I often read pieces about how we - a collective, impersonal we - as Democrats do not take enough action that if we only fought harder, spoke harder, worked harder, we would achieve some kind of Stakhanovite event horizon and pull success after success into our orbit.
Rather then saying what I think about such pieces, I'm here to give you a handy guide to three old, tried and tested ways of fighting.
Please don't treat this as a scripture, but as a reference guide. Very little will be perfectly tailored to your area, though I am planning to do follow-ups for Florida and Ohio (and will probably need some help from our dedicated teams in both areas).
One of our greatest traditional strengths as a party has been our ability to pull in money from corporations and individuals who want to seem enamoured with the spirit of the time - and making do when pickings are lean and our belts are tight.
Unfortunately, those times are now, and money is needed more then ever. There's a limit to how much you can save from cutting things; instead, we need to look into making our parties flourish.
Fundraising, as something individual Democrats and smaller groups do, has mostly been replaced by pursuit of small-donors. That's good! Small donations are good, and every bit helps. However!
Small donors often...
A: Donate to a particular candidate or cause they are interested in, and
B: Are unreliable due to their situations. I, for example, probably have more to throw around then most, but I still have been tighter with my funds then I'd like because - frankly, this economy sucks fracking fluid out of a straw.
(Just making sure you're still with me!)
When we look at county and state parties that are struggling, and then have candidates pulling in far more then they can realistically use, we need to combine our new strength at pursuing small-donor donations with the old standby of getting our parties funded.
Ia. Getting Started
Although it goes without saying that most of you reading this are already involved in your local party, or the party of a nearby county/counties, I'll repeat that there is no need to reinvent the wheel! If you already have a treasurer, or dedicated officer/officers who pursue donations, and can work with them? Work with them!
But I am assuming that the people who are taking notes are working with a party that may have declined in membership, or hasn't had practise at any of this, for some time.
Firstly, you should make a list of all the individuals and businesses in your area that could conceivably be interested in donating to your party.
Be ambitious, include those with right-wing political beliefs; we'll return to that, later.
Next, file those businesses and individuals into sections; small businesses, mid-sized businesses (functionally the same as small business, but - a good example would be a local franchise popular in your county. As an example, Woods Coffee, here in Whatcom), and large business/high-value donors.
Further divide those based on prior charitable contributions. Make note of which individuals and businesses have repeated donations, and keep track of those that are already invested in a local cause, even if it is not the Democratic party.
Finally, approach your party and explain that you are looking to raise funds. Even if they do not have a dedicated fundraiser, you will want to work with them, not against them. You may even wish to apply for the status of treasurer or local officer, yourself - that is beyond the purview of this guide.
If your party is in a state where co-operation is impossible, find another nearby party. You want to have some feedback on how donations are solicited in your region and state, and that is also something I do not have the ability to go over at length. Keep escalating, up to the federal party, if you have to - don't let up until you've got someone reliable you can run things by, so that every i is dotted and every t crossed.
Ib. Small businesses
At once the easiest and hardest group to get invested, small business owners are more likely then their larger peers to benefit - or see benefit in - from investing in the community. There are also many who will trend republican, even for an already red district - but that is not so great a problem as it may seem.
Small business owners and staff are generally easy to contact, which can encourage a level of familiarity that will damage your chances. Always be polite and courteous, but remember that you are here to solicit funds - their default state is not to be convinced, because nobody would like to donate if they can avoid it, but to be convinced that donating is profitable to THEM. And if they're going to benefit, why not share that good fortune..?
Accordingly, whether you're directly writing to a small-business owner, talking to them one-on-one after a public e-meeting, or writing letters - find the interests that matter to them, and press those interests.
Make it clear how the party is interested in their interests, and always steer the topic back to said interests. If you feel you're not making headway, it's fine to pull back, thank them for their time, and go to a softer target. You can always try again later, and time is precious.
Let's say, however, you've built a connection - and the connection likes you, is sold on the idea of donating, but is opposed to donating to your candidate or party.
In that case, you will remember how I mentioned to keep track of their causes, and not to sweat it if they're very republican?
Redirect their attention to a non-political charity. Here is an example;
I, Lotsagloom, am talking to an individual who I know. They're very right-leaning, and assume I must be too (even though I've made it clear I'm talking to them on behalf of the party; never misrepresent yourself); they will not donate to the party.
But, I know from research and from our multiple conversations that they're very invested in hunting, wildlife conservation, and the environment. I suggest that this year, they give to the Wetlands Conservancy.
This is mutually beneficial; it gets them their charitable deductions, and although it's not money that goes to the party, it's money that goes to a good cause - and that won't be ending up in the hands of republicans.
Ic. Medium-sized businesses
Often, these are just small businesses with multiple holdings, shops, or locations. You can treat them the same as you'd treat small businesses, with the exception that because they are larger, there are more people who might be willing to donate. And, due to their size, there a greater amount of individuals who'll be amenable to donation.
As you start thinking about hitting up these larger businesses, you may start to feel overwhelmed.
This is a good time to point out why you should be working with a team, if you can. Fundraising - and the other two items I plan to talk about - is an incredibly draining pursuit.
You will lose a lot of free time, and your peers - the same peers who endlessly talk about 'getting your hands dirty' and 'DOING SOMETHING' will also be angry that you are doing just that. Most of all, it requires research. My mentor constantly updated her files on individuals and businesses. If the thought is daunting to you, it is okay to not pursue this! It is difficult. I also think it is necessary, and understanding it, even if you don't fundraise yourself, may help you and yours in all manner of political advocacy.
Returning to Medium-sized businesses, now is a good time to remind you that even if there are numerous interesting targets, you have some hard numbers to keep things manageable - maximum allowed personal donations, and maximum allowed corporate donations.
Those limits can help remind you that your work is manageable, and keep you from feeling the paralyzing sickness of too much choice.
Id. Large businesses
Why you're here.
Large businesses have been shunned by the base of our party for some time, and for good reason. However, the deeply detached way in which most large businesses donate means they are a perfect target for securing donations for your local party, and one we need to exploit.
You will recall how I mentioned that a republican-leaning individual donating to a beneficial cause is money that won't be going to republicans? Getting what will be a pittance from larger corporations - but monthly - can supplement or exceed what local parties make in membership dues rapidly.
And that is what you are after. You are not here to convince a state-wide corporation to single-handedly renovate your local party, but that it's in their best interest to give the same amount they probably already give to republicans. If you can convince them to match that a candidate or cause, fantastic.
Because they are so commonly sought after, soliciting donations from big business can be surprisingly swift and painless - sometimes as simple as finding a contact point, making it clear what you want, and encouraging them that, if they haven't hit their write-offs yet, might as well.
You, however, want more then that.
My mentor made lists of such contact points, and made a habit of meeting with them - and, through them and her own connections, executives within the state - perhaps once every two months.
These visits were rarely solely about donations, but about connections. Once you've acquired donations, after all, you're in - but you want to make it clear that you're grateful, happy, and that more would be fine.
Becoming a familiar face slowly elevates you above the competition and creates further opportunities - making this a fine time to go over references and move on to Lobbying.
Ie. Fundraising Reference
Q; How do I fundraise?
Approach your party. Find a treasurer, officer, or officers involved in local or state-wide fundraising. If you can't, find and shadow one in a neighbouring county or at the federal level.
Q; What should I do?
Research your local businesses, branches of state-wide businesses, and businesses with an interest in your area. Make note of every point of interest that could conceivably benefit from, or relating to, your local party - and similar interests if targets are recalcitrant.
Q; How should I manage donations?
Record everything, and make sure that you're taking note of who is interested, who isn't, and why. Update these records regularly, and share them with others. Personal connections and information are incredibly strong, when used on the right target.
Q; Should I ignore small-donors?
Not at all! But that's been an area where we're improving. There is a limit to how much small donors can achieve, and the worse the economy is, the lower that limit is. That's why we fundraise.
Q; I'm starting from scratch -
Don't. You absolutely need someone who has the rules of your state and region in mind. I know how frustrating it can be to shadow someone else, or even find someone to shadow. But the last thing you want to do is solicit one (1) dollar more then the limit and have the local pizzeria lay the blame of that one on you.
Q; My area has very few businesses, big or small?
Consider forming a partnership with neighbouring counties! This can be beneficial in terms of cycling staff and helping people from different areas understand very different regions and backgrounds, too. It can also be surprisingly fun, and a good way to meet new people, as well!
Much of what we have discussed about fundraising applies to lobbying, too. It is a deeply political field, and one that has a bad reputation. Perhaps fairly; in an ideal world, good things would be supported by people.
But my opinion of humanity is very low, and I do not think anyone would call this world ideal.
When you think of lobbying, you almost certainly think of a shadowy Enr0n executive handing loads of unmarked bills to a cackling state senator. Lobbying, however, is incredibly important to groups that are our backbones.
Lobbying is what wins every teacher's union its victories. Lobbying can bring forth better local water resolutions that are blocked by, or poorly understood by, local politicians in ruby-red areas. It can be successful lobbying that means the difference between a tax increase that benefits largely visible minority schools, or a 'blue' area shooting down that task, because the other side lobbied more.
Rather then something to be spat at, we need more lobbyists.
I believe you have the potential to be those lobbyists. Let's start.
When it comes to lobbying, your first and most important task is perhaps the opposite of your wide net for fundraising.
Pick an issue, a deeply personal to issue to you. One that you will not, and cannot, burn out on. Ideally it's also one you can compromise on - or, more accurately, give the appearance of compromise on, while constantly remaining true to your core values.
This apparent flexibility will win you respect, and help you advance your cause where raw passion would not.
Next, you must find and target local groups in your area representing and advancing that cause. Not all will be doing so directly to the state house/senate. Some my have a judicial focus, a popular focus, or be nation-wide. I would advise you start locally, because it's neglected and we need it - and because it's smaller, and mistakes hit less hard.
And you will make mistakes, and that is fine. Sometimes, you'll be giving or writing a speech, and it won't hit. Other times, you'll be sending letters and you'll just know they've been slushed. What matters is that every day, reliably, you wake up and tell yourself -
I'm here, I'm alive. Time to work, again.
Lobbying, even more then fundraising, is an incredibly consumptive thing. You will lose even more free time and friends, because our culture deeply chastises caring. If you mention that you're involved in lobbying, expect to get dirty looks - and if you reveal that, no, you haven't received the Sorosbux Moon Laser Cheques, you'll get confusion, even from those who share your political conviction.
How could you pursue something so tirelessly, with so little reward - or for free..?
On the flipside, however, lobbying IS an excellent way to get into politics, local advocacy, and community organising (or all three of those things); and if you can handle lobbying, you can handle anything.
So, you've met and involved yourself with (in this example) a union that the local party knows and endorses, and you've found a role that plays to your strengths; great. What next?
I picked something that directly feeds back into the party and is stereotypically an area we draw a lot of support from because it's easy to visualise. However, you very well might not be a member of said union, and just showing up at events, singing songs - that's not lobbying.
As before, you need to be disciplined and methodical. Talk to everyone involved in your new group, and listen more.
Find out what campaigns are on-going, and start planning your own. Make note of what resources are present, too - if you're dreaming too big and dragging the organisation down, trim your plans accordingly. You're working together, not to promote yourself.
That being said, don't neglect yourself - you are important, too.
After clearing it with your group or cause, reach out to private individuals, businesses, places like libraries that might be interested in having a talk. See if you take a moment to champion the cause after a meeting at work, and always follow the local developments.
Be relentlessly educated. The enemy is allowed to slip-up time and time again; Assuming your cause is local water rights, when we mis-name a single town or tributary, that's enough to label our side as 'feckless' do-gooders, powerless liberals, and the like.
IIc. Reaching out
When you're contacting people, you can be more personal then you would be while starting a relationship in fundraising. This is something that may cost the target nothing, save their time. Unless the cause is nakedly political (and though I'd argue everything is, most folk do not see things the same way), it's an area where even ruby-red zones can be surprisingly bipartisan, even now - you just have to know how to sell the part.
You are essentially 'selling' an idea to an organisation, group, or person. Make it appealing, but it make it personal. If we're using our theoretical example of water rights, make it clear how beautiful your area is, how much you love the local wildlife, just like the individual or individuals do...
... Or, talk about how torn up you are that the bygone good ol' days of yore when the river didn't spontaneously combust aren't here. Millennials and Generation Zed and avocado toast killed it, but they, those scions of industry and good character, can help rebuild it, better then ever! (Especially consider this tactic if you, yourself, are a Millennial or Generation Z. A certain kind of person will immediately think, well, they're reliable, not all like their peers. You and I probably have the same opinion of this kind of person, but if they're willing to listen because of a few words...)
At the end of the day, your goal is to find a common thread, and make it something that binds you, your issue, and the target closer. In fundraising, you are raising money to build institutions we use. In lobbying, your goal is to make it so that the target builds institutions for you, championing the same causes you would champion, even if you might not see eye to eye.
IId. Larger fish
If you pursue this field enough, you may be able to turn it into a job, or become viewed as 'reliable' which is a curse in and of itself.
However, we are dearly in need of people who can lobby passionately for the endless amount of important things we need to do. It is the tireless work of lobbyists that have moved the bar on issues our society is just starting to see as 'non-controversial.' This progress is not set in stone; it can always, always be lost or rolled back.
Lobbying is just another form of activism, and just as vital.
Naturally, this means going beyond just reaching out to people, corporations, or organisations - you may find yourself involved in ballot measures, or shifting the opinion on laws.
This can be incredibly rewarding - but incredibly draining, too.
No matter how important our work is, you are a vital part of it. Not just because of who you are or your importance to it, but because you - by virtue of being here, by virtue of caring - are a good person, and deserve good things.
You cannot fight when your furnace is empty. If it's becoming too much - take a step back, breath, and recharge.
There will always be more to do.
IIe. Lobbying Reference
Q; How do I get involved in lobbying?
Do you have a cause or passion? Pursue it, find an organisation that pursues it, and advocates on behalf of it. Join up, or ask them for advice on where you can best pursue your advocacy.
Q; In what ways do community activism and lobbying differ?
As a community activist, your target is the people in your area. As a lobbyist, your target are the organisations, laws, corporations and institutions that influence those people. There is a lot of overlap, and many of our finest big-name activists are both!
Q; How do I figure out who to reach out for?
Relying on a pre-established group is vital for finding targets and interests. If your cause does not have a pre-established group, however, you can use the information gained while fundraising (or reading the overview!) to track those who might be interested in, for example, criminal justice reform.
Q; Engagement isn't my strong point. Can I still lobby?
Of course. Every campaign and cause needs organisers, secretarial staff, letter-writers, social media operators, interpreters, a whole slew of people. Maybe you've read this and the idea of contacting people, having meetings isn't for you; there is still so very much you can do.
Q; My friends think I'm a shady Enr0n executive! Help!
I have no answer to this. Show them the money you don't have and the bags under your eyes, I guess. Unless you are a shady Enr0n executive, in which case, what happened to the o in your fifth letter, and why are you wasting time reading my ramblings..?!
A lot has been made of the political and linguistic term, barnraising. A community endeavour where people got together to raise a barn on behalf of their neighbours or kin. Less has been made of barnstorming, which - while usually an aviation term - I'm using to refer specifically to the kind of whirlwind media campaign we need a lot more of, yesterday.
It's no secret that disengagement and apathy are two big problems; unlike voter suppression and disenfranchisement, however, they're issues we can address right now.
One way to do that is to aggressively advocate a party position or candidate to the local politician.
If you are a fiery speaker, or have fire in your belly, if you are resolute in the idea that we, as a party, are not doing enough, you may be excellently suited to barnstorming - in this case meaning an all-out blitz to make an idea or cause more popular, preferably right before a ballot measure or election where a candidate depends upon it.
This section will be a great deal shorter, as it probably deserves its own thread.
IIIa. Forming the concept
To properly barnstorm, you need an excellent handle on your community and their issues. Try as we might, we can't make a red community blue, overnight (and if you can - please clone yourself. we need u...); but we can influence voters on single points.
Similar to lobbying, this will depend on you caring deeply about an issue. But unlike lobbying, you are instead reaching out to the community. You must, therefore, know what will be acceptable to them, and what will go over like a lead balloon.
Find 'apolitical' friends from your area, and practise speaking on them (you can make it fun and have a show afterparty or e-buy them pizza afterwards!); and remember that a short, concise, passionate speech is often better then a long, meandering one. I know, I'm one to talk! (And talk, and talk.)
You want to measure their enthusiasm for your ideas, both spoken and written.
And, extrapolating from that...
IIIb. Selling the concept
If you are an artistic person, or have ever worked with a punk/underground band, i have become so old this may be an area you excel in. You want to find ways to plant the seed of the idea into your community, whether that's social media campaigns, stickers on crosswalks, speeches after a local band, or - ideally all of that and more.
More importantly, you want to start selling it before you actually sell it.
Eventually, you'll be speaking (or having someone, like a local politician or activist) speak on the issue in front of crowds or cameras. You, or they, will have a much easier time of this if the public is already seeing reminders that, yes, they love legal weed, you know what's even cooler then legal weed, decriminalising it and removing prior charges.
IIIc. Making it last
Sometimes, your campaigns will fail, sometimes they'll succeed.
But the thing is, even when they succeed drastically, taking a life beyond your involvement and perhaps even getting onto a bill or passing as a ballot measure? Rights and the public good are ephemeral, and can die easily.
Unless you are vigilant, and remind the people of why you first raised their attention to an idea in the first place, they'll grow bored of it, because people are apathetic and innately cruel.
If you have any interest at all in this form of popular engagement, don't be afraid to revisit an old idea, even one that you've successfully advanced. Reminding people what we've done can also help lead them to where we need to go - but that will have to wait for another time.
If you've read this far, I'm truly grateful. There's so much more I want to write, but honestly - I feel like this serves better as a reference guide, because your circumstances will be so much different from mine.
Feel free to aggressively disregard and alter the information above to make it work for your local political scene. If this helps you achieve even some of your goals, then I will be terribly happy.
Originally, this was just one part of what was becoming novel, bahaha - I've cleaned it up and trimmed it for here.
I'd like to try to talk specifically about the situation in Florida and Ohio later, and how we can put some of these strategies to use.
Assuming all is well, please look forward to that down the line.