Advocacy Days Preview: Knowledge + Lived Experience is a Powerful Advocacy Combination

A bus driving by the Wisconsin State Capitol

Transportation equity is a major focus of this year’s Advocacy Days. For an advocate, it’s a topic that takes a lot of focus and endurance. There are many reasons for that. Transportation policy varies from community to community and from county to county. One must approach both state and local agencies to advocate for positive change. There are federal and state funds to track and to lobby for. And there’s a lot to know about how transportation policy works to begin with. No wonder people sometimes throw up their hands and get burned out.

That’s why the Council’s Advocacy Days event this year is such an important opportunity for people to learn and then to act. Advocacy Days will be a hybrid event this year, with both online and in-person components.

  • On April 18 an Advocacy 101 session will be offered online via Zoom at two different times, 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. This session will cover an overview of the Council’s advocacy priorities, description of the state budget process, and a template of how to have a successful advocacy conversation with a lawmaker.
  • On April 19 and April 20, there will be online “Lunch and Learn” Zoom sessions on specific topics from noon to 1:00 p.m. The topic on Wednesday, April 19 will be Health Care Access for People with Vision Loss. The topic on Thursday, April 20 will be Transportation Equity for Non-Drivers.
  • On Wednesday, May 3, we’ll gather in person at the State Capitol. This will be an opportunity to meet with state lawmakers to discuss issues that impact people with vision loss.

You must attend one of the Advocacy 101 sessions to participate in the Capitol session, even if you participated in a 101 session last year.

The 101 sessions will help prepare participants to be effective advocates. A successful advocate is one who knows what they’re talking about as well as how to talk about it. Let’s take those one at a time. We’ll use the topic of transportation as a focal point.

There are basic things to know when it comes to the transportation system in Wisconsin. The state, for example, dispenses the largest flow of money for transportation used at the community level. Local officials determine how to use the dollars. In general, “the state provides, the locals decide” is a good way to think about it.

“People think that major transportation decisions are made at the state level. But once the state hands off the money to the county, the county determines how to use it,” says Council Executive Director Denise Jess. “Developing relationships with your county and local elected officials is so important because they need to know your experience and then they need to know ideas about how to improve transportation.”

In larger urban areas, mass transit and paratransit are predominant options. In rural areas, specialized transportation, which is a transportation service often contracted by the county, is more common. Localities and tribes determine who gets these specialized transit contracts.

On the “how you say it” front, draw talking points from your own needs and experience. This personalizes dry facts or data when you’re advocating with a public official. Knowledge and life experience, and the ability to communicate both, are keys to good advocacy.

Therefore, for example, if you live in the city, saying, “I need clarity about how to access paratransit” is good. But saying that and then adding, “…in order to get to my regularly scheduled medical appointments” is even better. Sharing specific knowledge of the issue and reinforcing it with lived experience is a powerful combination.

Another specific example to put into the knowledge file: the need for local mobility managers. There are over 2 million nondrivers in Wisconsin. Mobility managers, available throughout the state, provide information, help nondrivers explore options, and sometimes help a client pay for transportation. In most cases they don’t provide rides directly, but they are experts at connecting clients to the rides that are available.

Holly Keenan, who will be on the Advocacy Days Transportation Equity for Non-Drivers panel on April 20, is a certified mobility manager serving clients in northeast Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. “It’s a challenge to come into a community, figure out what transportation options exist, and then connect the dots,” Holly says. “If there are service gaps, a mobility manager tries to find creative solutions.”

The Governor’s proposed biennial state budget includes recommendations from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Non-Driver Advisory Committee, on which Denise serves as a co-chair. These recommendations include additional money for county mobility managers. Since the Governor’s version of the budget is certain to change in the hands of the State Legislature as it makes its way through the process, money for mobility managers could be increased, reduced or eliminated. This is exactly the kind of service that can be advocated for on both the state and local level.

Meanwhile, get to know who the mobility manager in your area is by going to the statewide directory at

Being an effective advocate also requires you to be a good listener. Many folks get in a room with a legislator or County Supervisor and dominate the conversation. This minimizes any opportunity the official may take to share something or someone they have in common with what you’re talking about. They too may have a lived experience, one that will further personalize the importance of an issue. That kind of connection is gold.

Here’s a transportation piece you can advocate for on a community level—and instead of approaching local officials, you can advocate with your friends, family and neighbors. Rides programs for non-drivers are powered by volunteer drivers. These programs lost drivers in droves during the COVID pandemic. Additionally, many volunteer drivers have aged out of driving, and may even need the service themselves. As an advocate, you can recruit more drivers over the backyard fence, at the local Lions Club, at your church or through your neighborhood association.

In summary, good advocacy asks that you:

  • Get to know your county supervisor, your local mobility manager and your state representative and senator.
  • Be specific. Name the issue you’re working on. Is it for better state support of specialized transportation in your rural area? Call it by name.
  • Combine your knowledge of the issue with anecdotes about your experience related to it. Do the sidewalks end between your address and the grocery store? Advocate locally for construction projects that “complete streets.”

These are just a few of the items that will be covered during Advocacy Days. You can register on the Council’s Advocacy Days page.

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