Greener Grassroots – Creative Campaigns

One of my mottos is that you can learn something from just about anyone if you try. I may not approve of many Alinsky tactics, for example, but I can fully endorse his reasoning in this quote:

As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be – it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system.

When I look closely at that quote, it really reminds me of something from the opposite end of the political spectrum that Morton Blackwell said:

The winner in a political contest over time is determined by the number and the effectiveness of the activists and leaders on the respective sides, and, the number and the effectiveness of the activists and leaders on a given side is determined by the political technology that side employs. If that is true, you owe it to your philosophy to study how to win. You have a moral obligation to learn how to win.

Part of learning how to win is poaching what works from others in politics, or even outside the political sphere. Arthur Brooks says: ‘Steal all the best arguments’, and I add to that ‘Steal all the best (ethical) tactics’. Whether you are building a following for a candidate or raising awareness of an issue, you can study what other campaigns are doing and evaluate their usefulness to your own efforts. Even if you can’t use many of the practices you see from other campaigns, you will develop the habit of thinking beyond the traditional means and methods, and expand your creative campaign side.

Today I want to highlight a few simple campaign activities that made an impression here in Texas, tactics that you might be able to steal or adapt for your own causes.

Tailgate Party

This past weekend, a precinct chair I know named Kelly Horsley organized a tailgate party with hot dogs and candidate signs as part of a series of Get Out the Vote events for the local Republican party. GOP sign vendor Texas GOP Store and Kelly set up tents at a busy intersection right off the interstate, with huge Trump signs, as well as some ‘Jail Hillary’ signs for sale. (In a non-swing state like Texas, GOP presidential campaigns typically don’t give away yard signs to supporters; they sell them. Campaigns would rather spend precious dollars in swing states where they can more likely affect the outcome.)

The goal Kelly had for her event was simple: raise the profile of Republicans on the weekend of early voting. Tens of thousands of people passed the intersection where she set up, and saw a Republican presence. A good number of people stopped by to have a hot dog, chat, hang out, and buy signs. Some were party regulars, some were candidates on the ballot, and some were people Kelly had never met before. Her tailgate party was a fun and low pressure way to let people know there were Republicans they could connect to in the area.

Pub Crawl

A group of precinct chairs in the area also had a creative way to raise the visibility of some candidates and the party in the more urban part of town: a pub crawl. With a list of young professional residents in their area, the organizers handed out or mailed as many invitations to the pub crawl as they could, in hopes of identifying new Republican or conservative contacts. Attendees were invited to wear their favorite campaign shirts and join the group at one of several (or all four) pubs they had designated to be on the roster. They didn’t put together programs or speeches; they just organized an inexpensive and interesting way to casually and publicly talk politics in political gear, and have fun doing it.

Leslie May, one of the organizers, was determined to make the event inviting to first-timers, and stressed to me the importance of her strategy to talk much more often to the newcomers than to old political allies. Attending socials with the same people she sees on a regular basis tempts her to catch up with them and spend the time talking to familiar people. But she recognized that at an event like this, new faces would need to feel welcomed and included, especially since it might be their first impression of the party or of political people in their area. Purposeful, strategic tactics, like sitting at a table with strangers or circulating every 5 minutes to greet a new face in the room, made Leslie seem more welcoming, and better able to listen to the thoughts of the attendees.

The great thing about these events is that they were led and executed by precinct chairs, not party staffers. The county party supported (and at times helped fund) plans like these by empowering the organizers to lead, and equipping them with information that would help them get the jobs done. But even if the local party had been AWOL, grassroots party activists still could have held these events. They got cooperation, but they did not necessarily need permission from the party to operate in their areas as they did. And they were creative in their approaches. Rather than merely focus on making phone calls or knocking on doors or hosting fundraisers, these chairs found new and different ways to reach people with their message.

So the challenge this week is this: dig around for some other non-traditional ideas for campaign or activism activities. We’re coming up on the end of a long election cycle; there will be plenty of campaign workers with fresh stories about successful events they held. Mine them. Search through the news coverage, talk to some campaign volunteers, e-mail the communications person for some campaigns, and ask which events they planned or attended were the most interesting and effective. Start a list of events you might be able to steal ideas from. You don’t have to host your own tailgate or your own pub crawl. But looking at the creative angles of others’ events just might start you thinking how to adapt those types of events to your own campaign or cause.