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Who's Who at Advocacy 101: Ellen Weaver

Posted by: Jason Zacher on Thursday, August 6, 2020

I've known Ellen Weaver for a number of years, and there are few in South Carolina who understand how to influence through educating your audience. Her work as the Founding President & CEO of the Palmetto Promise Institute gives her a unique view -- from a think-tank perspective -- of how to educate people while not directly advocating for an issue.

Before the Palmetto Promise Institute, Ellen worked in a wide variety of roles in U.S. Senator Jim DeMint’s Washington and South Carolina offices before starting at PPI. Her final assignment as State Director included management of staff, communications, and outreach strategy.

Her work portfolio also includes development, speech-writing, coalition-building, and authorship of editorials published nationally and across the opinion pages of South Carolina.

A Greenville native, Ellen learned the value of initiative and hard work early in life, helping her dad on the job sites of his small residential construction business.  She currently serves as Chairman of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, and on the board of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. She is also a deacon and chorister at the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia.

1. How did you get into the thinktank world?

Let’s just say it was as big a surprise to me as to anyone. Even in my past life in a congressional office, I was much more involved on the constituent and communications side of the house – not as a policy wonk! But when I moved back to SC after working in Washington (where you can’t go a block without tripping over yet another think tank) I quickly noticed the general lack of independent (aka – non-government, non-lobbyist-driven) information in state level decision-making. Not to take anything away from either of those sources: they each have their role to play in the policy process. But it just seemed to me that there was room for some outside-the-system creativity and problem solving. One thing led to another, and here I am!

2. What news do you read or listen to on a daily basis? How do you stay informed?

I generally listen to NPR on the commute and browse through the WSJ and major SC papers for state news and opinion. I try to stay away from too much time on the socials…but I do have some respected friends who generally curate a great selection of informative articles.

3. Many people are turned off by the extreme partisanship, what advice do you have if they still want to get engaged?

Lead by example. If you care passionately about something, get involved…but refuse to filter everyone and everything through a political lens. Politics was never intended to bear the weight of all of our expectations: it is meant to be the ordered structure through which we mediate community needs and disputes to live in peace with each other. Unfortunately, today too many people look at politics as the primary mechanism to solve all of our society’s problems. It never can be though, because ultimately, a political system can’t address a person as an individual or truly see and value/love them. Only we as people can do that. So get out there, advocate for what you care about, but give those who oppose you the dignity of being human and love THEM as your neighbor too. Because we’re all in this together and agree or not, we need each other.

4. What is the biggest takeaway you hope people get from your talk?

Working for meaningful change is always hard and can take a long time (especially in SC!). But I have found that the formula for success over time is pretty straightforward: Reliable Research + Trusted Relationships = Results.

5. Everyone has an unusual skill. What’s yours?
I started off college as a piano performance major. That didn’t last past the first semester…but I still love to play for the occasional wedding or church event!

Advocacy 101 will be on Friday, August 28 and Friday, September 4th from 8:30 until 1. You can register for the class – and take control of your advocacy – here.

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