In order to more quickly mitigate the effects of the current economic crisis, achieve favorable levels of growth and seize the benefits presented by global trade, it is imperative for companies to expand internationally. But to do so, it’s essential that elected officials do not craft protectionist policies, but instead pass trade liberalizing legislation that further opens foreign markets.

To achieve this, an increasing number of companies and business organizations are establishing grassroots coalitions designed to educate policymakers, as well as the general public, on policies that promote economic growth and create jobs.

To ensure success, coalitions are becoming better organized and operating on a permanent basis. When selecting participants, more coalitions are including employees who share common beliefs and interests, as well as other companies and their employees, and influential members of the business community who represent sizable employment. But to achieve a truly broad-based coalition, opinion leaders, academics, students, business associations and other organizations who understand the importance of international trade are being invited to participate.

Tools of the Trade

To get the word out in a compelling manner, grassroot coalitions often employ a number of strategies and tactics. These include:

  • Publishing position papers that support your policy positions.
  • Coordinating meetings between policymakers and coalition members to discuss positions and the impact on local companies, employees and communities.
  • Encouraging coalition members to submit op-eds to local newspapers that explain the importance of the positions.
  • Encouraging coalition members to attend newspaper editorial board meetings to explain positions.
  • Generating letter-writing campaigns to encourage policymakers to advance positions.
  • Obtaining quotes from coalition members expressing the importance of positions to their companies and workers, and in turn, providing them to policymakers.
  • Educating newspaper reporters on your position in an attempt to generate positive or balanced articles.
  • Sponsoring educational events that promote the positions.

To ensure success, it is important to provide members of the coalition with talking points, as well as sample drafts of op-eds and letters. And in order to get all boats moving upstream together, it is vital to compromise when necessary, focusing on common interests while setting aside differences.

Focus on Congressional Districts

Coalitions that advocate anti-business policies are gaining number. And during this period of poor economic growth and rising unemployment, these organizations are putting even greater pressure on Congress to enact protectionist legislation. Although well-intentioned, this pressure can result in anti-trade positions that end in fewer, not more American jobs. Coalitions that counter these trends by advocating pro-trade positions at the Congressional district level are increasingly necessary. Interestingly, national coalitions that operate at the district level also are becoming more effective and have a significant collective impact on the positions of Members of Congress.

As this occurs, the effectiveness of Washington, D.C.-based lobbyists may be declining. Why? Inside the D.C. beltway tens of thousands of lobbyists compete for the attention of policymakers. Distinguishing their messages and the degree of importance each one has on constituents back home is increasingly difficult for policymakers. As a result, D.C.-based lobbyists are finding it harder to acquire the attention of politicians.

For these and other reasons, messages initiated from districts that are championed by political supporters and friends of the policymaker, as well as local employers, are becoming increasingly potent. In turn, Members of Congress appear to be paying greater attention to the positions expressed by their constituents. But this is no surprise. Since “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” groups with anti-trade agendas are increasingly establishing permanent field teams at the district level to engage in this more “retail” method of advancing political agendas. This personal style of advocacy has grown more practical over the years as Members of Congress seek to have expanded input from their districts rather than rely on “inside the beltway” sources.

Small and Medium-Size Companies Often Are at a Disadvantage

Small and medium-size companies, which are significantly impacted by anti-trade policies, are increasingly telling their stories to policymakers and the media. But more needs to be done. Why? Many small and medium-size company executives wear several hats and have little time and few resources to devote to issue management or advocacy.

This article appeared in Impact Analysis, January-February 2009.

John Manzella
About The Author John Manzella [Full Bio]
John Manzella, founder of the, is a world-recognized speaker, author and an international columnist on global business, trade policy, labor, and economic trends. His latest book is Global America: Understanding Global and Economic Trends and How To Ensure Competitiveness.

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