Greener Grassroots – Get Fit Part 3 – Focus On Your Core

What is your political core? Find out, and learn how to focus on it in your activism, and communicate about it.

Welcome back to our Activist Fitness Program! We’re on Week 3, but you can still catch up. Head over to Week 1 to begin with your Personal Assessment and then to Week 2 to Adjust Your Diet.

Today we’re going to devote to your core, the central part of what you believe in and want to champion. Your core is the stuff everything else in your activism hangs on, so we need to make sure it’s in good condition.

Go back and revisit your assessment, and really look at your first section. Review the various issues that interest you, and how informed and impactful you think you might be on each one. These things should constitute your activism core. You want to focus your efforts in places that both interest you AND have the potential to see progress.

You develop your core of activism by learning as much as you can about your issues and how to advance them. You don’t have to become a Subject Matter Expert to be effective, though. Just being able to articulate the basics of an issue puts you well ahead of most people.

I can testify personally to how useful it can be to study an issue a little more closely than the average person. In Houston a few years back there was a proposal on the ballot for the city to charge a drainage fee to help with flooding and related infrastructure. I live outside of Houston, but in the same county. You’d think that the issue wouldn’t affect me, but the way the proposal was written, I’d be paying the fee indirectly anyway, and the more I looked into it, the more I was convinced this ‘Rain Tax’ was a horrible proposal.

I read articles on the proposal. I visited with people pushing for it, and people fighting it. I thought about all the types of properties that would be affected, and how many times that fee would be passed on to me. I wrote down my major objections and blogged about the proposed fee to try to inform other people. I started attending meetings about the proposal every chance I got, and listened to the questions people had, as well as the answers. I even dug into the background of the group pushing for the fee, and learned how many donors came from a particular field.

And once I knew enough to discuss the proposal, I was asked to do interviews on local talk radio shows to explain it to their audiences. I had prepared well enough to be able to discuss the proposal live on air with only brief glances at my notes. I wasn’t a true Subject Matter Expert, but I could articulate my objections quickly, clearly, and confidently.

The measure passed, I regret to say, but has been tied up in legal challenges in the years since, and might well be rescinded or reversed; so the effort was not in vain, even if it wasn’t a clear win. What I learned from it was how to dig into an issue and take in a lot of information, then distill it all down to the details that I thought would be most important and useful in persuading other people. I also learned how important it was to make those points as short and powerful as I could, especially since talk radio doesn’t often leave a lot of time for getting into the details on issues. Another thing I learned is that brevity comes in handy when you’re also talking to people face to face. Quick facts and questions were much more effective in engaging people than lectures.

So how do you train YOUR core? Here are some exercises to work towards a stronger foundation.

  • Seek out news items and stories on your main issues often – developing a Twitter list or RSS feed devoted just to your issues makes it far easier to track them
  • Organize the stories and sources you find, with bookmark folders for example – I have around twenty topics I follow, and I toss articles I find useful, or even ones I need to read later, into those folders
  • Regularly set aside time to read, absorb, and think about news of your issues – don’t neglect the ‘think about’ part too; some of the points I regularly made on the rain tax were ones nobody else was talking about
  • Reduce your main points for each issue down to 3-6 bullet points and write those down – notecards are a great weapon, because the mere act of writing your points down in short form helps you remember them
  • Review and revise those points as you uncover new information – when story details change or are updated, be sure your notes are updated as well; if you object to a project that costs $5 million and estimates are revised to $7 million, don’t forget to update your notes
  • Seek out groups that are focused on your issue, or start one of your own – making friends with people who are allies on an issue helps with information sharing, and lightens the load considerably when moe people are pulling together
  • Practice ways to talk about those issues and main points with people not following them – I brought up the rain tax and the (at least) 7 ways it taxed people every time it rained, and especially when it flooded, AND I STILL DO
You don’t have to become a SME to influence people and advocate for your issues. Even a little extra effort, purposefully applied, can push your knowledge level into the ‘authority’ level. You don’t have to become expert on an issue; but you can become the expert the people around you trust on it. Is there a bond election coming up that concerns you? A public works project with parties known to go over budget in past endeavors? A measure on the ballot that looks like a bad idea? Whatever is on the table, you can develop a plan to tackle the challenge. Working on your core issues will develop muscles that you’ll use in all your activism, and it will keep you centered as well.