Since Nov. 8, 2016, voices of the resistance have chimed loud and proud to defend our democracy. They rang out worldwide during January’s Women’s March. They sounded off in all corners of the country to reject a travel ban on refugees. And on July 28, they made sure 30 million Americans would continue to have health insurance by winning the battle to save the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The advocates who worked tirelessly to fight the ACA repeal were smart about communication. There are three important lessons this recent win taught us that the resistance should use when defending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and preparing for the many more fights sure to come.
Strong, simple message
Repeal opponents could easily recite three key facts: repeal would make as many as 30 million Americans uninsured, allow discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, and reduce coverage for Medicaid patients.
How did this become so widely known?
It’s because the voices of the resistance said these three things at the same time, and all the time. These facts became the core message of advocates fighting against the repeal. Democrats and activists alike successfully united around a vision they didn’t want to become a reality.
Lesson #1: Those participating in future fights should get coordinated on what they want to see—or don’t want to see—and use that as a guide to develop a simple, repeatable message.
The core message wasn’t just reserved for one messenger, format, or outlet. It spanned across people and platforms, gaining strength in both numbers and clout.
Nonprofit organizations made it easy for followers to share the message in whatever format worked best for them. With options to call a senator, text, tweet, sign a petition, or pen a letter to Congress, every ally could hold stock in the effort.
Some advocates breathed life into the message by sharing personal stories. People like Sen. Mazie Hirono, who stood before the Senate to bring to light her battle with stage 4 cancer, and Ali Chandra, who shared an impassioned story about how the pending health care bill threatened her son’s life.
Furthermore, the message gained expert insight when health organizations got political. With one voice, nationally recognized doctors’ groups teamed up to speak out against the bill.
Lesson #2: Sharing the message everywhere possible through as many voices as possible proved to be powerful. In the future, advocates should offer up a variety of ways for people to take ownership of a message, whether they’re on-the-ground activists or thought leaders.
Disunity on the other side
While repeal opponents were united by a clear message and a shared purpose, those advancing repeal proposals presented a picture of disunity. There wasn’t a steady voice—like that of the doctors, activists, patients, and government officials who stood opposed to the repeal. While Republicans spoke clearly about their motives for repeal, there was no one speaking in favor of the replacement bill with clarity and consistency.
Without a strong, clear message to unify behind, repeal efforts came up short against compelling stories and constant uproar from ACA advocates, ultimately leading Sens. Collins, McCain, and Murkowski to say “nay” on voting day. The outcome goes to show how much of an impact confident, united voices can have in moving the needle on important causes.
Lesson #3: Disunity on the other side creates an opening for resistance messages to get more traction. Pay attention to what your opponents are saying, and don’t hesitate to use their disorganization against them.