This government shutdown affected select unfunded agencies and consumed the new 116th Congress and Trump administration. One part of the Beltway that stayed particularly active during those 35 days was the advocacy community.
Most practitioners were not baited by the convenient excuse that “the government is shutdown,” and continued preparations to build relationships, contacts, and power spheres to eventually advance policy priorities.
The longest government shutdown in U.S. history provides us with a few examples of advocacy best practices that can be modified and utilized during normal government operations. Here are a few introduced by selected historical quotes:
“When one door closes another door opens.” – Alexander Graham Bell
Many of the 800,000 federal employees affected by the shutdown did have access to the government email accounts. Politico made reference to a switch from email to social media during the shutdown and how many people turned to Twitter as their primary medium to communicate with affected federal officials during the shutdown.
This is another example of how channel diversity is important to an overall advocacy program. If an agency or Congress isn’t listening to phone calls or emails en masse from constituents, maybe it’s time to consider an alternative method. Whether the government is officially shutdown or just de facto shutting your organization out, you must get creative and open new lines of communication.
“Virtue is bold, and goodness never fearful.” – William Shakespeare
World Central Kitchen and high-profile Chef Jose Andres quickly put their advocacy into action by opening “Chefs for Feds” feeding site at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue to serve furloughed workers. This bold move provided meals to the largest concentration of federal workers in the country and also provided the non-profit a megaphone to advance their advocacy mission of providing food during disaster emergencies.
By opening the relief site between Congress and the White House, the organization had a pulpit to call for bipartisan relief and their actions afforded them the media recognition to have a meaningful impact. If you didn’t know about World Central Kitchen or only knew about their work in Puerto Rico, chances are the DMV insider community is now fully aware of their mission, impact, and fast ability to put their routine advocacy into action.
“There is always strength in numbers.” – Mark Shields
Many media outlets and commentators are giving credit to the thousands of air traffic controllers that decided that they were no longer going to work without pay during the shutdown. This wasn’t a formal organized labor strike, but a collective action to not work causing a disruption in the aviation system, ability for average Americans to travel, and potential safety concerns related to air travel during shutdown conditions.
The Air Traffic Controllers Association, Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants, The Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, and other aviation membership and trade associations deserve credit for having an impact on ending the shutdown based on their consistent media strategy, grassroots advocacy, and public affairs.
These organizations have already had a noteworthy advocacy year, in just the first month of the new Congress. They are now well-positioned to work on their proactive policy objectives throughout the rest of the Congress (so as long as there isn’t another shutdown).
Joshua Habursky is assistant vice president of advocacy at the Independent Community Bankers of America, chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network, contributing editor to Campaigns & Elections and an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.