A first-of-its-kind training: BMCET

October 14, 2013

Recently, Wellstone Action, alongside our partner, The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) Foundation, led a first-of-its-kind, training for individuals working on ballot-measure qualification in their state. Our partnership with The BISC Foundation was a natural fit, and one we’re proud to have grown over the last few years. BISC and the BISC Foundation strengthen democracy by building a national progressive strategy for ballot-measures because like us, they know it’s time to bring ballot measures back to their progressive roots. And through years of partnership, we’re winning change the Wellstone Way:

“The people at Wellstone know what they’re doing. That’s why BISC has partnered with Wellstone Action on trainings for several years, helping to raise the bar for campaigners and policy advocates across the country. The Wellstone team is serious about building skills and developing progressive leadership, but they approach this work with good humor and humanity. The Wellstone folks are pros and a secret weapon of the progressive movement.”

– Justine Sarver, Executive Director, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center

BISC and the BISC Foundation know that ballot measure campaigns can impact everything progressives fight for – yet well-funded corporate powers often dominate ballot measure campaigns over the best interests of working families, the LGBT community, women, communities of color, and the poor. At Wellstone Action, we have trained hard-working individuals involved in ballot-measure campaigns, yet we knew that campaign training didn’t always teach to the specific needs and skills of ballot-measure work. So we sought to change that.

The first-ever Ballot-Measure Civic Engagement Training (BMCET, because we do love acronyms here at Wellstone Action) was a three-day course focusing on the ballot-measure qualification process. The training covered skills such as the nitty-gritty legal and technical rules of getting something on the ballot, to how to protect our measures from being kicked off the ballot, to public opinion research on ballot language, and how to build a message before you are even on the ballot! Participants explored the ins-and-outs of signature gathering – how to ensure that the hard work of collecting signatures will help qualify an issue for the ballot and create a volunteer base for the work ahead. Experts from the field were brought in to share case studies from previous ballot-measure fights, including protecting worker’s rights in Ohio in 2011, pursuing an increase in the minimum wage in Missouri in 2012, and winning marriage equality in Maine in 2012

Every state has different rules and laws regarding how a measure qualifies for the ballot, so the magic of this training was to showcase real-world examples to illustrate winning strategies, and to provide detailed campaign tactics to empower leaders to customize based on their own state laws. It’s a sweet spot that we found at BMCET thanks to our long-term collaboration with BISC and the BISC Foundation.

The over 40 leaders who participated in this training come from long-term partners of both Wellstone Action and BISC and the BISC Foundation, and they came from across the country, places like Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, and Florida. Participants represented organizations focusing on protecting worker’s rights, to partners working on improving and supporting public education, to our friends focused on women’s health and reproductive justice, to colleagues working to establish a living wage, and others dedicated to protecting and expanding voting rights, and ensuring equality and dignity for all of us. Training like this has never happened before, and there was terrific and inspiring collaboration in the room, borne of organizations finding and sharing new ways of working together in upcoming ballot-measure battles. To say the least, I left the training at the end of the third day inspired, excited for the road ahead, and only a little bit tired!

The alumni of this training are gearing up to work on ballot-measure campaigns from 2014 through 2016. Though everyone in the room was an experienced campaign professional, the participants shared that being in such a diverse room of issues and experiences really gave them new information and ways of thinking about the work, and they were grateful to Wellstone and the BISC Foundation for such a unique and powerful training opportunity.

Armed with new skills and resources, more than four dozen leaders are now equipped for the work ahead. And we know the work isn’t done; now that we’ve helped prepare campaign leaders to qualify new measures on the ballot, we’ll be hosting a second part of this training in 2014 to make sure we know how to run campaigns that ensure these progressive measures win when they are put before the voters!

Together, Wellstone Action, BISC, and The BISC Foundation are changing the face of ballot measure work in this country. We believe it’s time for progressives to take back the ballot initiative process and strengthen our movement, stopping bad public policy, and advancing proactive policies that improve people’s lives - and we’re getting to work to accomplish just that.