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Rotunda Report
  • Rotunda Report
    September 11, 2023

    Grassroots Advocates Make Change Happen

    Members of the State Bar successfully worked together to make change happen at the Capitol this legislative cycle. Learn how easy it is to become an advocate yourself.

    Cale Battles, Lynne Davis & Devin Martin

    Madison Capitol at dusk in fall

    Sept. 11, 2023 – The major funding increases that were included in the 2023-25 state budget were one of the biggest commitments to Wisconsin’s criminal justice system made in some time. That accomplishment was made possible through the dedicated work of the criminal justice coalition partners: the District Attorneys Association, Office of the State Public Defender, Director of State Courts, and the Department of Justice. But it also took a dedicated advocacy effort of the State Bar and its members in reaching out to lawmakers through the advocacy network. From every corner of the state, bar leaders and members used their own “grassroots” influence to make what once seemed impossible happen.

    What is grassroots advocacy? Put simply, it is when attorney leaders reach out as constituents and make their voices heard by sharing their opinions, perspectives, or wisdom. When individual efforts like this are echoed and coordinated across the state, they build a tremendous amount of synergy and create positive interactions with lawmakers. During this legislative cycle, on the topic of criminal justice funding, grassroots advocacy was an important component helping to garner the necessary support for a sizable funding increase.

    Regular readers of Rotunda Report know that for several years now, the State Bar’s Advocacy team (see sidebar) has encouraged members to reach out to their legislators on topics that may affect them, their practice, or their clients, and to do so in an organized way by using the State Bar’s Advocacy Network action center to email, call, and utilize social media to reach their lawmakers. This is one of the most effective ways to amplify the voice of the profession. But what if you are ready to move beyond the first step?

    Cale Battles Cale Battles, is the senior government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached by email, or by phone at (608) 250-6077.

    Lynne Davis Lynne Davis, is a government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached by email, or by phone at (608) 852-3603.

    Devin Martin Devin Martin, is the grassroots outreach coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached by email, or by phone at (608) 250-6145.

    One way to get more involved is to join or get more involved with your particular practice section. Of the 24 practice sections within the State Bar, 13 are lobbying sections (meaning they work with State Bar staff to take active positions for or against bills and legislative initiatives), and two are “lobbying-lite” (who receive regular legislative updates and have questions answered but don’t take official positions). Lobbying sections often create opportunities for deeper legislative engagement that can include becoming a legislative liaison who makes suggestions on policy for the Section board, or delivering testimony on bills at public hearings at the Capitol. Another option is to simply reach out to Advocacy staff who can answer questions and help find a way to get you more involved, whether that is setting up a meeting with your legislator, recruiting your colleagues to get more engaged in grassroots advocacy, or helping to advance a particular policy position that resonates with you.

    Finally, the Advocacy Network Grassroots Toolkit is a comprehensive resource guide on how to become a more effective grassroots advocate, available to members in digital and print format. It includes an overview of how the advocacy process works, tips and tricks for making the biggest impact when writing, emailing or calling contact legislators’ offices, using the media to amplify public awareness of an issue and garner public support, leveraging social media, and working with State Bar staff to host meetings between State Bar members and their lawmakers. It also includes details on how to become an “Advocacy Ambassador,” a volunteer role that includes recognition for those that go above and beyond to help achieve advocacy success. Future editions of the Rotunda Report email newsletter will include a “tip of the week” to help members build their advocacy voice and ensure that in Wisconsin, those who write the laws are hearing from those who practice the law.

    Click below to download the Grassroots Toolkit:

    Click here to open the Advocacy Network Grassroots Toolkit (PDF)

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