CMF is excited to introduce a new feature in which we look at successful advocacy campaigns that align with what congressional staff members have told CMF are effective methods for communicating with Congress. It’s always valuable to learn about real-life examples that support the research!
This month, we’re talking with the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) about their legislatively successful and award-winning “Kids Just Want To Ride!” advocacy campaign.
CMF: In a nutshell, what was the issue at the core of your advocacy campaign?
AMA: The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008, also known as the “lead law,” banned the making, importing, distributing or selling of any product intended for children 12 and under that contained more than a specified amount of lead in any accessible part that might be ingested. Included in this ban were kids' dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) – motorized items that kids are not going to ingest.
In our view, not only did the law pose a devastating threat to the future of motorcycling, it also had the unintended effect of making young riders less safe, because they were left with no alternative except to ride adult-sized vehicles that are too large and powerful for children.
CMF: What was the political environment like for you in Congress before the launch of the “Kids Just Want To Ride!” advocacy campaign?
AMA: Before the launch, the AMA had been pushing for an exemption from the lead-content limits of the CPSIA since early 2009, or approximately 13 months. This battle spanned across two different Congresses, the 111th and the 112th. The corrective legislation championed by the AMA – H.R. 412, the Kids Just Want to Ride Act – had garnered 53 cosponsors before the launch of the AMA grassroots campaign.
During this timeframe, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) delayed enforcement of the lead-content part of the CPSIA until May 1, 2011, and then again until the end of the year. While the temporary freeze bought more time for the motorcycling community to urge federal legislators to change the law, it also caused confusion among many riders who misinterpreted the delays as a resolution of the issue. Core activists became confused and tired of trying to understand where the issue stood.
Something new had to be done to “shake things up.”
CMF: What were the components of the “Kids Just Want To Ride!” campaign?
AMA: The AMA Kids Just Want to Ride! grassroots campaign, launched March 9, 2011, targeted those most affected by the lead law – kids and their families. The campaign maintained the AMA’s previous efforts, and added two family-focused events. Both activities were resounding successes:
- The national AMA Kids Just Want to Ride! video contest received nearly 100 videos within 30 days; and
- More than 200 kids and families from 21 states participated in the AMA Family Capitol Hill Climb in Washington, D.C., on May 26, 2011, a rally and fly-in lobby day.
View the top three winning videos, featuring kids from Louisiana, California and Colorado:
CMF: What were the outcomes of this advocacy campaign?
AMA: On Aug. 1, 2011, the full House passed H.R. 2715, which provided a categorical exemption for dirt bikes and ATVs, by a 421-2 vote. The Senate unanimously approved the measure the same day. President Barack Obama then signed the bill into law on Aug. 12.
In summary, off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts fought this legislation for nearly three years, sending more than one million messages from every state to every Member of Congress. After the launch of the AMA Kids Just Want to Ride! grassroots campaign, it took only 143 days to achieve victory. The turning point seemed to be that once lawmakers saw kids in their riding gear, saw the videos they made and really paid attention to the messages they received about the benefits of families enjoying outdoor motorized recreation and the danger of kids riding wrong-sized machines, they decided to act.
CMF: What do you think made the campaign successful? What lessons did you learn that could be valuable to other advocacy groups looking to do creative campaigns like this one?
- You do not need a large budget in order to accomplish your goals. The AMA Kids Just Want to Ride! grassroots campaign proved this because we had little budget for the program.
- The power of change rose from the ground/grassroots. Constituents have a powerful voice. The grassroots efforts of AMA activists saved the future of youth OHV riding. Congress ultimately recognized the problem with the CPSIA and wanted to stop the emails, petitions and phone calls that AMA activists were directing to their offices.
- Put a face on the issue. The AMA Family Capitol Hill Climb played a major role in our success by showing lawmakers the kids and families affected by the CPSIA.
- Clearly define goals and schedule frequent meetings with all departments and stakeholders to make sure everyone is on the same page, and all have an opportunity to provide input and help (e.g., communications, marketing, membership, clubs, advocates).
- Think outside the box. Find ways to interest people and get them involved. The many thousands of kids and adults who became passionate about the issue weren’t OHV advocates. Most didn’t know how to lobby. They just like to go out and ride. So they needed direction for getting their message across to their lawmakers and the video component was one way for families to work together for their cause while having fun. It also may have drawn in families who felt it would have been too difficult to write a convincing letter to a lawmaker but weren’t intimated by the prospect of making a short video.
Thank you to the AMA for sharing your insights with us. For a complete summary of the action taken by the AMA on this issue, please visit: http://www.americanmotorcyclist.com/Rights/KeepKidMotorcyclesAndATVsLegal.aspx.
To view the CMF research with congressional staff on how influential in-person visits and personalized stories can be, check out our report, “Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill.”