KYS Communications

Case Studies: Tree Lighting Vigil

CHALLENGE: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger beat former Governor Gray Davis in a California recall election (2003). Schwarzenegger wanted to demonstrate fiscal responsibility by making swift budget cuts. Of all the places he might cut the budget, he chose the state’s developmental disability budget as the first to get the ax.

STRATEGY: Unbeknownst to the governor, KYS Communications had been working with the Coalition of Californians for Olmstead (COCO) for 2½ years to develop capacity among people with disabilities to effectively raise their voices in the media. KYS was approached by a statewide coalition of families with developmental disabilities to fight the budget cuts. The coalition decided to protest the proposed budget cuts. KYS provided media relations support including development of a statewide media list, press release and press packet materials.
RESULT: Within two weeks, Governor Schwarzenegger, overwhelmed by the force of the media coverage, reversed his decision and restored $274 million in budget cuts to families with developmental disabilities. This “campaign” began with two hundred people protesting at the annual lighting of the official state Christmas Tree in Sacramento. The irony was that the annual Tree-Lighting celebration included a child with developmental disabilities placing the first ornament on the tree. KYS capitalized on this irony, and the fact that Maria Shriver’s family was known for championing the rights of people with disabilities. The protest landed on the evening news. The next day over 2,000 adults and children with disabilities rallied in the Capitol. A firestorm of media followed these two rallies but most of the media coverage centered on the Tree-Lighting Vigil. Media included front-page, above-the-fold stories, letters to the editor, op eds, editorials, political cartoons, and columnists from the Los Angeles Times to the Sacramento Bee. This campaign even got a mention on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” the following March 2004.

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