Winning the Internet

Guerillarized Grassroots Advocacy

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Bill Wong

Bill Wong

As we get ready for Netroots Nation 2015, we’re taking a closer look at some of the convention’s most exciting training sessions. We’re interviewing the trainers and taking you inside some of online activism’s most popular and elusive topics.

Today we’re interviewing Bill Wong, who’ll be leading Guerillarized Grassroots Advocacy.

NN15 Training Session

Guerillarized Grassroots Advocacy
Tired of elected officials ignoring your press conferences, rallies and email blasts? Learn new disruptive and asymmetric strategies and tactics to effectively overcome better financed and entrenched special interests to change public policy in the legislative arena. These strategies and tactics were developed over the course of passing landmark environmental legislation in California to protect sharks, condors, and elephants. This training will help you find your opposition’s weak spots and provide you with the new media, messaging and legislative strategy skills necessary to win when the odds are heavily against you.


Q: Tell us about yourself and your experience using guerilla-style campaign strategies and tactics.

A: I’ve worked in and around the California Legislature for over 25 years. During that time, I served as a lobbyist for consumer groups and chief of staff for progressive legislators taking on powerful special interests. I advised the California effort to pass a ban on shark fin. The legislation was opposed by the billion dollar shark fin trade industry who paid $40,000 a month on two top tier lobbying firms and a former Speaker of the Assembly to kill the bill. Utilizing social media, developing creative video content, and using an unconventional approach in community organizing we overcame heavy opposition and got the landmark bill passed and signed into law that contributed to a global decline in shark fin sales.

More recently, I worked on the development of a $7.5 billion state water bond that was under tremendous pressure by special interests to surreptitiously insert hundreds of millions in earmarked projects. By utilizing an asymmetric and sustained messaging strategy and an unconventional approach to developing public support through statewide public hearings, we were able to blunt efforts to negotiate the water bond in a back room deal and in the dead of night away from public scrutiny. As a result, the Legislature passed a bond proposal in the light of day that was overwhelmingly supported by voters that allocated funds fairly and did not include any earmarks.


Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest mistake folks make when trying to get the attention of elected officials?

A: Elected officials only care about those forces that keep them in office. Organizing people who are not registered to vote or those that don’t reside in their district has completely no impact. That’s why most call campaigns and petitions fail to have impact. Unless you can prove that your caller, petitioners or protesters live in the district, legislators will just ignore you. When I develop a strategy, I not only look at the number of actual constituent voters I can mobilize, but also any key supporters of the legislator that I can recruit onto my side. One influential friend of a legislators often has more impact than 100 unknown voters in their district.


Q: What are the two most important things to keep in mind when trying to plan for or pull off a disruptive event?

A: Understand who your audience is and get creative in how you deliver your message. Groups get way too into their own dialogue and follow stale public relations protocols. On one campaign, we needed to attract media attention on budget cuts to programs for women. We could have convened a press conference playing to our base with our usual lineup of experts and talking points on statistics surrounding the cuts. This would have appealed to our base, but we needed to attract mainstream media coverage so we could expand our message to the broader public in terms that made sense to them. Instead, we staged a 2-hour lunchtime bake sale across from the State Capitol to balance the budget. The message was that having a bake sale to balance the budget was as ridiculous as balancing the budget on the backs of women. We had baked goods with clever names connecting them to policy options to fund programs. The bake sale got covered by the leading news station in the region and helped convince the Governor to support our effort.


Q: Why should folks attend your session at Netroots Nation, and how can they connect with you?

A: This session will be chock full of case studies and interactive discussion designed to challenge assumptions about what works and doesn’t work in persuasion advocacy. I’ll be presenting the strategic principles, alternative tactics, favorite reads, and online hacks that have helped me win advocacy efforts. I can be reached at @billwongllc.


To attend this training, or one of the 39 others at Netroots Nation 2015 in Phoenix, register now.

About Melissa Foley

Melissa is the Director of Training and Mentoring for Netroots Foundation and New Media Mentors. She aims to use her MBA + nonprofit background to teach organizations to use new media tools strategically.


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