A Vote for Kids on Election Day

February 11, 1999

According to Campaign Chairman John Lippitt, in order to create a successful grassroots citizen-based effort on behalf of children and families, an organization must make the transition from including members who see themselves as representatives of organizations to citizens who recognize their civic responsibilities. Lippitt is a former banking executive and current PhD candidate at Brandeis University's Florence Heller School for Social Policy Research. One important aspect of civic responsibility, he says, is keeping informed on candidates' positions and voting.

Why are individual citizens so important? Not only do they have the power to elect candidates who will keep children and families issues on their agendas, but research shows that candidates may be more likely to listen to their constituents than to child advocates. Lippitt cites a 1995 report by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, State Legislative Leaders: Keys to Effective Legislation for Children and Families, which interviewed some of the country's most influential Republican and Democratic state legislative leaders who said that they are not clear on the roles that advocates play and thus are not predisposed to working with them. Says Lippitt, "... although they are concerned about kids, they have mainly anecdotal knowledge—not a detailed understanding—of programs that can and do make a difference." Legislators may also view advocates as unfocused, presenting competing messages. Overall, they see no cohesive children's agenda.

A statewide grassroots constituency with a consistent message could help set a children's agenda that legislators will understand and respond to. The Campaign will press for a children's platform in one or more of the five Campaign issue areas: poverty, health, child care/education, abuse prevention, and family support. Formal opinion polls designed by professional pollsters will back up the platform with statistics and identify which issues have the most popular support. Candidate questionnaires will help the public to determine which candidates are committed to children and families in the state, and elicit commitments to specific actions if candidates win the election. They will also help citizens make informed decisions on election day.

As a nonpartisan organization, the Campaign must take care to help people understand the issues facing Massachusetts children and families without taking sides in the political arena. Endorsing issues without endorsing specific candidates or legislation can be a tricky balancing act. Says Lippitt, "We want to build a big tent without telling people specifically what to say and which bills to support." This type of campaign has the potential to reach many more people and a broader audience. It also reinforces the idea that a campaign for children is designed not necessarily to change people's votes, but to get children's issues on the political agenda. Says Lippitt, "We're also increasing the potential for sponsorship from private sector organizations."

The organization's position has helped it to secure a corporate partnership with The Boston Globe Corporation. The Globe is making available a number of full and quarter-page public service ads to promote the campaign and will highlight the Campaign's work on its corporate Web site. On the editorial side of the Globe, Bernier and the Steering Committee are working to make sure Globe reporters get the information they need to cover stories on how Massachusetts serves the well-being of children and families.