Another campaign season is over and, except for Special Elections, mass voting won’t happen again until next Fall. But now is the time to begin preparing ways to clarify what candidates – for elected and appointed offices -- believe and will do about your issues. And it is important to remember that non-profits are legally able to play a major role in that public education process.
The two most typical tactics are sending candidates a questionnaire/survey and holding a public forum. Of the hundreds of each that I have read and attended over the years, very few of the questionnaire responses were more than long exercises of political side-stepping. Very few of the forums were more than boring recitations of platitudes. Very little of it helped anyone decide who to vote for – although some candidate’s performances or written answers were so bad that I personally eliminated them from consideration.
Still, setting up candidate events is an important part of advocacy work. So, the question is how to make them better -- more informative, more interesting, more useful, and more effective in advancing advocacy goals. And that starts with becoming clear about the full range of effects that we’re trying to accomplish. The typical purpose of election-related events is to learn more about candidates and their positions. Two under-appreciated but equally valuable functions are to establish a relationship with current (or future) decision-makers and to let politicians learn more about you and your issues. A related and worthwhile goal is using the event to gain increased public visibility for your issue and your organization. And, if done well with lots of opportunity for public engagement, these events can provide a first taste of political engagement for previously uninvolved people.
It is always wonderful to watch a local advocacy campaign that does almost everything right. Especially when you both agree with their goals and like the people involved.Read more
Advocacy generally goes through at least three phases: Protesting against what you don’t want, Pushing for what you do want, and Partnering with the implementing agency to make sure it’s done right and kept going.
If we ran the world we wouldn’t need to advocate for anything. We’d just do it, or order it done. Advocates are sometimes prestigious or influential; their requests are listened to, carry weight, and often followed by decision-makers. But, by definition, the need to advocate for something implies an outsider status, a less than all-powerful position – often a position of relative weakness or even marginality. Perhaps even a degree of invisibility. If power is the ability to directly make change, Advocacy is about influence – the ability to get those with power to make the desired change.
Advocacy is the mobilization of resources and power to deal with societal problems. It combines protest against what you don’t want, pushing for what you do want, and partnering with those responsible for implementation to make sure you actually get what you want – although it is the pushing that we most generally think of as “advocacy”. Advocacy starts through the spread of motivating information and bringing people together. Having ideas and energy is vital, but not enough. Success requires having the momentum and power to actually implement the desired change. Vision and talk are the starting points. Changed awareness – knowledge and empathy – and vital building blocks, but the goal of Advocacy is visible change in individual and social reality – which almost always requires action. Advocacy occurs when you seek change outside yourself, in the surrounding world.Read more
In a break from my usual essay-length postings, here is a series of short comments and questions addressing a variety of bike-related issues: the growing number of all-year cyclists and their need for more bike parking, the changing tone of driver-cyclist interaction in cities and suburbs, the problem of signaling “thanks” to nice drivers and ensuring eye contact through tinted windows, my annoyance at cyclists who hog the road, and thoughts about where bike boxes should be located.Read more
- moving the focus from streets to networks and systems,
- emphasizing the community-creating and place-making aspects of transportation facilities,
- becoming more explicit about the different types of economic development stimulus a transportation project can provide,
- putting greater emphasis on making up for past neglect of those who were previously underserved.
GO WHEN IT’S CLEAR, STOP WHEN IT’S DANGEROUS: Why Bikes Should Treat Red Lights and Stop Signs as Yields
San Francisco is contemplating an “Idaho Stop” rule allowing bicyclists to treat red lights like stop signs and stop signs as if they were yields. Should Boston do it too?Read more
Instead of internally creating a capital spending plan and then asking for public reaction, Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack held a series of public discussions, in-person and on-line, to ask what was on the public’s to-do list. Her invitation has sparked some thoughts about themes that might shape future transportation system spending including:
- Making Safety, not Eliminating Congestion, the Only Rationale for Construction;
- Getting More Value and Better Leverage from Maintenance Work;
- Empowering MassDOT’s District Offices to be Accountable for Complete Street Standards;
- Changing What People Get Rewarded For;
- Bringing In New Ideas and Skills.
It’s a pleasure to be able to praise a government agency: civil servants who try to live up to their public service mission are over-worked and underpaid relative to private sector peers – and always under appreciated! It’s particularly a pleasure to praise the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR), a woefully underfunded agency whose roadway department has been exasperatingly difficult to work with in the past. Which is why we have to hope that newly inaugurated Governor Baker’s announcement of a freeze on hiring and contracting will not derail DCR’s historic commitment to create an updated Master conceptual Plan for how their metro-region parkways can reclaim their Olmstedian heritage and be once again made more park-like and more bike-and-pedestrian-friendly — as well as estimates of what it would cost to properly operate such a system.Read more
It wasn’t that long ago that Boston’s walking, bicycling, and transit advocacy groups saw each other as part of the problem. Faced with the hostile fragmentation, government policy-makers moved slowly or not at all. Boston wasn’t unusual. To the extent that cities had active transportation advocacy groups, the discordance was common.
Today, urban areas (and some states) have two general types of much-more coordinated active-transportation activism. In many cities the dominant group is an all-inclusive alliance of non-motorized movers such as New York-based Transportation Alternatives that combines walkers, joggers, runners, and cyclists. In other cities, mode-specific groups lead the way although they tend to work in partnership with each other. Boston has both: LivableStreets Alliance has, from its inception 10 years ago, seen itself as representing both foot and wheels; the other major advocacy groups – Boston Cyclists Union, MassBike, WalkBoston – maintain their single-mode foci.
Because there have been few walking-oriented advocacy groups around the nation (America Walks, the national coalition, is less than 10 years old), much of the national trend towards inclusivity seems to come from former bicycle-only groups expanding their scope, an evolution that makes enormous political sense since bicyclists are a small but well organized minority while walkers comprise a majority but are generally unorganized. Together they have many times the clout against their common enemy – our society’s car-centric infrastructure, policies, and cultural tendencies. However, whether internalized in one group or as a coalition among several, the emerging multi-modal alliance is not as deep or as tight as it needs to be in order to survive the coming challenges raised by more conservative political leadership at several levels of government. We need, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, to move together or we shall all go nowhere.Read more