What struck me as I prepared to write this column again is that I consistently write about policy issues and those issues are detailed, described and (hopefully) compelling. What has been lacking, though, is a detailed description of why we should work on policy issues at all. With mental health reform upon us, LMEs changing and merging, federal and state funding streams withering or at best shifting focus we should become clear as to why policy is as critical as it is.
Big changes occur as a result of three main forces: public pressure (think civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, etc.); political leadership (think Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation or Hamilton’s Federal Bank ); and strategic grassroots advocacy (such as minimum legal drink age of 21, beer tax increases, NC defeat of privatization). The latter, of course, combines elements of the previous two.
Though each method of change is intriguing for political/policy wonks, it should be pretty clear where our work lies. It’s no coincidence that most of the issues we have an impact on are through the lever of strategic grassroots advocacy. Whether we are fighting to keep funding for critical community initiatives or mental health services, raise the beer tax or defeat privatization our issues are won and lost in the trenches of grassroots advocacy.
What I’m imploring us each to do is to add grassroots advocacy to our toolbox, if it’s not there already. Usually I’m talking about widespread, sweeping change for the better when I discuss specific issues such as the beer tax or the proper classification of sugary alcoholic drinks. Today though, we live in a world in which taking no action is not an option. It used to be that you could count on the status quo, but today that no longer applies to our field and many others. Funding cuts, the privatization of our ABC system and the heart of what many of us do is in jeopardy. Unless the people who: know about what we do, care about these issues and are educated on their solutions speak with one voice our field will fade. There is no Superman here, just you and me and grassroots advocacy. I’ll see you there.
Co-chair, Policy and Advocacy Committee
North Carolina Substance Abuse Prevention Providers Association