On Being Heard

At the heart of effective grassroots advocacy is the distinctive voice that can be heard above the din, whether an individual voice or the chorus of many. To be truly heard a lasting impression must be made.

The NMA sends out several dozen legislative alerts to members via email each year. Each alert profiles a particular bill or set of bills, provides a recommendation for motorists to support or oppose, gives the reason(s) why, and identifies the legislators who should be contacted.

We have written about this process several times in the past, most recently here. Many members contact us and suggest that we send out a form letter with the requisite talking points, something that could be signed and sent in very efficiently. The benefit is obvious: The easier we make it to send in a letter of endorsement or opposition, the greater number of people who will respond by forwarding it to their state representative. The louder the chorus, the better we are heard.  Right?  Well, not exactly.

Legislative staffers have been consistent in telling us that sending in cookie-cutter letters virtually guarantees that the lawmaker will won’t see them. Regulations.gov, the site where government agencies post proposed rules in order to solicit public comments, relays that best in its Tips for Submitting Effective Comments, including:

Organizations often encourage their members to submit form letters designed to address issues common to their membership. Organizations including industry associations, labor unions, and conservation groups sometimes use form letters to voice their opposition or support of a proposed rulemaking. Many in the public mistakenly believe that their submitted form letter constitutes a “vote” regarding the issues concerning them. Although public support or opposition may help guide important public policies, agencies make determinations for a proposed action based on sound reasoning and scientific evidence rather than a majority of votes. A single, well-supported comment may carry more weight than a thousand form letters. 

So what is the most effective way for an advocacy organization to encourage a large and effective response? It appears that balance was struck rather nicely with regard to Docket NHSTA-2016-0087, the request by the federal transportation agency for comments to the proposal of putting speed limiters on heavy trucks.

The speed limiter issue has been the topic of recent NMA e-newsletters. We recognize the names of many members among the posted comments to the NHTSA docket, and are especially pleased at the way they absorbed the NMA talking points that resonated with them, recrafted the language, and then added their own observations and experiences to create unique, powerful messages in opposition to creating split speed limits on the nation’s highways. Those are the individual voices that stand out above the white noise.

P.S.  Docket NHTSA-2016-0087 remains open until December 7th in an extension of the public comment period just announced by the federal agency.  If you haven’t added your response yet, pull up this NMA Alert which frames the issues and fashion your own statement. The message needs to be loud and clear that we don’t want another national maximum speed limit fiasco caused by capping the speed of some – or as some have commented, all – vehicles.

P.P.S.  If you aren’t on our legislative action email list but would like to be, drop us a note at nma@motorists.org.  We’ll make sure to include you on future alerts.

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