Does grassroots activism even work? Every time a controversial bill is considered, and every time election season comes around, Americans are encouraged to get involved at the grassroots level. We are told that every vote counts. We are told that every election has consequences. But does citizen participation make a difference, or can we only effect change from the top down?

Citizen Activism Produces Pro-Life Victories

Several pro-life victories show the power of ordinary Americans taking action for the issues they care about. Although she was only 15 years old, Lila Rose began standing against Planned Parenthood through investigative reporting. Due in part to her efforts, the government has cut $60 million in Planned Parenthood support, and 8 states have stopped funding from going to the abortion giant. Similarly, Abby Johnson quit her Planned Parenthood career and made it her mission to rescue other abortion workers from the industry. Thanks to her organization, And Then There Were None, 400 abortion workers have left. Another 1 percent of American abortion workers quit after seeing Johnson’s autobiographical film Unplanned.

Voting for Pro-Life Candidates Saves Lives

Voting for pro-life candidates also yields powerful pro-life victories. When Iowa voters elected pro-life officials who defunded Planned Parenthood, one third of the state’s Planned Parenthood locations closed. In Bettendorf, Iowa, the pro-life Women’s Choice Center moved into Planned Parenthood’s old building, redeeming a tragic location with compassion and care. Since pro-life legislators passed the Hyde amendment, the Charlotte Lozier Institute reveals that 2.13 million humans have been saved from abortion. On the flip side, after Illinois legalized taxpayer-funded abortions for state employees and Medicaid recipients, the number of taxpayer-funded abortions rose by 274 percent.  

Every Vote Counts

For pro-life candidates to get into office, they need pro-life voters to turn out at the polling places. In the 2018 midterm elections, several right-leaning candidates won by less than 1 percent. During the Florida Senate race, Rick Scott (R) defeated Bill Nelson (D) by a 0.12 percent margin of victory. In Georgia’s 7th district, Rob Woodall (R) secured a victory with only 419 votes. Will Hurd (R) won in Texas’ 23rd district by 926 votes, while Chris Collins (R) defeated Nate McMurray by only 1,087 votes. In April 2019, conservative judge Brian Hagedorn won an upset Wisconsin Supreme Court seat by 5,960 votes, equaling 0.4 percent of the vote.

Communicating with Legislators Influences Policy

Like the pro-life activists, home school advocates have achieved critical grassroots victories. In California, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Colorado, so many homeschoolers protested and made phone calls that legislators changed their minds about considering anti-homeschool legislation.

Forging relationships and staying in contact with elected officials furthers family policy in powerful ways. The Congressional Management Foundation reported that only 9 percent of House staffers get “information about the impact the bill/issue would have on the district or state,” but 91 percent would appreciate the information. Another 79 percent value “personal story from a constituent related to the bill or issue.” A mere 18 percent of them hear such stories, though. 79 percent of them also recommended “meet or get to know the Legislative Assistant with jurisdiction over their issue area.” The vast majority reported that “in-person visits from constituents” can help to sway undecided congresspeople. Even if citizens cannot visit congressional offices in person, they can interact with staff online. “Thirty or fewer similar comments on a social media post are enough to get an office’s attention,” according to another study from the Congressional Management Foundation.

When citizens engage on the issues they are passionate about and become involved in the political process, change happens. Activists like Abby Johnson and Lila Rose prove that concerned citizens can make a critical difference. Calling our legislators, showing up for demonstrations, and voting our values will help to determine the course America takes in the years ahead.

Anna Longbons is an intern with FRC Action.