Monday, November 9, 2009

Strength in numbers

Have you heard that African proverb, “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion”?

It’s true. Just ask anyone who’s successfully mobilized an advocacy campaign around a public health issue.

“Our strength is greater when we are united,” said Jirair Ratevosian, MPH, who shared advocacy tips during a Monday morning session on mobilizing a campaign around a public health issue.

One of his charges as deputy director for public policy at the American Foundation for AIDS Research has been to push for an end of the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs.

Whether your issue is national, state or local, Ratevosian suggests breaking it down into bite-size steps:

1. Bring people together.
2. Set smart, measurable objectives.
3. Get the facts (these help determine your advocacy priorities).
4. Choose your targets (who has the power to make the change you want?).
5. Understand the policy- and decision-making process (this is especially important for voting timelines on legislation).
6. Build alliances and coalitions.
7. Choose your tactics (this could include letter-writing campaigns or Capitol step protests, depending on your group’s personality).
8. Renew, review and re-energize.

Step eight has been important in the needle exchange discussion, Ratevosian pointed out as he displayed an old 1987 letter from then-HHS Secretary Donna Shalala to U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin asking for an end to the federal funding ban.

Every presenter during the advocacy session said success hinges on consensus-building. But as Steven J. Huleatt said, it’s “not an easy process. It’s not necessarily a pretty process.” He was one of the local Connecticut health directors fighting a drastic funding cut this year.

Governing Councilor Durrell Fox talked of the long effort to gain national recognition for community health workers.

“We had to find a way to find unity,” Fox said about community health workers, who are as diverse a group as you’ll find anywhere in public health. “A core, committed group was key to our mobilization efforts.”

Session moderator José Ramón Fernández-Peña would also like to remind us that signing on to APHA Action Alerts — “those annoying e-mails from the APHA Action Board” — is one easy way to tie up that lion.

— D.C.


Phil Davis said...

Good advice. Beats tilting at windmills solo.

Anonymous said...

It's easy to forget how important it is to stay focused on these topics. Get obsessed and stay obsessed has to be the mantra if you want to make a real and public change.