Political activism is trending in the U.S. and there’s no shortage of tips and tactics out there. The problem with diving straight into tactics – without understanding the rules of the political engagement – is that new activists can sabotage their own efforts. It’s like building a house starting with the roof or the sidewalls instead of the foundation.
The solution is training activists to understand the unstated foundational rules. By learning The Advocacy Framework, activists will be able to identify goals, pick a winning strategy, and employ the appropriate techniques naturally. Activists can then dramatically improve their effectiveness.
President Trump may not follow the traditional rules of engagement – rules which have governed political life for thousands of years. But the good news is that our founding fathers set up checks and balances comprised of hundreds of other politicians who do subscribe to The Rules of the Game: Political Capital, Credibility, and Relationships
First, Political Capital:
- It’s the number of times someone can go to the well with someone else. Washington or any other political center of power is based on relationships. Different people have power over different things and they have to bargain with someone else who has more power than them. In order to be successful, one generally needs to give something in exchange, if not immediately, then down the road.
- Everyone has it and it’s in limited supply – Just as your elected official only has so much capital with the speaker or chairman of a committee, you have political capital as a constituent.
- It’s transactional
- Your capital goes up when you help them
- Your capital goes down when it’s one-sided
Next, the two critical factors in being a successful activist (and a politician, incidentally) are credibility and relationships. The more you work these principles, the harder it is for politicians or political opponents to dismiss you.
- Appearance – Dress like you’re going to a job interview. Politics is serious business and when you dress seriously, you are taken seriously.
- Being cool, calm, and collected – Yelling, threatening, or otherwise coming across as unhinged will land you in the “wacktavist” file faster than you can call Nurse Ratchet.
- Having reasonable, thoughtful requests – If every time you call the office, the (different) issue is life or death, you won’t be taken seriously. Similarly, should you have a wish list a mile long (or completely unattainable), politicos will assume you don’t understand that they have political capital and boom – you lose credibility.
- Avoiding social media rants or fights – Anytime you character assassinate either in real life or behind a computer you show you’re unpredictable and politicians will (rightfully) want to steer clear of you. Think about it – if you maligned someone else’s character, what’s to stop you from going after them if they aren’t successful?
Relationships with politicians:
- Long-lasting – If you think you’ll need this politician again sometime in the next 4-8 years, look at the relationship in 4 year increments. Avoid burning bridges!
- Mutual respect – Politicians will respect your opinions if you respect where they are coming from; remember, everyone else who is coming to them is equally convinced they are 100% right and that their issue should be #1.
- If you want their support, support them back!
- Give them props –You’d be surprised how far a thank you call/letter/email/tweet/letter to the editor goes, especially when you show others they did a good job.
- Bring others to the table – You – and the politician advocating for you – will have far more credibility if it’s more than one person saying “we need a new community center”. Get 20-30 fellow residents to chime in.
- Donate/Volunteer on their campaign – Just like in philanthropy, donate time, treasure, or talent. While not a necessity, it will increase your political capital.
Now that you understand The Foundation of Advocacy, picking goals, strategies, and tactics should be easier. For more information, sign up for e-updates on other trainings and tips.