Grassroots Advocacy is activism that originates among concerned constituents who rally behind issues they feel are not being resolved or addressed by government officials with the power and responsibility to act. Grassroots advocacy involves some level of political activity, with members of society interacting with elected or appointed officials in an attempt to draw attention to their cause. It also involves organizing and educating the community to get more constituents involved in the process. Grassroots advocacy involves writing or calling officials, and attending meetings and events with elected officials.
Grassroots advocacy also means concerned constituents joining together to increase their strength in their effort to push for change. From the formation of the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES) in April 2007, we have focused on one main theme, “grassroots advocacy”. We have always believed that all politics are local and that changing political minds must begin at home in local districts. We have talked about how “relationships at home equals grassroots power”. We realized that without suppliers working as their own lobbyists and developing a personal relationship with their Representatives and Senators, we would have no chance to change the path of public policy for the DME industry.
In a way, grassroots advocacy is a “game” we must play and now we have to take this “sport” to another level. Grassroots advocacy is a “contact sport” because without contact with elected and appointed officials, we are ineffective as individuals and as an association.
Since most of us are sports fans of some kind, let’s put grassroots advocacy in to sports terms.
THE BASICS OF THIS GAME:
- The equipment we need to play this sport is a pen, a computer, and a telephone.
- The playing field is your local district and state.
- There is usually one of two away matches in Washington, DC annually.
- Occasionally there will be a round played in the courts.
- The game starts when you and the constituent community feel that laws and policy decisions that are being made are inconsistent with the greater good of the community.
- Play involves writing, calling, emailing, and meeting with your elected officials to change their position on a particular issue.
- There may be multiple rounds in each game, sometimes involving multiple issues.
- The game may last from months to years, or sometimes until there is a change in the players on the opposing team.
- You and your team are allowed to make power plays by bringing in outside consultants, lobbyists, and patients to increase your influence.
- In order to win the game, you have to cause your elected official to change their position, AND act on that change.
- A stalemate occurs when you receive a positive response from your elected official, but they fail to take action to change the laws or policies.
- Stalemates occur often, and to move forward more advocates must be brought into the game by you and your support groups.
- When your opponent’s team members fail to respond to your requests, they can be removed from the game through the election process.
- The game is over when either the laws of policies are changed, or the DME team is too weak to continue.
RULES OF THE GAME
- Never miss an opportunity to meet lawmakers when they are at home in their district.
- Never assume that you can’t influence your lawmakers thinking.
- Join your state DME association to increase your playing power.
- Join one or both of your national trade organizations to receive technical guidance about the game and the rules.
- Write, Email or Call your elected officials whenever the team leaders “ring the bell”.
- Ask each of your fellow DME colleagues to join the DME groups to make the teams stronger.
- Attend state and national trade group events to insure you are well versed on the issues.
- Do not quit the game because you lose one round. The game is only over when all of the rounds are finished.
- Knowledge and information is the critical element necessary to make your play more effective.
Though tongue-n-cheek, the point is that the DME industry is losing the fight to change the direction of politics and public policy because we don’t have enough suppliers involved in grassroots advocacy. We are too small to impact our lawmakers without having more suppliers involved, and more financial resources. In an article a few years ago NAIMES suggested that suppliers should “get into politics or get out of DME”. Now many suppliers will be getting out of DME involuntarily due to competitive bidding and onerous Medicare audits.
Could we have changed this path had we had more suppliers involved? Maybe, but we do know that we will not change the minds of our political leaders going forward unless we have 10 to 20 times as many suppliers involved in the grassroots process. No trade organization representing DME suppliers can change the path of our future without members. In fact, without members, we have no reason to exist. With just a few hundred suppliers out of a pool of over 15,000 belonging to either national trade group, the time is rapidly running out for suppliers to join in the “contact sport” of grassroots advocacy.