Advocacy During a Pandemic

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Advocacy During a Pandemic

June 2020   minute read

By: Paige Anderson

The spring of 2020 will go down in the history books as one of the most dramatic and unprecedented times in our history, as our nation faced the COVID-19 pandemic health crisis. In a matter of days, global travel stopped, and our borders shut down. Major sporting events, such as NCAA March Madness, NBA and NHL games and the Masters, were either cancelled or postponed. States enacted shelter-at-home orders. Businesses closed, companies implemented work-from-home protocols, and schools developed virtual curriculum programs. And, after completing a very successful NACS Day on the Hill, which we now know was one of the last fly-ins on Capitol Hill, NACS suddenly found itself thrown into a Pandora’s box of pandemic policy response and a new era of advocacy.

Improvise, Adapt and Overcome

The famous phrase “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome” best describes the NACS response to the plethora of issues and challenges facing the convenience industry, as states issued shelter-at-home mandates, and businesses—including NACS and Capitol Hill—shut their physical doors.

The first urgent issue to tackle was how to keep convenience stores open and continuing to provide the essential services and products to communities and customers.

In any successful campaign, you have to know your mission and objective, identify your targets and implement your strategy using all the weapons at your disposal. The mission was to designate the workforce of the convenience and fuel retailing industry as essential. Our target was the White House and Department of Homeland Security, and our relationships with the Trump Administration and Capitol Hill were our weapons. The rapid response of NACS was to maximize these relationships built over time and make sure the convenience industry’s workforce was designated as critical infrastructure. NACS was successful in this new advocacy era. As states issued various social distancing requirements, most referred to this federal designation allowing essential businesses to remain open.

Our mission was to designate the workforce of the convenience and fuel retailing industry as essential.

Following this, myriad other issues faced the industry, such as liquidity, liability protection, supply chain challenges, tax relief to essential employees, flexibility in the seasonal fuel grade transition and waiving hours of service requirements, among many other issues. As NACS worked on these issues, we utilized new methods of technology to meet with members of Congress, congressional staff and other industry stakeholders. Additionally, NACS implemented an effective grassroots and grasstops strategy to connect convenience retailers with their congressional leaders through tried-and-true methods—call-to-action alerts and targeted outreach through calls and emails.

Although NACS is unable to utilize one of its most successful grassroots programs, NACS In Store, a new alternative to the in-store program was created. In lieu of a retailer hosting a member of Congress with a tour of their store, behind the counter experience and discussion of their issues, retailers and members of Congress connected via virtual meeting platforms to discuss how COVID-19 was affecting their businesses and gaining support for key proposals that could help the convenience industry. These virtual round tables have been so successful that this program will continue beyond the coronavirus crisis as an added engagement and grassroots tool.

NACS staff and retailers connected with Rep. Pete Stauber (MN-8) on how COVID-19 is impacting the industry.

Although it will take time to determine what lessons are to be learned in response to the COVID-19 crisis, there is already one fundamental lesson we’ve learned on how to best advocate for our industry.  In the past, NACS built a strong foundation based on people and relationships, created an effective strategy that includes knowledge, connections and engagement and filled a toolbox with grassroots and grasstops programs, NACSPAC and other engagement tools. In this new era of advocacy, the foundation and the strategy are the same. The only real change is that we have added new tools to strengthen the foundation and build the structure.

In a Paris publication in 1848, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote his famous epigram, “plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose,” which translates to “the more things change, the more things stay the same.”

Staying Engaged

A key component of NACS political engagement is NACSPAC. Initially, NACSPAC temporarily suspended fundraising in response to COVID-19. However, with all the activity in Congress, NACS decided to resume fundraising. If you have any questions, please contact NACSPAC Manager Katie Bohny at [email protected].

Paige Anderson

Paige Anderson

Paige Anderson is NACS director of government relations. She can be reached at [email protected].

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