I’ve spent most of this week in Montgomery Alabama. If you think Cowboy/Sooner fever rages hot you should try spending a day in Alabama without hearing someone shout “Roll Tide!” I’m here to visit the amazing child advocacy group, Alabama Voices. Working in a similar political environment to Oklahoma (read, “red, red, red”), there is a lot our two states can learn from each other. Some key initiatives AL Voices is working on are areas in which Oklahoma can proudly say we’ve paved the way, such as universal Pre-K. Others, like Alabama’s school feeding programs, Oklahoma can look to for inspiration.
As we discussed advocacy strategy and messaging, the concept of “grassroots” and “grasstops” came up. Grassroots is a term commonly used to refer to those on the ground floor or local neighborhood and community level, local citizens inspired by a candidate or a cause who are willing to organize and volunteer, contributing to the political success of that effort. Grassroots volunteers can be anyone — neighbors, friends, family members, and other community residents. They are everyday citizens you interact with on a daily basis, youth and adults.
“Grasstops” was a new term to me. Your grasstop supporters are, as Melanie, the Executive Director of Alabama Voices puts it,” the people who when they call a legislator and their name or position comes up on the caller ID, the person on the other end rushes to pick up the phone.” Grasstop supporters can be mayors, agency directors, well-known community members in the targeted district, major funders, or other decision-makers who have name recognition and influence with policymakers.
Both kinds of supporters are valuable and have important roles to play in an advocacy campaign. You need the people on the ground creating a swell of support, and you need the grasstops to add pressure. As Melanie stated quite simply, “Advocacy is putting pressure on the people with the power to give you what you want.”
Much of the advocacy work done may only focus on one, while ignoring the other. That’s probably because both grassroots and grasstops advocacy efforts can work well on their own. Each alone is powerful, but when you cultivate both, you win.
Lani Habrock is the director of KIDS COUNT at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. As a former contender for the State House of Representatives she believes legislative advocacy is an important work we must all take responsibility for in order to create positive change for all children in our state on a population-wide level.