Once again, The Hatcher Group was privileged to work with some amazing nonprofit organizations in the Maryland General Assembly session, inspiring change to improve the lives of all Marylanders. Here are just a few of the strategies that helped important causes achieve success this year.
1. If you want to get attention in Annapolis, get yourself a beekeeper costume!
Bees are dying at alarming rates; last year, Maryland beekeepers lost 61 percent of their hives. Scientists confirm that toxic neonicotinoid pesticides, which harm and kill bees and other pollinators, are a big part of the problem. Enter the Smart on Pesticides Coalition, led by the Maryland Pesticide Education Network, which organized to protect pollinators.
Armed with targeted messaging, beekeepers from across the state “swarmed” bill hearings and floor debates, lobbying legislators and making a bold statement in their white suits. Beekeepers talked to reporters, wrote opinion pieces and inspired social media support. No one could tell the story of how devastating these unsustainable hive losses were – and what they mean for our food supply, economy and public health – better than the beekeepers themselves. And they got results: On April 11, Maryland became the first state to ban consumer use of this toxic pesticide. The bill now awaits Governor Hogan’s signature.
Moral: Never underestimate the power of a trusted spokesperson.
2. Make your own weather with a TwitterStorm.
Long before the Baltimore uprising and the death of Freddie Gray, members of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability were working to increase transparency and reform laws governing internal police misconduct investigations.
When the Coalition needed to make a final push for civilian oversight, we helped amass an arsenal of tweets and graphics that targeted key lawmakers and the public during the “TwitterStorm for Police Reform”- a one-hour avalanche of Tweets on our hashtag. The Twitterstorm went viral, becoming a top trending topic in Baltimore City and attracting attention from politicians and state institutions.
March 30, the General Assembly took an incremental step towards true police reform – its first such step in decades. Results: Civilian oversight must now be at least addressed by local jurisdictions; it will be easier to file police complaints; and the bill ensures greater transparency in the complaint process.
Moral: Concerted social media posting = public pressure that can’t be easily ignored!
3. Rally up!
Years of damaging budgets have left behavioral health service providers unprepared to meet the growing needs of Marylanders who need access to mental health and substance use disorder treatments. The Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition created the Keep the Door Open campaign to raise awareness and persuade state legislators to help these vulnerable Marylanders.
With so many pressing issues facing the General Assembly, many advocates have trouble getting attention. To break out from the crowd, this campaign turned to its premier asset: people. A rally outside the State House attracted more than 500 advocates. Both media and elected officials heard the campaign’s message of increasing access to mental health and substance use disorder services loud and clear, as chants of “Keep the Door Open” resonated throughout Annapolis.
The campaign achieved part of its legislative agenda in a tough session, but more importantly, continued to build awareness and momentum to Keep the Door Open in Maryland.
Moral: A massive group of people demanding change makes for very good optics!
4. Power of the people.
It can take months and even years for Marylanders who have affordable housing vouchers to find a place to live that will accept them. The Community Development Network of Maryland and a group of housing advocates fought this year for legislation that would make it illegal in Maryland to reject a housing voucher as an acceptable form of rent.
Unfortunately, Delegate Lafferty’s HOME Act – which would have remedied this problem – died in committee. The big win, however, was putting a spotlight on this critical issue, and no one did that better than Tisha Gutherie and Bob Lorenz. Nearly blind, Tisha is a Zumba instructor and has her B.A. and Masters in Social Work. Yet, she has been repeatedly turned down for housing. Bob Lorenz is a landlord who accepts and even welcomes housing vouchers because it means he gets rent paid on time.
Tisha finally found a home after three years. No one should have to wait for or be denied affordable housing, and we hope to see legislation again next year aiming to make affordable housing possible everywhere in Maryland.
Moral: Nothing beats real people telling their stories that perfectly illustrate your message.
5. The medium may be the message, but the message still matters.
How do we talk about reducing greenhouse gases in a way that non-scientists can understand and relate to? To pass and expand Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act, we developed messages that work for all Marylanders.
We interviewed small business owners, towns across Maryland and even the Baltimore Ravens to learn what actions they take every day to make a difference for cleaner energy, a stronger economy and healthier people.
What Marylanders heard from people just like them – or from people they admired – is that state programs can help pay for solar panels or energy efficient lighting that help the environment and result in even more financial savings. The General Assembly passed and Governor Hogan signed the law renewing Maryland’s programs to reduce toxic emissions and expanded our state’s goal to 40 percent reductions by 2030.
Moral: Make messages resonate with everyday people by using examples they can relate to.
6. Collectivize & synergize!
Agriculture is the single largest source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways; in fact, Maryland has some of the most phosphorus-impaired waterways in the United States.
This year, a broad coalition of environmental organizations – including Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Food & Water Watch and the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition – combined forces to try to hold the poultry industry accountable for its excess waste. Their efforts spurred strong grassroots support – including more than 15,000 emails, letters and phone calls to legislators.
Despite powerful opposition, the groups elevated this issue with policymakers, the media and the public. While the Poultry Litter Management Act did not pass, the coalition will continue to seek solutions to Maryland’s manure pollution problem.
Moral: The synergy created by a coalition creates results greater than the sum of individual efforts.
7. Advocates with skin in the game make the best evangelists.
The Maryland Association of Nonpublic Special Education Facilities (MANSEF) represents more than 90 schools that serve children with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities; much of their funding comes from the state and is used to educate children who are not adequately served in public schools.
MANSEF works to secure funding to provide these special students with a good education. MANSEF’s annual lobby day aims to update legislators about the key role these schools play in Maryland’s educational system.
MANSEF’s lobby day this year attracted dozens of parents, teachers and school administrators who met individually with their legislators to give personal insights into these schools’ value. These evangelists helped legislators appreciate the MANSEF schools and the work they do for their special education constituents.
Moral: Your most passionate supporters are your most effective advocates.