There Is No Shortcut to Building Grassroots Pressure — But Nothing is More Effective for Public Policy Change

The top 5 shortcuts activists make trying to solve problems in the statehouse (Viral videos, hiring contract lobbyists, billboards, stupid emails with 15 topics, giving books to politicians)

“But you don’t understand, this celebrity speaker will make this video go viral and the people are going to come to the Capitol in droves! This will force the legislature to listen to us.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve had this conversation — or one similar to it — with activists in my almost ten years of fighting for gun rights and other conservative causes.

Grassroots politics is hard work, even if you win.

And more often than not, you’ll lose at first until your members have taken enough legislators out of office over their bad votes on your issue.

But that takes time.

It also takes lists, money, and people.

If you have read my article on that, please keep reading. If you have not, please read that first, and then finish reading this article.

I Don’t Have Time for That!

Many activists, most of them well-meaning, are short-sighted and refuse to adopt the long-term attitude necessary to be successful in politics.

Others are simply lazy, and find it far more exciting to talk about how awesome they are and post ridiculous selfies taken with their favorite legislator in the Capitol as proof that they are an expert.

Whatever the reason, most of them are looking for a quick fix or miracle cure to advance their political agenda very quickly.

If you tell them that their idea is stupid, they’ll have all manner of reasons why ‘this time, it’s different!’

Some will even adopt a morally superior attitude, saying something like, “While you’re out building lists and trying to expose legislators in elections every two years, babies are dying. I don’t have time for your plan.”

In my experience, there is virtually no such thing as a miracle cure that will solve all of our problems.

But that doesn’t mean that you won’t be asked to spend your organization’s resources on these dumb ideas, or be tempted to try one yourself.

But if you know how to spot one of these “miracle cures,” hopefully you’ll resist the urge to try them out and save your organization a bunch of money in the process.

And while there are more than five to be sure, these are some of the most common.

Avoid These Five ‘Miracle Cures!’

1. Viral videos; whether it’s for an election or to pass legislation, everyone seems to be convinced that getting a high-end video produced and ‘out there’ is the key. They are convinced that once it hits YouTube or Facebook it will go viral and bring out voters and/or generate calls into the Capitol in waves.

What really happens: nothing. Or almost nothing. Videos are great for educating people about what’s going on in the Capitol, if you have an email list or Facebook page to disseminate it to.

Outside of that, your immediate friends and supporters will see it, but you will absolutely not bring in a tremendous number of new contacts from your video -– it won’t go viral. Trust me.

(I’m talking from the context of someone who has had videos on my organizational Facebook page seen by over 20 million people.)

If someone tells you otherwise, they are delusional or trying to sell you on their video production company’s services.

2. Hiring a contract lobbyist; once defeated in the legislature, some activists think that hiring a slick access-based lobbyist to work on their behalf is the key to victory. Because of all of his connections, he’ll have the juice to force your issue through.

What really happens: your organization will get taken to the cleaners, with nothing to show for it.

Any ‘connected’ lobbyist in the Capitol makes his living on his ability to stay in the good graces of the majority party. Committee chairs, the Majority Leader, Senate President –- he/she needs to keep them happy to maintain their job.

They will absolutely not push your issue if it means that they may get pushback. On the contrary, they are just as likely to take your money and then rat on you and your plans to leadership just to curry favor.

But, you say, I’ve found a lobbyist who is different, and he’s not worried about being the most liked person in the building. Won’t he work?

No! If he’s not in their good graces, than he is no more able to push the bill through than you are! Why would you give him your donors’ money?

3. Billboards; this was a favorite of the Tea Party in my home state of Iowa back in 2009 and 2010. They were convinced that setting up a series of billboards would generate pressure into the legislature to effect ‘real change’ and they poured their limited funds into doing just that.

What really happens: you will waste almost every single penny you spend on that and generate no change in the legislature or local governmental bodies.

Mobilizing people via direct mail allows for a response in the form of a donation, signed petition, new email address, and more. A banner accomplishes none of that.

Mobilizing people via email allows for a response in the form of a donation, signed petition, new emails as yours is forwarded, and more. A banner accomplishes none of that.

Mobilizing people via Facebook allows for a response in the form of a donation, signed petition, new emails, and more. A banner accomplishes none of that.

Mobilizing people via robo-calls allows for a response in the form of calls into the legislature at mere pennies. A banner won’t even accomplish this!

Mobilizing people via a good old fashioned door-to-door ‘lit drop’ at least tells the legislator that you’re serious, your group has volunteers, and you can urge folks to call the Capitol.

A banner simply tells the legislator that you spent your money foolishly, reassuring him that you’re likely not going to get smarter anytime too soon.

4. Emails with too many topics and crazy links; always the sign of someone who is new to writing direct response copy. They are convinced that with thirteen supporting documentation links, five screengrabs, four different colors of text, and lots of random BOLD AND UPPERCASE SECTIONS scattered throughout the email — they will be persuasive.

What really happens: you will look like a nut-job and scare people away, never to return. Most will flag you as spam and many will unsubscribe from your email list to spare themselves any future agony.

This often comes down to a form of the education theory; you think that if enough people just understand the facts that you understand that there will be a magical explosion of activism and everything will be solved.

That, or maybe you’re just really bad at writing direct response copy.

Either way, this isn’t going to generate any action into the city council, county board of supervisors, or state legislature.

Worse, as mentioned above, you’ll not be taken seriously by your own people, much less your opponents.

5. Giving books or ‘white papers’ to politicians; a favorite for many well-meaning activists who think that if the legislator in question would just learn about nullification, or the Second Amendment, or the unborn, or whatever their issue is — that he would magically stop voting the wrong way.

What really happens: your book, ‘white paper,’ or other information kit will end up in the trash. Literally.

When the Iowa tea party brought Tom Woods in to speak on nullification some years ago, tons of activist turned out to hear him speak one evening.

The next day, he spoke in the Capitol to the Speaker, Majority Leader, multiple assistant leaders, and two dozen other representatives — all members of the majority party.

These are the people who have the power to do exactly what Dr. Woods was advocating that they do! At the end, they politely applauded and left the room.

On their way out, they were given ‘10th Amendment kits’ with Dr. Woods’ book, sample legislation, ‘white papers’ and more. Every legislator was given one, 150 kits in all.

Can you guess where most ended up? Yes, the trash can!

Those same legislators who listened to the nullification speech and received the ‘10th Amendment kit’ went right back to their big government ways and never skipped a beat.

That’s because politics is about confrontation and your ability to mobilize large numbers of angry voters in their districts. Period.

They don’t care about your books, or your beliefs, or your pocket constitution, or anything else. If you don’t have the resources to cause them political pain in their districts, you are a non-factor for them.

Lists, Money and People!

As I said at the start of this article, if you and your organization are not relentless about growing your group’s lists, money, and people, you will go nowhere in politics.

As you quickly go nowhere, you will be tempted to try a ‘miracle cure’ like the ones described above, or others, only hastening your group’s destruction.

I’ve seen this happen more times that I care to count.

Whether your issue is fighting for the Second Amendment, fighting for the unborn, lowering taxes, protecting civil liberties, or something else — we need you.

And if you’re serious about effecting policy change, you owe it to yourself and your members to use tools that actually work.

Start by reading my article on lists, money, and people and make sure that you don’t waste any time with the mistakes detailed above.

If you need more help with this or any other aspect of running or growing a grassroots political organization, feel free to contact me.

From one-on-one phone calls to coming to your location to teach a day-long political seminar, I’m here to help!