Sahithi Vemula and Mallory Ward

In a world where politics and politicians seem more polarizing than ever, finding common ground between both sides of the aisle can feel impossible. With a slew of competing policy priorities and slow-to-move legislative and regulatory processes, it can often feel like we’re screaming into the void — especially as communicators trying to move the needle.

Politics has recently undergone a significant transformation, marked by a surge in populist beliefs across the political spectrum and a sense of political exhaustion and division. By painting the picture of a divisive nation, this complex environment has forced us to adapt and rethink how we approach and engage in advocacy.

Enter local advocacy: an antidote to this gridlock. In today’s landscape, effective advocacy increasingly hinges on local engagement, emphasizing the importance of humanizing communications.


Leverage Populism to Impact Change

Partisan shifts and splintering within both major U.S. parties have coincided with a rise in populist, anti-establishment sentiment — often overshadowing the nuanced perspectives of moderate voters. However, populism can be a positive, powerful catalyst, propelling us into the future. Just think back to the 19th-century populist era in the U.S., which saw deeply rooted local movements drive national change. Channeling this energy through communities can connect complex issues to their real-life impact — helping make the case for change.

Local advocacy offers a unique platform to elevate relatable experiences, as exemplified by Sen. Patty Murray’s campaign to showcase everyday threats to women's reproductive rights. Rooted in populist concerns, these personal narratives underscored the need for over-the-counter birth control options, marching the voices and faces of everyday citizens through the halls of Congress. Directed through the lens of local advocacy, populist momentum can turn widespread community sentiments into tangible, impactful outcomes for all.


Hash-Tagging Along: Tweeting to Tweak Policy

Think about where you got your news just a few decades ago. More likely than not, it was from traditional outlets on print, television, or the radio. Fast forward, and we’re in a whole new digital ballgame, filled with up-and-coming social media channels, podcasts, and news platforms competing for our attention. It’s gradually ushered in a shifting paradigm, where traditional media establishments have seen their relevance and authority wane while influential media personalities themselves are thriving as brands across more channels than ever before.

In this evolving landscape, the individual influencer’s impact is emerging. It’s not just about TikTok stars — it includes local creatives, entrepreneurs, and community leaders who can resonate with different audiences using new platforms. These influencers often have direct stakes in the very decisions they’re advocating for, lending authenticity and urgency to their causes. As pervasive issues continue to affect communities differently, leveraging these unexpected messengers as third-party validators broadens the reach of a particular cause. This accessibility enables everyday citizens and communities to play pivotal roles in shaping policies — truly democratizing influence.


Don’t Overlook a Federal Strategy

Even with this emphasis on local efforts, federal engagement remains a key piece of the pie. Local initiatives should be seen as a tool to shape national outcomes, underscoring the people’s power in a comprehensive and responsive policy landscape. Coupled with regular federal engagement, local efforts can galvanize support and contribute to incremental policy shifts.

Building relationships with aligned policymakers, identifying champions for various causes, and maintaining a presence on the Hill are all crucial for seamlessly integrating local actions into a national policy framework. This interplay gives the voices and concerns of local communities a well-deserved seat at the table, seamlessly integrating to maintain momentum toward change.


Harnessing This Momentum

As we navigate a dynamic and polarized political climate, using local advocacy as a lever for national change has never been more critical. Injecting local stories into the national lens brings life and relevance to broader issues while equipping policymakers with the tools to advocate for meaningful change.

While there is no silver bullet to navigating political contention, a steady cadence of strategic federal engagement with local perspectives can shape a more inclusive policy landscape. Flipping the script from national to local isn’t just effective — it’s essential.