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Chip Ahlswede
Meredith Weisel

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

We're Not Gonna Protest - We're Gonna Get Involved

One of the most defining moments in the epic film PCU starring Jeremy Piven is whe he stands up in front of a team of students and faculty members starting a chant that "We're Not Gonna Protest!"

Protest from Lindsey Breeden on Vimeo.

The point of the scene is to illustrate how far a campus society has gone in protesting everything.  Today however we see this happening far beyond just college campuses.

Sure there are the University of Missouri protests going on.  We've heard about the issues where the Oklahoma Weslyan University has pushed back on student protest. And Media professors trying to ban reporters from protests.

Then there are the academic circles trying to boycott involvement with Israel through divestment.  And now apparently Donald Trump is threatening to boycott (again) the next CNN debate (12/15) if they don't give him $5 million that he will then give to pro-veterans charities.  And Macy's, and Starbucks, and Univision, and countless other random things (Seriously? Glenfiddich?)... oooh just found some more here.

Outside of the fact that this isn't how debates work, how charitable contributions work, or how candidates conduct themselves, this is an example of how things get taken too far.  There are perfectly legitimate reasons to protest.  There are perfectly legitimate reasons to boycott.  More than reasons, there are more legitimate ways to protest things, and better ways to spend your efforts:

- Can you find a way to address an issue that doesn't throw the problem in people's faces?  I live in a community where there is a private college that has expanded greatly in the last 10 years.  More than that they have impacted the neighborhoods.  Despite having a very open door policy, most people have chosen to throw fits online and at city council meetings.  Most of these issues could have been handled with a few sit down discussions rather than riling up anger in people.

- Can you engage community members before the media?  Most groups come out and the first thing they do is hold a press conference.  It's annoying if there really isn't anyone behind this effort. It also dampens your credibility when it appears that you are the only one working on an issue.

- Can you drop the problem after the issue is done?  The second worse thing to deal with is the person who just jumps issue to issue seeking relevance.  That's no to say you can't have a role, or more than one issue you want to work on, but have a real reason.  Don't just be that person looking for a cause to protest, be that person who stands for something.

- Can you not take offense to every little thing that happens?  So many people are involved in so many things that they focus only on the thing that they take offense to rather than working on the core issue.  Socrates said "When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser."  It appears in most discussions these days that before the debate is even had, offense becomes the tool of the weaker side.

- Can you find a solution that works for both sides? The other problem with the weaker sides is that they become so staunch in their position that they fail to find middle ground, commonality, or points of concession.  The share economy is proving that repeatedly.  In the case of Uber, the Taxi companies are calling for all out opposition.  In the case of AirBnB its neighborhood control vs. property rights.  Both instances bring opportunities for discussion.  But in each case some people are not working to find that middle spot.

Negotiations and compromise are the realities of our form of government.  Working together to find solutions is much more important than fighting losing causes from a stringent standpoint.


Monday, November 30, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Evaluating Candidates

Your issues are critical to your organization's success.  So too are your issues critical to your members.  Knowing where elected officials stand on your issues is important at all levels of government, because eventually those candidates will run for higher office, and will get to a level that impacts you.

Because of this evaluating candidates is an important step in any organization.  This guide should help you figure out the right steps to take.

You want to make sure you have different ways to evaluate candidates.  A questionnaire is a great first step.  Not everyone does well in that format.  Consider interviews, forums, one on ones, panels and other ways to get information about the candidates.

Think of the key questions important to your organization, and craft a short questionnaire about those issues, extra bonus if you can tie the issue to that level of government.  Candidates get questionnaires on all sorts of issues from all sorts of sources - Regardless of whether or not their particular level of government even addresses that issue.  Making yours short, to the point and pertinent will make you stand out.

Sure you want to know where they are on your issues.  However you also want to know where they are in their campaign.  Do they have any polling?  Do they have any fundraising information?  Do they have campaign managers? Do they know how to engage the public?  Do they have any plans to win the campaign?

The other side of what they can tell you is what they can't - and it reveals a great deal of their campaign realities.  Do they need polling, or do you have polling that says something different than theirs?  Do their fundraising strategies match the local experience?  Do their campaign managers have a successful track record? Does their campaign plan reflect the reality of what it takes to win in that area?  Knowing that information can be more effective than anything they can tell you.

The best part of being involved in coalitions is that you have a team of people doing their own evaluations and research.  Sharing that info takes you much further than anything else you can do.  Polling, interview experiences, members involved in campaigns, inside information on the election, relationships with mail houses - you name it, that information comes in very handy.


Friday, November 27, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Getting Involved In Elections

People often say they don't want to get involved in elections.  Organizations should get engaged for many reasons.  Here are some of the best ways to do it correctly -

Elections provide you an opportunity to get your members more involved in the community.  The more you are involved in the community, the better your message can make its way through to decision makers.  Your base is key to that.
- Encourage them to register to vote, it is free, it is relatively non-controversial, and it is part of what we consider our civic duty.
- Encourage them to meet the candidates and find out where they stand on issues important to them
- Give them opportunities to connect the base with the decision makers and community leaders

When candidates are running for office, they are looking for groups to support them.  AS such you are in a rare position to get your message out to them and find out where they stand on your issues.  Use this as an opportunity to bring your issues to the forefront.  Send them questionnaires and share that information with the base.

Often your base - and the public in general - don't know what is happening on a local level with their elected officials.  This provides opportunities for you as an organization. 

Host a debate, on your issue, and bring it to the base and the public in general.  Host a forum where the public can ask these individuals questions directly.  For a bonus effort, you can follow up the event with a private reception for your larger political supporters.

There may or may not be candidates that you support.  However the base will likely have candidates they like.  Encourage them to get involved with those candidates and support their campaigns through campaign activities. 

Let the candidates know - and your own base - how many of your members participated in efforts, contributed to campaigns, got involved in political efforts.  This will leave a lasting impression with both groups, and can be something to build on into the future.

Getting involved in elections can come in many different ways.  Every organization that wants to be successful should be implementing this strategy to advance their membership and position in the community.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Political Thanks

We make a lot on this blog that there is so much more that can be done with the level of political discourse, civic engagement, and strategic thinking when it comes to getting involved in politics. 

For a minute, let's look at all we have to be thankful for politically -

- We have the right to complain about what is happening
- We have the ability to make changes to what is going on
- We can freely work together with others who are like minded and want change
- We can take issues that aren't popular, aren't fully understood, and make them important
- We take our opportunities that we make in the industry
- We take the time to learn about our system and how to change it
- We make a difference in our communities
- We make our leaders listen to us

Not every country has those rights, and we should be thankful we have them.

And the best way to show our thanks to those who came before us to help ensure that we had those rights is to NEVER surrender them to government control.


Monday, November 23, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Training Community Leaders

Organizations engaged politically often say that it would be a lot easier if the people elected were from their ranks.  Short of being able to do that, you can work with organizations to make sure everyone elected understands your organization - something few organizations take full advantage of in advancing their agendas.

However if you take one moment to think about who actually runs government policy, it is people who are involved in different organizations around the community.  Finding ways to bring other organizations in to your vision is a great way to advance your policy with leaders current and future.

This is a natural for any organization.  Every community leader is involved.  Every community leader.  Getting involved is important, but even more important is working with them.  Often they are looking for information to present to their members, your public presentations on your policies are an easy fit.  Even better teaching others how you came to your "economic impact" information about what you do.  Co sponsoring events elevates them and you.

Candidate school, about our industry school, meet our leaders event.  All things that someone who wants to be involved would come to.  Then target your invite list to current and future elected officials.  Bring them in and teach them what you need them to know.  Listed in there is a candidate school, maybe you partner with business groups and offer one to candidates for free.  You have a captive audience of leaders to learn about you.

Most communities offer a class of "Leadership (insert community here)" which is supposed to be the key individuals running organizations, getting involved with the community, and likely to become elected officials.  Often the Chamber of Commerce is involved.  Often people from other important groups you wouldn't have access to are involved.  They are always looking for important content.  Having a part where you present the important impacts of your organization to the community goes a long way, and you could begin to educate future leaders on your issues.

You'd be surprised how many elected officials serve as adjunct professors at local colleges and universities.  You'd also be surprised how many important public studies are handled by college and university departments.  Building relationships at the college and university faculty and administration level, you would be able to shape your relationship in the community beyond what you would otherwise.

Yeah, I know, what does the PTA have to do with your organization?  More people run for local office out of the local PTAs and School Boards than anywhere else.  So what can you do with them?  Sponsor their upcoming events:
- It may be as simple as providing gift cards for their raffles
- You might be able to develop an educational field trip for the schools to your site
- You might be able to offer older computers/ materials/ tools/ whatever machinery you have available to the school
Building those relationships and promoting the value of your organization is incredibly important.