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[Outside the Industry] Lessons from Ukraine: Advocacy in a Time of War
July 20, 2022 @ 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of this year, a small group of young professionals with deep ties to Ukraine came together to form a brand new advocacy team for the Ukrainian-American non-profit, Razom for Ukraine. In this session, Kate Tremont and Mykola Murskyj discuss the process of pulling a team together to tackle fast-moving and ever-changing policy priorities, how the skill set of advocacy professionals can be a valuable tool in our increasingly tumultuous times, and how passion – and a little bit of desperation – can turn advocacy from a career into a calling.
Kate Tremont, Razom for Ukraine
Mykola Murskyj, Razom for Ukraine
- Razom for Ukraine (https://www.razomforukraine.org/) (#RazomAdvocacy – and Razom means “together” in Ukrainian)
- Kate Tremont, Director of Policy & Grassroots Advocacy, Razom for Ukraine
- Mykola Murskyj, Director of Government Affairs, Razom for Ukraine
- Kate’s interest in Ukraine comes from her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer for about a year. She got involved with them on a volunteer basis first and got connected to work with them by following up on a Facebook post and sharing her experience as an advocacy professional.
- Mykola’s grandparents were refugees from Ukraine.
- The organization was founded in 2014 by recent immigrants. Until earlier in 2022 had been entirely volunteer-run. On February 24, 2022, war broke out, and since then they have had to stand up a full advocacy program in about 4 months and have had to professionalize as much as possible and bring on full-time staff in a short span of time. Since then, they have raised $60 million and have donated hundreds of tons of medical supplies.
- Razom did not do advocacy before March of this year, so they are driving the car and building it at the same time.
- Russia has a long history of invading Ukraine (the first invasion happened in 1149 AD) and they have invaded them roughly every 100 years since then. This has meant that strong resistance is ingrained into Ukrainian culture.
- Mykola shared that last year Putin published his version of Mein Kampf, which essentially argued that Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarusians are the same and they shouldn’t exist as separate people and should be absorbed into the Russian identity.
Building the Advocacy Practice
- One interesting thing about building a team from scratch is that you have to try things until it works, and there are not very many people who have done professional advocacy before. They have gotten very creative.
- They built their team from the ground up, and again, they were volunteers doing other jobs during the day and then working on Razom at night. They now have 6 or 7 full-time staff and a few volunteers. The staff all work together on things like research, bill tracking, and media relations.
- They have had to learn a lot of things like open your congressional meeting with thank you!
- They currently have a high response rate to meeting requests on the Hill. About 50% have responded, and a good portion of those actually agree to meet. In the beginning, the meetings were all about sanctions, but it has shifted a bit.
- They get a lot of access to the members, and not just staff. One very effective thing is this idea of showing rather than telling. They bring shrapnel from the eastern front and have found that it is very powerful to hold in your hands.
Advocating for something you are deeply passionate about
- Kate has found that there is a big difference when you are advocating for something you are super passionate about. Always believed in the messages in her previous job, but when it’s Ukraine, it makes a big difference.
- The pace of this work is extremely fast as it is a dire situation, so they all feel this drive, and sometimes they need to scale back enough to get breathing room.
- When it is a personal issue, everything that goes wrong feels personal. So, they need to make sure everyone is taking care of themselves.
- Getting their message through on the Hill and fighting the “fatigue” is important. There is a false narrative on the Hill around “Ukraine Fatigue” – every member says they don’t have it but they know others do. Ultimately, it’s becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, and by continuing to talk about it they make it a thing when it isn’t a thing.
- As advocacy professionals, we all have this power. Advocacy professionals know how to contact people in power, we know what the ask should be, and we know how to ask them.
- Flexibility and being willing to change and grow are critical.
- Continue to try new things.
- Show not tell – the shrapnel.
- Help the members you talk to feel a sense of ownership (get them to feel a part of your mission).
- Focus on good metrics – for them, the number of meetings they’ve been able to get has been their best metric so far.
- Get a team with a variety of skill sets – They’ve been able to do a year’s worth of events in one month!
- Who are your primary advocates and how do you find them? The primary target has been Ukrainian- Americans. They are just getting started on this work, so have mostly been gaining access to advocates from other organizations.
- What are some of the metrics and direct impacts you have been able to accomplish? Number of members that cosponsor key legislation, members signing on to our sign-on letter, private communications with the Executive Branch, and participation in the briefing.
- Do they coordinate with the embassy? No, they do not coordinate with the embassy – but the embassy shares information generally.
- How can we help you? As grassroots advocates and professionals, help us spread the word! We are also interested in brainstorming novel ideas.
- Since several other groups are working on this – how do you work with them? We have a weekly meeting where we coordinate with other groups on messaging and strategy.
- Have you had to use different messages for different Members when going to Hill meetings? Surprisingly, there has not been a divide along partisan lines for more military vs. humanitarian messaging.
- Is there opposition? Mostly the opposition we get is on “we’re already spending too much money on this” and “my constituents don’t care,” but we have been able to combat that by showing how the conflict helps impact gas prices and inflation, and the baby formula shortage.
- How has social storytelling from the frontlines impacted your work (TikTok, Twitter)? They have helped tell the story and help get into everyone’s hearts. One successful tactic has been sharing a thank you video to members, generating a lot of praise.
- What are advocacy tactics you’ve said no to in the past that you’ve said yes to here? Walking in unannounced to Member’s offices.
- What kind of support are you getting from Russian Americans? They have Russian Americans on their team, and they get broad support, but they have faced some challenges around engaging with that community, particularly if the people who want to help still have family in Russia.