Build Your Coalition

You can win, but you need allies. Now that you’ve established the foundation of your coalition with people who are directly affected and are able and willing to dedicate the necessary time and energy to achieve your objectives—your core team—it’s time to build upon it by recruiting other groups and the public. You want to create a broad coalition with one uniting message that represents a broad range of interests.

Always tailor your message for the different audiences you approach, whether it’s an organization or the public. For example, you may be a food-truck operator who is fighting a proposal that would ban you from operating within a certain number of feet from brick-and-mortar restaurants. This ban could effectively kill your city’s food-truck industry. Different organizations will care about this issue for different reasons, and it is your job to show them why they should care. A civic organization may support food trucks because of the many benefits they provide a community. A free market group will be concerned about the protectionist and anti-competitive nature of the proposal. A civil rights group will be dismayed that the negative fallout of the proposal will disproportionately target those on the first rung of the economic ladder.

Think about the relationships that you already have. The policy may mean the loss of goods or services for them as well, whether they are customers, distributors or other businesses that benefit from your services. Other businesses may fear the loss of business through the loss of your referrals or loss of increased foot traffic. They may also recognize the importance of a free market, where a “rising tide lifts all boats.” Customers may fear the loss of the affordable, quality services you provide and the loss of that accessibility if you’re put out of business. The general public may simply be outraged about a group of powerful industry insiders trying to put you out of business. Remember that different factors motivate different people, and it’s important for you to recognize those motivating factors and tailor your message accordingly.

Think creatively about who you can approach to join your coalition, and don’t discount groups or people who you think might be against you. Tap into the following resources:

Gaining the support of other existing organizations is important. They already have memberships that they can mobilize on your behalf and can lend their names to your cause, which can add legitimacy, weight and caché to your efforts. Don’t discount groups that seem too big or too small—you want any and all support that you can get.

Look for organizations that represent constituencies that are disproportionately impacted by the policy you are fighting. For example, if you are trying to repeal an anti-competitive hairbraiding law, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would be a natural ally. If your city has outlawed traditional taco trucks—loncheros—you should approach the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. It is best to approach the local chapters of these organizations because your request will undoubtedly get lost in the busy inboxes of national offices.

Make it easy for other organizations to express their support. Have specific requests when you approach them. Do you want them to send a message to their supporters asking them to go to your website and sign up to support your efforts? Do you want them to testify at a public hearing, issue a public statement, offer a quote for your own press release or sign onto a coalition letter? Or perhaps you’re holding an event soon and you would like them to speak at it.

Chances are that you won’t be able to get support from all or even most of the organizations you ask, but even two or three can make a huge difference in the end—and you’ll get invaluable practice honing your message through this process.

Homeowners, homeowners’ associations, condominium boards and renters care about what’s going on in their communities. If your threatened industry has a positive impact on the local community, demonstrate to these groups how you make your city a better place to live.

The same goes for community organizations. Civic associations, religious institutions and congregations, fraternal organizations and small non-profits all care about the safety and economic growth of their local communities. Explain how you are a valuable member of your community and how important economic opportunity and growth is to making your city an even better place to live, and they will be on your side.

As mentioned above, you should reach out to local business owners, customers, suppliers, business associations and local chambers of commerce. Some may be against you and support limiting competition; others will recognize that protectionism is bad for everyone and be on your side. Your customers are an obvious ally, and you should enlist them to help recruit other members of the public. Solicit testimonials from them for use on your website and at city council meetings.

It’s also ideal to have political allies. Your bill’s sponsor is a natural ally, as is a bad bill’s opponent. Ask them who else is on your side, and develop relationships with them. It is helpful to have a spokesperson with a bully pulpit who can warn you or expedite getting you documents, even if this person isn’t influential. You will also want to try to recruit the support of local neighborhood councils. Depending on the dynamics between federal, state and local lawmakers, you may want to reach out to those at higher levels of government for their support. Although they may have no power to effect change, they can lend their vocal support, which may encourage their supporters to join your cause.

Finally, consider academic allies. Professors who have some expertise in your industry or on business more generally may be able to testify on your behalf, speak at events, provide you with quotes for press releases or your website or issue statements to city council or the state legislature. Law school legal clinics can help you do legal research. Students at local colleges and universities can provide valuable free or cheap labor to build and maintain your website, distribute information around your city and attend your rallies. You can also try to find classes to speak to or engage in activism. And, of course, schools may be able to provide free meeting or event space.