Earlier this week, nearly 2,000 adults and children gathered in the Capitol lawn in Lansing to promote early childhood education. There were just as many little ones as there were adults engaging in the festivities –getting their faces painted, doing the chicken dance, and meeting with legislators. The hundreds of red t-shirts on adults and kids alike was a great visual reminder to legislators who stopped by the event or just walked in and out of the Capitol that lots of people care about early childhood issues in Michigan. It was a great display of the momentum behind early childhood that has been building in this state over the past several decades. And clearly, policymakers are getting the message with an historic increase in funding for the Great Start Readiness Preschool Program anticipated in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Star Power represented different steps of our collective advocacy strategy to strengthen public policies on behalf of Michigan’s youngest residents. For folks who were entering into the advocacy arena for the first time, it’s a perfect first step. Being with fellow parents, children, providers, and early childhood advocates takes a bit of the pressure off from meeting legislators for the first time. And the first and best step towards becoming a strong advocate is to build a relationship with those who represent you.
For some attendees, it provided a chance to reconnect with legislators who they already had long-standing relationships with. Continuing to maintain that strong relationship is just as important as building it in the first place. And for those who already had long-standing relationships with legislators, they used the opportunity to get insight on what’s at play in current budget negotiations and strategies to use with key legislators.
There are many more steps to be taken. While the informal nature of Star Power made it challenging for folks to make those difficult asks to key decision-makers, it provided a great opportunity to connect with legislators and to engage in policy advocacy. However, the work doesn’t stop after Star Power. While the budget process feels like a short several months, budget-making and policy advocacy happens year-round (learn more about this in our Budget Basics fact sheet on the budget process.) Building a relationship with the elected officials who represent you and educating them on the issues that matter to you, your children, and your community by inviting them to visit local programs in their district; having children and families benefiting from those programs speak to legislators in their districts (like at legislators’ coffee hours); continuing to reinforce the importance of these programs, policies, and public funding all year long; and thanking them for their successes are also part of the advocacy process. Our jobs don’t stop when we get back on the bus to head home after Star Power.
If you participated in Star Power, I thank you for your participation. And, I hope that you’ll follow-up with your legislators about the importance of specific budget issues that still need to be decided. Learn more about what’s still at play in the fiscal year 2014 budget in our latest Budget Basics publication.