Former Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill once said all politics is local. This phrase aptly applies to your successful grassroots efforts that ultimately led to President George W. Bush signing the Clean Boating Act of 2008. The signing took place July 29 aboard Air Force One on a flight from Euclid, Ohio, to Washington, D.C.
Make no mistake about it. The most successful grassroots network is one made up of individuals such as yourselves who put your passion for the sport to paper when you wrote your letters to your congressional leaders.
You boldly took the initiative to stand up for what you believe in. You were determined to protect the nation’s estimated 17 million recreational boaters from cumbersome and complicated federal regulations.
You worked together and presented a unified voice. You were heard. You succeeded.
This represents the biggest legislative victory for the boating industry since the repeal of the insidious luxury tax in 1993. The Clean Boating Act permanently restores a long-standing exemption for recreational boats from having to obtain a discharge permit under the Clean Water Act.
Now it is time to say thank you. Your legislators will appreciate the kind words and will remember you when you need their help again.
It is also the time to take note and reflect on what you did right, so you are prepared for the next time you need to lobby for a cause, such as water access, tax nexus or ethanol.
You may consider enhancing your success by taking a look at a grassroots activist’s handbook, “Organize to Win,” a guide written by Jim Britell to help people organize community campaigns.
He talks about the assumptions and misconceptions of campaigns and the essential elements of grassroots campaigns, among other related subjects.
Britell says any campaign can succeed if it has enough community support. That support, though, is only effective if the community is introduced into, and expressed in, the political process.
As you learned with the Clean Boating Act, your campaign succeeded because of the action you took.
Britell says action consists of phone calls to decision makers, written material, personal contacts and comments made at meetings.
But no two campaigns are exactly the same. What worked the last campaign might not work in the next.
Britell suggests you decide what makes your campaign special and find a creative angle that captures your goal.
He gives this example: “If your mayor refuses to consider evidence from biologists who prove an industrial park will destroy a wetland and increase air pollution near a school, you could take a variety of different approaches. You could make a graphic of a group of small children playing in a schoolyard wearing gas masks. You might create a cartoon caricaturizing the mayor as the monkey that heard, saw, and spoke no evil. If a large corporation was behind the industrial park, you could do a ‘Don’t let XYZ Corporation decide our future’ campaign. If the wetland contained a rare endangered lily, you could get garden clubs involved to launch a ‘Don’t Destroy the Last Lily’ campaign.”
Every campaign needs a basic call to action that clearly and dramatically summarizes your issue. You cannot have a serious campaign without one. Your alert must be compelling, well-written, accurate, and persuasive, writes Britell.
You certainly accomplished that, given the estimated 150,000 people who sent e-mails to Congress on the issue, with 120,000 e-mails alone coming via the BoatBlue.org Web site.
And you broadened your reach, another feather in your cap.
Stakeholders, led by the National Marine Manufacturers Association and BoatU.S., founded a group called BoatBlue in December 2006. The BoatBlue coalition swelled to include outdoor enthusiasts and conservation groups from a wide and diverse background.
As Norm Schultz said in one of his TradeOnlyToday.com blogs, when this industry couples with the strength of the nation’s grassroots boat owners, it produces real traction. That’s exactly what happened in this case. Remember, on average it takes Congress seven years to pass a bill.
Incredibly, we cut that by more than 4 1/2 years. In addition, we did it at a time when Congress is actually passing very few bills, mainly due to election-year politics.
As MRAA lobbyist Larry Innis wrote in an MRAA Dealer Alert thanking all retailers for working so hard on this issue, “the literal thousands of e-mails, calls and letters are what made the difference!”
Congratulations. We applaud your efforts.
This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue.