Advocacy Maxims for 2016

This Bicyclist welcomes spring and the upcoming advocacy season.

As the snow began to melt away this weekend and Punxsutawney Phil chuckled lightly to himself over his secret long standing pen pal relationship with Paul Huttner, I donned my beloved summer bicycle and started to pedal while contemplating the beginning of another season: Advocacy season.

As we stare down the barrel of a new (and very important) state political session and a construction season not long after that where both Saint Paul and Minneapolis stand to make big improvements to their bicycle infrastructure, I think it’s worth reviewing a few advocacy “maxims” to live by.

Personally speaking, I usually start off the season strong and then by the time I have attended double digit community meetings best described as “shouty” my patience begins to wain.  These are my summer maxims to live by and I can only hope they will be helpful to other advocates.

Explore Other Opinions, Avoid Attack Mode

Most community meetings are volunteer driven, so the last thing that anybody wants when they give up their Tuesday evening to come out and be civic is to be attacked.  Remember that Ad Hominem (personal) attacks are absolutely unacceptable and have no place in civic discourse.  Further more, any attacks whatsoever raise the collective stress level of the room and makes everyone more likely to make a rash decision.

It’s much better to try and find a way to explore other opinions, even those that seem diametrically opposed to your own.  The compromise that was found with the Cleveland Avenue bike lanes is a fantastic example of what kind of democratic action can be made when advocates listen to everyone’s opinion in order to make the best possible decision.  An added bonus is you look super pro to public officials and your next advocacy push is easier.

Come with Data, but make your Data tell a Story

It’s no secret that we have terrific amounts of hard data available for transportation advocacy.  The first step to influencing decision makers towards making a good transportation decision is usually data.

That said, pure data presentations are boring.  Many a good idea has died in committee due to folks glossing over during the presentation of good data.  So tell a story with your data.  Most people won’t remember the nuances of state pedestrian crash percentages, but most people will remember a news story about a 4 year old being hit by a car going 45 mph in a 30 mph zone.

For better or for worse, it seems humans don’t make decisions based on hard data, but rather on more mystical stories.  So come with data, but present your data as a human narrative.

Say “Please” and “Thank You” to Public Officials

Your mama was right: “Please” and “thank you” are still a thing.  Plus, public officials are required to be at a lot of these meetings, so they likely have heard it all.  It’s best not to be memorable for being rude.

Most advocacy handbooks (and mothers) recommend sending thank-you notes to public officials when a successful advocacy push has been made.  This allows advocacy efforts to build upon previous advocacy efforts by building positive relationships with public officials.

Be Honest and Don’t Fear Monger

In 2007, Austin Scaggs asked Jay-Z if he was an “intimidator” while running drugs in Rolling Stone.   Hove said, “No.  my method wasn’t anything like that.  I was a straight-up guy.  Being a man of your word will keep you alive.”

Although advocacy is generally a less dangerous activity than running drugs, Jay-Z has a great point.  Participating in a culture of fear may sometimes achieve immediate political goals, but becoming known as a fear monger kills your credibility as an advocate.

Say what you mean.  Mean what you say.  Don’t intimidate people.  Don’t present things as if a single decision will have apocalyptic consequences.

Tell the truth.  Thank other people for their viewpoints.  Present your well researched point with a story and a wide smile.

Be Human

Transportation, although steeped in engineering and planning, is essentially a human equation.  When advocating for decisions to be made in regards to transportation, it is best to remember that the core goal of transportation is to move people.

So move people!  Tell jokes, share stories, bring cookies.  Not only will it make you a more beloved person, but studies have continuously shown that humor will help people remember the points you are trying to make.  So go ahead and make that pun.

It takes a village to make good transportation policy. So this season, jump in!  Be a good neighbor, be a funny advocate, and be part of the ever growing tranportation discussion.

Daniel Choma

About Daniel Choma

Daniel Choma is a community advocate, a jazz musician, and a former bible salesman. He rides bikes, plays drums, and tells jokes. He can consume a bag of jelly beans faster than almost anyone.