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It’s easy to think that Washington is gridlocked, lawmakers are buried deep in their partisan corners, and the only way to advance change is along narrow party line votes or executive orders. But a win is a win, and when an executive order or party-line vote results in people being able to access life-saving and affordable healthcare, remain in the country they’ve always called home, or have the option to serve their country, that’s a big deal. But we know all too painfully well that executive orders can be reversed and party-line votes challenged.

The most effective way to ensure your policy win is enduring is by garnering bipartisan support and (if you’re working at the federal level) pass legislation through Congress. It’s never been easy to do, and it’s even harder now—but it’s possible. Just take the successful effort to overturn the 26-year-old ban on Pell Grants for people in prison. Congress voted in late December 2020 to restore access to Pell Grants for incarcerated people—a powerful and permanent move that means more than 450,000 students will be eligible to access transformative postsecondary education in prison through Pell Grants.

The Vera Institute of Justice led a years-long effort to overturn the ban, and M+R was honored to support Vera in developing and implementing a campaign that activated grasstops contacts, secured champions in Congress, grew bipartisan support for restoring access to Pell Grants for people in prison, and ran an integrated earned and social media plan that kept up a steady drumbeat of coverage, elevating the broad support for Pell restoration among influential voices. 

We believe this campaign—which culminated in a bipartisan victory during the acrimonious end of the Trump administration—offers lessons for how advocates can build campaigns that secure lasting change in the months and years ahead. We’ll be hosting a Roundtable on Tuesday, February 23rd at 4pm ET to discuss the Pell campaign in more detail, and we hope you can join us for the conversation.

The Roundtable will feature leaders from the Vera Institute, the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network, Crossroads Strategies, and M+R. We’ll dig into how advocates scored this bipartisan victory during such a partisan time in our nation. Aspects of the campaign we’ll explore include:

  • How the campaign defined the opportunity associated with Pell reinstatement.
  • How Pell reinstatement was effectively framed in a way that attracted bipartisan support.
  • How a nimble, integrated earned and social media campaign accelerated a narrative that demonstrated the depth of support for Pell reinstatement.
  • How to identify and work with champions in Congress.

This promises to be an engaging and informative discussion that lifts up the impact of the Pell victory and shows how the effort offers guidance for other justice reform campaigns and coalitions working on a host of progressive issues. RSVP today—we hope to see you on the 23rd!


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