January 23, 2021

Questions for the advocacy community: Q2 – Jill Savitt

Q2: Is citizen advocacy at its most effective when it generates maximum “noise” on an issue , or do citizen advocates need to attach particular policy prescriptions to the noise they make?

Jill Savitt:

The answer is, of course, somewhere in between: In my experience, citizen advocacy is most effective when it generates maximum noise about an issue about which there exists a community-supported policy prescription.  The citizen advocates do not have to attach, directly, a policy piece to their noise … but they should make sure:  (1) there is a supportable, realistic policy prescription that can be advanced and is being advanced (2) that their noise is consistent (in message and tone and symbols, etc.) with the details of any policy prescriptions.

Noise and policy do not need to be connected, but advocacy is far more effective when these strategies are coordinated or complementary, even loosely.

Noise, by itself, can recruit constituents. Noise and theatrics can be good for media attention.  But the cost of having noise without policy is that you make it easier for policymakers to avoid taking action.  It is easier to hold them to a specific request (pass or sign X, support Y) than a general call to do something.

Noise alone gets harder and harder to organize. After the first few efforts, if there is no success and there is no “answer” to the problem, advocates will tire.

Finally, noise alone can make the noisemakers – and even the issue — appear to be  fringe.  Without a practical response, noise is just that – hard to listen to.

In the ideal world, the citizen advocacy and the policy prescription are of a piece – considered and executed to complement each other.   In the even more ideal world, these components are considered in the context of all the strategic issues that affect change in the real world on the issue at hand.

Jill Savitt is the Executive Director of the Genocide Prevention Project

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