I have often wondered how to get people to advocate for change. It seems like a pretty loaded mission: how do you get people with previously lukewarm feelings about whatever it is you’re passionate about and convert them to passionate warriors for your cause? Wether it’s climate change, drilling, farming, or biking you need warriors for your mission who will help you and your believers move what you believe in forward.
Why is it so important for politicians to buy into your mission? Quit simply, politicians are the ones driving through legislation that touches on building infrastructure, passing laws guaranteeing the safety those on the road, and the list goes on. They also are the ones who may build momentum around what you’re trying to do via word of mouth, publicity, and money. Let’s be honest-what if the people you need to advocate for you have no idea why your issue is important? And, in the case of bike riding-what if they don’t know how to ride a bike?
First, it’s important to get people to where an integrated bike, pedestrian, and car-centric life works. In fact, People for Bikes has a fantastic program where politicians are taken overseas to communities that have woven biking seamlessly into every aspect of every day life. This makes it easier for future stakeholders to imagine what you’re advocating for. It is easier to imagine a new lifestyle once you’ve seen it in action.
Once you’ve converted a naysayer to a cheerleader, then you have to imagine ways to work through any other objections that may be thought up by your new cheerleaders that would allow them to avoid doing “the hard stuff.” Have an idea about your end goal and then imagine all of the steps in between your starting point and your end goal. Now, create a plan that will get your new cheerleaders to step one. Once you achieve step one, work hard to get your cheerleaders to step two. And keep going. Eventually, your new cheerleaders will become advocates from the heart.
Make sure to talk TO your potential advocates-don’t talk AT potential advocates. By talking to your potential allies you are showing respect and a willingness to compromise. When you talk AT potential allies you create an atmosphere that might not be conducive to collaboration. Think about what you’re willing to do to get people to hear what you’re saying and buy into what you’re trying to move forward.
It will be hard-but is well worth it. People for Bikes has had great success with its program showing people living a bike life because politicians actually get to live and see the experiment in action. It’s not abstract anymore-but real.
I am not sure if the U.S. as a country will every embrace cycling to the extent that other countries across the world has. But, every time I’m a bit doubtful about U.S. political willingness to reach outside comfort zones I have been surprised. As more and more cities across the nation look at (and pass) legislation that will create lasting and substantive change to infrastructure, and bike safety I can imagine U.S. cities filled with cyclists riding safely in the future.
So, how to convert politicians to advocates? One person at a time-patiently.