legislation you’re interested in.

  • Use a free online legislative tracker. Some state legislature websites are a complete nightmare to navigate. There are a few free online tools that allow you to follow and track state legislation that you may want to explore:

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Indivisible States: Empowering States to Resist the Trump Agenda by Indivisible Project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.