Sharing Your Story
If you’re new to organizing or parent advocacy, you might be wondering why it is so important to share your own personal story. After all, educational choice is an issue for all of us, so does your own story matter that much? In short, yes! There is nothing more impactful than personal stories. This section explains how to tell your story and includes some optional activities to get you started.
Stories matter because even someone you think will never agree with you might see the issue from a new perspective after hearing your experience. More importantly, finding out for yourself what drives you to make a difference on this issue will get you through the long, hard fight for educational choice. Finding your “why” will help you stay motivated when times are tough and make victory sweeter when it comes.
Whether you’ve shared your story before or this is the first time, you should remember the following.
Everyone has their own story. We hear from so many families who don’t realize they have a story to share – but each and every one does! It’s important for every family to share their wide range of experiences, which will help you reach more people than if everyone had the same story. Every family is different and has different needs, so whatever your unique story is, it helps to show the range of reasons why we need educational choice.
Check out these videos of other families sharing their stories!
How to Launch Your Group
By this time, you have done some of the hardest work and your group is off the ground. You’ve talked to your family and friends, you’ve canvassed events talking with strangers, you’ve created a mission statement – and perhaps you’ve even had your first meeting, started having parent leaders take on roles, and found some partners. Now it’s time to officially announce the formation of your group to the media, the public, and policymakers.
Just a note: It’s okay if a local reporter already called to ask about your work before you officially launch. But planning your launch as soon as you are ready means that you have a chance to control how you introduce yourself to the world. And that can make a big difference!
As with everything you’ve done so far, lists and spreadsheets will be your friend. Before you launch, identify state, regional, and local media outlets and specific journalists at those news sources that you want to reach out to. IJ may be able to help you identify media outlets to target, but you’ll be surprised by how many you can find by looking at recent local or state news reports.
Before you launch your group, it’s important to be as prepared as possible. For instance, at this point, you will have already met with your members and started identifying leaders – maybe even people who will lead important committees and take on certain tasks. You will have learned about the bill you want to pass – or at least the type of program you think your state needs the most. You and your group should agree on main points and have practiced sticking to them when you’re talking with others.
Time To Make Some Noise
Events and demonstrations have three purposes: (1) recruit public support, (2) cultivate goodwill and enthusiasm among your base of support, and (3) apply political pressure. You can make events fun, and you should make sure that each event has a specific purpose and a critical mass of people.
Events are great ways to get media attention and show how much support you have. Imagine what you want the picture on the front page of a newspaper to look like – and then make it your goal to create it. Make it as easy as possible for the media to cover your event. Make sure that you have spokespeople ready to deliver your main points, and always stay on message. Remember, the microphone is always on, and it can be easy to get distracted with any number of issues that might come up in your town or state. Make sure that you and everyone who comes to the event knows how important it is to focus your attention on the cause that you share and the bill you want to pass.
Educational choice is a very personal issue, and it means a lot to every parent who takes time out of their busy schedules to rally for the cause. Joining with other parents to get loud and support your cause at a big rally or event can be fun in addition to helping spread the message. Just remember that your actions represent your cause, not just yourself – and make sure that everyone in your group who attends knows how important it is to represent the cause well.
No matter what type of event you plan to organize, it is important that you do your due diligence. Find out what types of permits you need from the city or state to host an event or demonstration on public or private property. Sometimes it can take over a month to obtain a permit, so plan early, if possible. If you expect a large turnout, contact the local or state police department and find out if there are any additional regulations you need to adhere to. If you’re going to be using sound equipment or a megaphone, check with the police about whether there are any noise codes you need to follow.
Getting Your Message Out: Working With the Media
This section is one of the most important ones because of what we covered in “The Facts About Educational Choice.” Fighting for educational choice is uniquely difficult because of misconceptions in the public, and you have very few chances to combat the other side in the court of public opinion. You want to make sure to make the most of every single opportunity.
But the responsibility is not just on you – it is important that every member of your network speaks with one voice and stays on message.
Why does this matter? Because reporters and the public can get confused if your members are talking about different issues. Imagine you are meeting with a reporter, and you talk to her about how your group wants greater educational choices in your state. But then, the reporter goes to chat with a new member – and you forgot to talk to him about staying on message. He’s upset about a new local tax in his county to fund public schools and talks about how he thinks this new tax should be stopped at all costs. The reporter could be doing her best to fairly report on your group, and your group could still be introduced to the public as an anti-tax campaign – which is something you’ll have to deal with going forward, explaining over and over what your real mission is. It would be a headache, and one you could have avoided simply by making sure all your members know to stay on message.
The good news is that you are already the expert. It is natural to be unsure when talking to the media for the first time, but you know your story better than anyone. You want to be prepared with the facts on educational choice and remember that the core of what you are doing is simply telling your story – and nobody knows it better than you do.