Holding politicians accountable usually makes them mad, and they are going to attack, what to expect and how to deal with it.
For a new political activist getting involved in your first legislative fight, you may be confused about the nature of your opponent.
You may actually think that, more or less, we are all wanting the same thing and that it’s ‘just a matter of how we get there’ or that ‘with a little education they’ll see things my way.’
Whether you operate at a city council level or are trying to change state code, you may assume that this is a gentleman’s sport and calm reason will win the day.
Bless your heart.
The truth is that no, we absolutely can not all just get along!
Not if you are serious about affecting real policy change at the local or state level.
The majority party has the ability to stop the killing of babies, or the push for gun control, or the ever-increasing amount of tax dollars that they liberate from us at any time they wish to exercise it.
They could solve the problem that got you involved in politics in the first place, but they don’t want to.
There. It’s that simple. They don’t want to do what you want them to do, so what are you going to do about it?
Make no mistake: for anyone who’s serious about trying to change policy and deal with the politicians that are standing in your way, politics is a down and dirty street fight.
Until you can come to grips with that, you’ll go nowhere as an activist. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.
I’m Talking to You!
For the more libertarian minded activist, this concept may be old news, as you’re always down for a good fight!
But for the quintessential evangelical Christian homeschool parent, this can be very tough to digest. This article is for you.
(By the way, I am a Christian, evangelical, homeschool Dad and I have the large van to prove it! So I’m not talking to an audience that I don’t understand.)
I’ve seen this in my home state of Iowa more times that I can count.
A well-meaning activist enters the Capitol looking to get an answer from a lying politician who betrayed him on a crucial vote, only to leave totally spun by the legislator.
That’s because they have a lot of tools at their disposal.
You Guys Want to Hold the Gavel?
Take homeschool lobby day. Every state has one. You can tell because the parking lot is jammed with large vans and the Capitol is lined with respectful kids.
Mom and Dad and the family are coming to ask Rep. Smith why — after he promised to support homeschoolers — he voted for increased government regulation over homeschoolers.
When you get a chance to speak with Rep. Smith, he’s going to size you up right away.
And if you’re the usual activist who is always looking to maintain friendships, he is going to smell that on you in five seconds and he will dispose of you with any number of little tricks.
These could include:
>>> The selfie; the legislator grabs his cell and will snap a picture of himself and you and your family and then ask you to put it on the fridge and ‘pray for him.’
>>> The tour; whether it’s the Capitol dome, the historical room, or some other beautiful part of your Capitol, most activists will forget their anger after a 15-minute private guided tour with their legislator.
>>> The gavel; for the truly persistent, the legislator may escort your family to the front of the House or Senate and let your kids sit in the Speaker’s chair and hold the ceremonial gavel, while his staff grabs a picture and emails it to you.
>>> The prayer closet; if you’re still holding out and demanding that your legislator apologize and fix what he did, you may be asked to ‘join me in my prayer closet.’ I can warn you right now, no one returns from the ‘prayer closet’ keeping their righteous indignation.
You can laugh if you want to.
But I’ve seen far too many good people, who came to the Capitol or a City Council meeting demanding answers, be totally spun by these trinkets.
Maybe you were, too.
That’s because you think that politics is a gentleman’s sport and, as such, you could not get angry with a legislator. My goodness, what if they didn’t like you anymore?
But you’re wrong. And if you want to affect real policy change, you must be willing to climb into the legislative mud pit and get to work if your cause or issue is getting killed by the legislature.
No Safe Space in Politics
Don’t get me wrong.
While having the stomach to hold legislators accountable for their bad votes, to their face or in their districts, is the only way to be effective in grassroots politics — I never said that it would be easy.
These guys are committed to their worldview to a degree, and they are committed to staying in office even more.
If you try to get in the way of that, they are going to do everything they can to stop you. And I do mean everything.
They may try the easy route first, and offer you a job as a policy advisor or campaign staffer. After all, it’s not their money on the line.
If that doesn’t work (meaning you don’t sell out) they may try other measures. I’ll get to those in a moment. But the important thing for you to understand is that there is no safe harbor in politics.
So if you can’t handle the heat that will come your way, then don’t get involved in the first place.
I mean it.
Because if you get spun by ‘the selfie,’ ‘the tour,’ ‘the gavel,’ ‘the prayer closet,’ or anything else in their arsenal of tools, you won’t just back down -– usually you’ll become their best friend.
Then, to whatever degree you’re leading a grassroots organization, you’ll be used as a tool of the political class.
You’ll end up telling the grassroots what ‘we have to accept based on the political reality’ versus telling the political class what the grassroots expects of them!
In the process, you’ll give up on your principles to maintain that friendship with legislators (it’s not true friendship, they are just using you,) and do tremendous damage to your issue as a result.
So please, if you think we can all just get along and work things out, stay out of the political arena.
What to Expect
If you’ve made it to this point and you understand that activism is really political combat, then you should know that there are a variety of tools that they can employ against you.
>>> Personal attacks; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been attacked or mocked on the floor of the legislature, as desperate politicians try to get me off my game.
>>> Media attacks; most reporters are tight with legislative leadership and they want to maintain that connection. So it’s easy for them to run a hit piece on you as a favor to a powerful legislator. Expect it.
>>> Ethics complaints; whether it’s a bogus complaint that you are required to get permission to speak to legislators or because you parked in an ‘official’ parking spot, ethics charges are a favorite tool of your political opponents.
>>> Lawsuit threats and investigations; maybe the state elections bureau wants to look at the mail you sent out during the last election. Maybe your political action committee is due for another ‘inspection.’ Or maybe the powerful committee chair is threatening you with a lawsuit — all of these are used to try to muzzle you these days.
If you think that I’m trying to keep you from getting involved in politics, you’re wrong.
But I am trying to make sure that you understand the world that you’re getting into.
It’s not friendly. We’re not all ‘more or less on the same side.’ It’s a war. And legislators have a powerful array of tools at their disposal to try to sway you with.
Some are faux-friendly and benign like the ones I started this article out with. But others are not.
The point of this article isn’t to discuss the response to these situations, rather, it’s to help you to begin to understand that this is a contact sport.
You and your organization are going to get hit.
But the nice thing, is that you also get to hit back!
How well and how hard you do that will determine the outcome of your legislation and set the tone for dealing with legislators going forward.
But you’ll never get there if you think that we ‘can all just get along.’
To find out how you should respond to the threats that you will encounter in confrontational politics, read my article here.
To find out how to mobilize the grassroots to fight back for your legislation, when the political class is doing all they can to kill your bill, read my article here.
And if you are going through a major attack by the legislature or county officials and need some one-on-one help, contact me!
From individual assistance to in-person training seminars in your area, we are here to help.