Frontline Initiative State Chapter Development

Your journey as a grassroots advocate


 Beth Fondell is a training coordinator at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota.

Grassroots advocacy is the most basic form of citizen action DSPs can take. It gives each of us the privilege of shaping public policy by working together. Establishing good public policies without gathering citizen interest and involvement is like trying to enjoy a bubble bath without the bubbles! There’s no pizzazz.

Solid public policies make sure children and adults with disabilities, and their families, have the same quality of life that people without disabilities enjoy. This only happens when citizens who care get involved. Each one of us is responsible for helping our representatives fully understand what matters to people with disabilities. 

So how does one person develop and continue partnerships with elected representatives? Here are ten basic actions you can take to start your journey as a grassroots advocate —

  • VOTE! To refrain from exercising this basic right is to silence your voice and your values.

  • Find out who represents your state, county, city, and school district so you can personally introduce yourself.

  • Determine what public policies affect your life and get in touch with organizations that focus on what you care about. For example, if you care about policies that impact the lives of people with disabilities, sign up to receive Action Alerts from your state chapter of The Arc.

  • Develop a personal story to share with policymakers that addresses why you care about a certain issue. For example, tell the story of working as a DSP for someone with a disability to promote the value of that relationship and the support the individual needs.

  • Keep in touch with your elected representatives to encourage their support of certain actions or to thank them for working on something you wanted.

  • Write letters to the newspaper or blog on issues and decisions that policymakers are considering and you feel strongly about.

  • Attend legislative hearings, town hall and/or school board meetings and speak up about the issues you care about.

  • Organize gatherings for your neighbors and friends to meet the elected representatives in your community and set an agenda to discuss specific topics.

  • Mentor another person to help develop their confidence in becoming a grassroots advocate.

  • Join a coalition of people who are drafting policy so elected representatives can review the draft and introduce it into law. For example, join the special education advisory committee in your school district or your city’s human rights council.

Many groups and institutions nationwide encourage citizens to advocate and actively participate in public policy. To get involved, type “grassroots advocacy” and the location that interests you into your Internet search engine. From there it’s all about making choices and taking action. And remember what Horace Mann wrote: “A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.” One person really can make a difference in the lives of others.