Part 1 - Lessons in Political Activism
Lessons from past grassroots movements and recommend two key strategic components:
- They were locally focused. Past groups started as an organic movement built on small local groups of dedicated individuals. Yes, they received some support/coordination from above, but fundamentally all the hubbub was caused by a relatively small number of activists working together.
- Groups were small, local, and dedicated. Most activist groups could be fewer than 10 people, but they were highly localized, and they dedicated significant personal time and resources. Members communicated with each other regularly, tracked developments in Washington, and coordinated advocacy efforts together.
- Groups were relatively few in number. The most powerful groups were not hundreds of thousands of people spending every waking hour focused on advocacy. Rather, the efforts were somewhat modest. Only 1 in 5 self-identified activists contributed money or attended events.
- Groups focused on local representation. Activists primarily applied this strategy by pressuring their own local MoCs (or City Council member, School Board member, Community College Board member, etc.). This meant demanding that their elected officials be their voice. At a tactical level, groups had several replicable practices, including:
- Showing up to the elected official town hall meetings and demanding answers
- Showing up to the elected official's office and demanding a meeting
- Showing up to the regular Board meetings, and demanding resolutions and policies be passed
- Coordinating blanket calling of elected offices at key moments
Part 2 - Where to apply pressure?
How your Elected Official thinks — reelection, reelection, reelection — and how to use that to save democracy. Elected officials want their constituents to think well of them, and they want good, local press. They hate surprises, wasted time, and most of all, bad press that makes them look weak, unlikable, and vulnerable. You will use these interests to make them listen and act.
To be clear, this does not mean that your elected official is cynical and unprincipled. The vast majority of people in public office believe in their ideals and care deeply about representing their constituents and having a positive impact. But they also know that if they want to make change, they need to stay in office.
This constant reelection pressure means that elected officials are enormously sensitive to their image in the district or state, and they will work very hard to avoid signs of public dissent or disapproval. What every elected official wants — regardless of party — is for his or her constituents to agree with the following narrative:
“My Elected Official cares about me, shares my values, and is working hard for me.”
Use that need to your advantage, and make them go on the record that they care about your district's children.
Part 3 - Come Together
Identify or organize your local Blue Grizzlies group. Is there an existing local Blue Grizzlies group or network you can join? Or do you need to start your own? We suggest steps to help mobilize your fellow constituents locally and start organizing for action.
If you do want to form a group, here are our recommendations on how to go about it:
- Decide you’re going to start a local Blue Grizzlies group dedicated to making your education officials aware of their constituents’ opposition to the Trump/DeVos agenda, and want to advance a Progressive agenda. This might be a subgroup of an existing activist group, or it might be a new effort — it really depends on your circumstances. Start where people are: if you’re in a group with a lot of people who want to do this kind of thing, then start there; if you’re not, you’ll need to find them somewhere else. The most important thing is that this is a LOCAL group. Your band of heroes is focused on applying local pressure, which means you all need to be local.
- Identify a few additional co-founders who are interested in participating and recruiting others. Ideally, these are people who have different social networks from you so that you can maximize your reach. Make an effort to ensure that leadership of the group reflects the diversity of opposition to the Trump/DeVos agenda.
- Email your contacts and post a message on your Facebook page, on any local Facebook groups that you’re a member of, and/or other social media channels you use regularly. Say that you’re starting a group for constituents of School Board member Sara, dedicated to stopping the Trump/DeVos agenda, and ask people to email you to sign up.
How do I recruit people to take action?
Most people are moved to take action through individual conversations. Here are some tips for having successful conversations to inspire people to take action with your group.
- Get the story. What issues does the other person care about? How would the reactionary Republican agenda affect them, their communities, and their values?
- Imagine what’s possible. How can your group change your community’s relationship with your School Board, and other education officials? How can your group, and others like it, protect our values?
- Commitment and ownership. Ask a clear yes or no question: will you work with me to hold our education system accountable? Then, get to specifics. Who else can they talk to about joining the group? What work needs to be done — planning a meeting, researching an elected official — that they can take on? When will you follow up?
Ask open-ended questions! People are more likely to take action when they articulate what they care about and can connect it to the action they are going to take. A good rule of thumb is to talk 30% of the time or less and listen at least 70% of the time.
Part 4 - Give Them A Piece Of Your Mind
Four local advocacy tactics that actually work. Most of you have elected officials serving as School Board members, and Community College Board members. Whether you like it or not, they are your voices in the education system, even if you don't have children in the district schools. Your job is to make sure they are, in fact, speaking for you. We’ve identified four key opportunity areas that just a handful of local constituents can use to great effect. Always record encounters on video, prepare questions ahead of time, coordinate with your group, and report back to local media:
- Town halls and Board Meetings. Elected officials regularly hold public in-district events to show that they are listening to constituents. Make them listen to you, and report out when they don’t. The School Board and Community College Board are required to hold regular public meetings, and their schedule is on their public website.
- Other local public events. Elected officials love cutting ribbons and kissing babies. Don’t let them get photo-ops without questions about education-equality, fact-based curriculum, and fair financing of public education.
- District office visits. Every Elected officials has one or several district offices.
Go there. Demand a meeting with them. Report to the world if they refuse
- Coordinated calls. Calls are a light lift, but they can have an impact. Organize your local group to barrage your Elected officials at an opportune moment about and on a specific issue.
- Find out when your Elected Official's next public Board Meeting is. Sometimes these are announced well in advance, and sometimes, although they are technically "public," only select constituents are notified about them shortly before the event. If you can’t find announcements online, call your Elected Official directly to find out. When you call, be friendly and say to the staffer, “Hi, I’m a constituent, and I’d like to know when his/her next Board Meeting will be.” If they don’t know, ask to be added to the email list so that you get notified when they do.
- Send out a notice of the Board Meeting to your group, and get commitments from members to attend. Distribute to all of them whatever information you have on your Elected Official voting record, as well as the prepared questions.
- Prepare several questions ahead of time for your group to ask. Your questions should be sharp and fact-based, ideally including information on the Elected Official's record, votes they’ve taken, or statements they’ve made. Thematically, questions should focus on a limited number of issues to maximize impact. Prepare 5-10 of these questions and hand them out to your group ahead of the meeting. Example question:
“I and many district families in Springfield rely on Public Education. I don’t think we should be prioritizing education to those in the top 1%, and the plan to encourage school districts to adopt voucher systems has me and my family very scared. You haven’t gone on the record opposing this. Will you commit here and now to reject any plans or funding from the DeVos led Department of Education if they are dependent on Vouchers?”
At the Board Meeting
- Get there early, meet up, and get organized. Meet outside or in the parking lot for a quick huddle before the event. Distribute the handout of questions, and encourage members to ask the questions on the sheet or something similar.
- Get seated and spread out. Head into the venue a bit early to grab seats at the front half of the room, but do not all sit together. Sit by yourself or in groups of two, and spread out throughout the room. This will help reinforce the impression of broad consensus.
- Make your voices heard by asking good questions. When the Board opens the floor for questions, everyone in the group should put their hands up and keep them there. Look friendly or neutral so that staffers will call on you. When you’re asking a question, remember the following guidelines:
- Stick with the prepared list of questions. Don’t be afraid to read it straight from the printout if you need to.
- Be polite but persistent, and demand real answers. Elected Officials are very good at deflecting or dodging questions they don’t want to answer. If the Elected Official dodges, ask a follow-up question. If they aren’t giving you real answers, then call them out for it. Other group members around the room should amplify by either booing the Elected Official, or applauding you.
- Don’t give up the mic until you’re satisfied with the answer. If you’ve asked a hostile question, a staffer or board member will often try to limit your ability to follow up by taking the microphone back immediately after you finish speaking, or telling you your time has expired. They can’t do that if you keep a firm hold on the mic. No staffer in their right mind wants to look like they’re physically intimidating a constituent, so they will back off. If they object, then say politely but loudly: “I’m not finished. The Elected Official is dodging my question. Why are you trying to stop me from following up?”
- Keep the pressure on. After one member of the group finishes, everyone should raise their hands again. The next member of the group to be called on should move down the list of questions and ask the next one.
- Support the group and reinforce the message. After one member of your Blue Grizzly group asks a question, everyone should applaud to show that the feeling is shared throughout the audience. Whenever someone from your group gets the mic, they should note that they’re building on the previous questions — amplifying the fact that you’re part of a broad group.
- Record everything! Assign someone in the group to use their smart phone or video camera to record other advocates asking questions and the Elected Officials response. While written transcripts are nice, unfavorable exchanges caught on video can be devastating for Elected Officials. These clips can be shared through social media and picked up by local and national media. Please familiarize yourself with your state and local laws that govern recording, along with any applicable Board rules, prior to recording. These laws and rules vary substantially from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
After the Town Hall
- Reach out to media, during and after the Board Meeting. If there’s media at the Board Meeting or town hall, the people who asked questions should approach them afterward and offer to speak about their concerns. When the event is over, you should engage local reporters on Twitter or by email and offer to provide an in-person account of what happened, as well as the video footage you collected. Example Twitter outreach:
.@reporter I was at Clark County School Board meeting in Springfield today. Large group asked about rejecting school vouchers. I have video & happy to chat.
Note: It’s important to make this a public tweet by including the period before the journalist’s Twitter handle. Making this public will make the journalist more likely to respond to ensure they get the intel first.
Another good tactic is to use the hashtag #journorequest, which many journalists use when they are searching for stories.
Ensure that the members of your group who are directly affected by specific threats are the ones whose voices are elevated when you reach out to media.
- Share everything. Post pictures, video, your own thoughts about the event, etc., to social media afterward. Tag the Elected Official's office and encourage others to share widely.