The task ahead – most grassroots activities aren’t glamorous

The new TEA party and 9/12 type groups need to shift into a different gear – from protests and rallies to genuine campaign work. There are also plenty of county, township, and ward GOP organizations that lack purpose because their “agenda” lacks punch. Parades and small fundraisers are nice. But again, the question that always needs to be front and center is:

How many people are we really reaching and how persuasive is the information we’re delivering?

Yesterday I wrote about my colleague’s recent attendance at a Leadership Institute (LI) training seminar. Much of what follows is based on the information presented to him during the one-day event. Noted at the LI seminar was this basic:

“Elections are about trust. To gain that trust candidates must let themselves be known and understood.

Rarely in major elections do voters vote for candidates who are unknown. On election day voters vote for who they know and think they can trust.”

The same principle applies to the “brand” or “image” created by a local Republican or independent organization. If you want local or regional voters to accept what your group is saying (let alone listen to you), they’re going to have to see you and the group as credible. Engaging in real outreach is one way to build your organization into something that isn’t seen as just one more remote special interest.

The following Leadership Institute paragraph on individual political campaigns can be reworded (as I have done) to fit a local political group:

The challenge: Build an organization capable of successfully executing the programs outlined in the group’s plan of reaching, informing, and winning over voters. The organization should consist of competent individuals of good character who are loyal to the group’s vision.

So you want to reach voters. Okay, how? A website? Townhalls, rallies, and other events? Door to door and other campaign-assisting activities? Working the local press for coverage? All of the above? Yes. These pretty basic activities require the concentrated efforts of individuals within the group so there’s plenty of productive work to be done.

A typical good-sized campaign has a lot of “hats” that need to be worn. Candidate, Kitchen Cabinet Member, Campaign Chair, Campaign Manager, Treasurer, Legal Counsel, Finance Committee, Field Director, Finance Director, Communications Director, Scheduler, and Office Manager.

A typical good-sized political campaign field operation also has several levels, such as: Precinct Chairs, Local Field Directors, and Volunteer Recruitment Director. The TEA party and 9/12 activists will discover, depending on the extent to which the local group develops, that there can be the need for a similar division of labor. Why? Because it’s supposed to be about reaching people where they live. You have to take the message to them, not just hope the media or the candidates’ campaigns do so.

One friend of mine who is well on his way to organizing a healthy-sized TEA party group has several constructive activities already in motion. In addition to candidate forums, he’s been preparing for the passing out of materials via door-to-door precinct walking and at commuter train stations during high traffic hours.

My friend has also invited those who are stepping up to suggest other activities that creatively carry the message to voters who otherwise wouldn’t receive it. Seeing who is motivated within the group to take the lead in coordinating fundraising, or forums, or voter registration drives, or issues and candidate research is key. Of course, whatever action is taken, the bottom line is to reach voters with good information.

The web and the new “social media” are of course huge, as the 2008 Obama campaign proved. One Leadership Institute presentation noted that “Social media is a conversation online, and “simply a channel” for information. That LI presentation noted that “Social media sites are the fastest-growing category on the web, doubling their traffic over the last year,” and it included these facts:

  • 73% of active online users have read a blog
  • 45% have started their own blog
  • 39% subscribe to an RSS (news) feed
  • 57% have joined a social network
  • 55% have uploaded photos
  • 83% have watched video clips

The Leadership Institute also reminded us that word of mouth is the most effective way to convey information in that what’s relayed is the most lasting. That’s why conservatives need troops – we need faces for the much needed face-to-face encounters. Traditional forms of advertising work to varying degrees, but nothing compares to a recommendation from someone you personally know and trust.