COVID-19 Launched an Advocacy Boom

The Coronavirus has closed schools, dampened commerce, laid off thousands of people and left the rest working from home. But it has not silenced Americans, at least not in Washington.

The pandemic launched a boom in grassroots advocacy as nonprofits, trade associations and companies champion everything from improved safety equipment for healthcare workers to federal assistance for transportation companies. Hundreds of thousands of people—perhaps millions—are now speaking directly to their government every day. 

More than 1,000 campaigns were launched on the Phone2Action platform last week. In the last seven days, nearly 1 million people have taken action sending more than 2.36 million messages to Congress. On March 21st alone, more than 215,000 people sent roughly 481,000 messages, including more than 3,000 tweets.

Organizations such as the American Nurses Association, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the National Restaurant Association and hundreds more led the charge and their audiences responded passionately.

“People are home but they are not idle,” said Ximena Hartsock, co-founder and COO of Phone2Action. “They are communicating, making their voices heard and telling officials what they need. That communication is vital. Elected officials need to know what people are experiencing so that they can shape effective policy.”  

To learn more about advocacy in the age of COVID-19, join our webinar, Rise of the Digital Public Affairs Professional 

Tremendous Need

There are many reasons for the increase in activity, starting with tremendous need. Organizations are facing dozens of critical questions that could threaten the future of their industries or the populations they serve. They are looking to protect workers, keep facilities open, receive regulatory relief, qualify for government assistance and influence a bevy of other provisions that could protect lives and minimize financial damage. 

Those needs galvanized action that is as diverse as American itself. Pfizer released a five-point plan to battle COVID-19 and launched a campaign to promote it. The United Motorcoach Association asked Congress to put busses back on the road and give companies access to grants and loans. Many nonprofits sought help for specific populations, such as children, the elderly or people with cancer. Organizations such as the National Partnership for Women and Families and the National Urban League campaigned to support the Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed by Congress.

Also important is that the system has fundamentally changed. Face-to-face lobbying is simply no longer possible, at least for the time being. Fly-ins and lobby days have been cancelled. Faced with an inability to talk directly to members of Congress and their staff, organizations turned to digital advocacy to carry the message. 

Willing to Act 

While it was organizations that issued the call, supporters were willing to answer. People are working from home and have more time to be involved. Many who used to live life in motion, commuting to work and shuffling kids to school and sports, are now practicing social distance. They are at home, in front of a screen, hearing news and willing to act. 

Digital advocacy also represents something people can do to beat back fears that appear to be increasing nationwide as the impact of the virus, both on health and on the economy, continues to unfold.

A poll released March 19th by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that the number of Americans concerned that they or loved one would be infected rose to 66 percent, up from 45 percent in February. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll earlier this month showed that 60 percent believe that the worst is yet to come. 

There’s also a great deal of government action coming. Congress is now considering a $2 trillion economic stimulus bill that could include provisions such as unemployment insurance, additional funding for hospitals and perhaps even direct payments to American families.

“Hundreds of critical decisions are still ahead, both in Washington and the states,” Hartsock said. “That means organizations will continue to represent their constituencies, Americans will continue to respond and lawmakers will continue to listen. This is a great example of our system at work.”   

To learn more about advocacy in the age of COVID-19, join our webinar, Rise of the Digital Public Affairs Professional

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