Project updates, commentaries, events and news about health across the nation from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps team.

Rob English on Organizing for Policy Change

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

On May 16, 2013, the Governor of Maryland signed a bill authorizing more than $1 billion in funding for school construction and renovation efforts in Baltimore—the single largest investment in Baltimore city neighborhoods. Nearly 140 of Baltimore city’s 162 schools are in very poor condition – some even in complete disrepair. In addition to creating better learning environments, this project will also create 8,000 jobs. In a recent webinar Rob English, Project Director of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), discussed this process and how to effectively organize and rally a community to create policy change.

According to English, many in the community had lived with the challenging conditions in Baltimore schools for so long they felt powerless to change it. Because of this pervasive feeling, BUILD’s efforts truly encompassed a grassroots mobilization campaign. It began with several leaders of the clergy visiting schools, seeing the conditions first-hand, engaging parents and teachers and building relationships. The effort grew into a movement of thousands that grew to also include business leaders, policy-makers and a broad based coalition of partners such as the ACLU of Maryland and Child First.  

English said building consensus and trust among people are essential to creating change. He noted three key things to remember:

  • Meet people where they are and don’t lead with policy solutions.
  • Understand the different constituencies you are trying to engage, what their stories are and why this issue is important to them.
  • Engage people around their interests and create an understanding about how a change in policy would affect them.

By understanding that policy does not win alone but in fact the people are the driving force of change, BUILD and its coalition partners were able to end the “systematic disinvestment” in Baltimore city public schools.