Progressives would like us to believe that the march toward big government is inexorable. But is it? Not if people like Melony Armstrong have a say in it. Armstrong, a hair braider from Mississippi, took on her state’s powerful cosmetology board and won by shining a spotlight on the onerous regulations that made it difficult for hair braiders to practice their trade.
Before Armstrong came along, Mississippi required hair braiders to have a cosmetology license. And to get one, they had to spend more than 3,200 hours in a classroom, learning skills that were irrelevant to hair braiding. This was cost-prohibitive and time-consuming for working-class individuals trying to earn a living.
With the help of the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit legal organization, Armstrong and two aspiring hair braiders filed a lawsuit against the state of Mississippi. This led to a groundswell of support that paved the way for legislation easing hair braiding requirements in the state.
How did Armstrong pull off the improbable? With hard work, dedication and, above all, a vision to inspire others to join the cause.
These are skills that the Grassroots Leadership Academy helps ordinary Americans hone. GLA trains volunteer activists, like Armstrong, to fight for individual liberty and economic freedom. Everyday people who graduated from the program have taken on well-connected and well-funded interest groups and won all over the country.
And they’ve proven, over time, that an organized minority can stop an unorganized majority bent on growing the size of government, stifling innovation and limiting opportunity.
One of the most effective strategies Grassroots Leadership Academy students learn is: own the narrative. In the battle of ideas, a clear and compelling message is vital.
Melissa Lakas, a retired ER nurse from Missouri and a graduate of the Grassroots Leadership Academy, knows this first-hand. After attending an Academy training course about effective messaging, Lakas started thinking about her own neighborhood and a series of speed bumps recently installed in her subdivision. She and her neighbors had been trying to get them removed, but they were not getting any traction with the neighborhood board of trustees.
Then Lakas put her Grassroots Leadership Academy training into practice. During conversations with her neighbors and others in the community, she realized that the speed bumps were not only an inconvenience, but also a potential danger to the large number of retired people who could need emergency medical care. The way Lakas describes it, “I don’t like them, they slow me down, they’re bad for my car” is not the message. The right message is “it’s safer for the community to not have them.”
And in Armstrong’s hair-braiding case, the right message was that these regulations don’t improve public health and safety, and they prevent working-class people from making a living and providing for their family.
This approach must always guide us when we take on well-intentioned, big-government advocates who are convinced that more regulations, higher taxes and increased government programs are the surest way to lift people out of poverty and increase opportunity. We need to clearly articulate how our ideas lead to better outcomes for the least fortunate and most vulnerable.
The facts are on our side. But that isn’t enough, we must also be educated, organized and trained to take our message to the general public and inspire others to see why increased freedom is the surest way to expand opportunity for everyone.
The task is daunting, but not impossible. I have seen it happen with my own eyes, time and time again.
Disclosure: Bold Founder Carrie Sheffield was recently named Executive Director of Generation Opportunity, which is a sister organization to Americans For Prosperity; the Grassroots Leadership Academy is a sister organization to Americans For Prosperity as well.
Slade O’Brien is the vice president of the Grassroots Leadership Academy. To learn more about the Academy and ways to get involved, click here: https://gla.americansforprosperityfoundation.org/