Since the ’70s, I have been actively involved with many public interest issues. I am extremely disappointed in the direction so many social and environmental groups have moved to embrace the current rage of flashy techno-this and cutesy-that at the expense of substance and effective action. The endless quest for money for which principles and positions are watered down to the lowest common denominator to appease yet more foundations is no way to effect change.
I would suggest that there are specific do’s and don’ts, if you will, to mount an effective campaign.
The uniquely American nature of the gun issue has been around since I was young. Precious little headway has been made to address very real problems.
A case in point is that an acquaintance sent me an alert by a gun control advocacy group after the horrific shooting deaths in Uvalde, TX. Disappointingly, I was shocked. The organization did not ask for meaningful involvement, but only for $$. Money, no matter how much, won’t stop the gun frenzy. A whole lot of mad-as-hell people not letting up on their elected officials may. Maybe.
Note that I’ve been a gun owner all my life. The very first thing I was taught was that with my right to have a gun I have a responsibility to handle it safely. A serious problem today is the disregard by too many gun owners of their responsibility of safe firearm handling. In my opinion that disregard spills over into the wrong headed view of what the right to own guns means.
As an activist, I have learned that with difficult issues the single most important part of creating effective change is a massive outpouring of personal letters, calls and ‘visits’ to the decision makers. With the gun issue the decision makers are our Electeds, from the President and Congress right on down to Governors and state legislators. They must know that people are truly upset. Well dressed, paid representatives of organizations do a poor job (in my opinion) of actually representing the men and women in our communities.
Years ago, the founders of a foundation told me that the most important thing I could do is stay in the faces of decision makers. They were mentors and I took that to heart.
I have watched well-funded issue actions fail because the focus was $$, not involvement – few people were actually writing letters, calling or paying visits to decision makers. It is damned easy for decision makers to ignore a few well-dressed people who say they represent a bunch of folks when they never see or hear from that bunch. Been there, seen that. All too often.
The modern, rightwing approach of fear-mongering (and mass marketing techniques) has effectively motivated countless people afraid that _____ (you fill in the blank) is going to take their guns and freedom away. It is not just the crime syndicate of the NRA lobbying for unfettered gun rights. It is all the little, local and state-wide gun and sports shooting groups, and many other types of groups as well, stirring up their members. Many people. Many letters. Many calls. They are at events. They push Electeds at town halls and other public meetings. Endlessly. They are winning.
Over the years, I’ve seen small, grassroots groups, with a fraction the $$ of the opposition, energize a broad spectrum of people that generated significant numbers of substantive comments, calls and visits to decision makers’ offices, that “the people” could not be ignored. And they won. It doesn’t happen much these days as people’s views and organizations’ approaches have shifted significantly away from being citizen-activist oriented. That’s a problem.
It is important to point out that petitions -endlessly popular these days- are the easiest thing in the world for decision makers to ignore. I have watched repeatedly as petitions are ignored for not being meaningful comment. (Are people who do no more than press a key or sign something they haven’t read actually concerned?) At least one Fed law, and rules promulgated, state a petition is simply a single comment even if a million people sign it. The Bush Administration reiterated that, in 2004 or 05, in a decision about forest management.
I urge a change to advocacy groups’ approaches to get common-sense laws regulating guns. This is a huge issue and right now there is some momentum going. Energize the people. Urge letters, especially, and calls (easier to ignore) to Congresspeople and Governors.
A number of years ago, the groundswell of citizen outpouring on an issue caused the switchboards into Senate and House office buildings to be overwhelmed, and the congressional webmail system failed because of so many individual comments. Let’s do that again to stop gun madness.
Give the people short, clean talking points. No action alert should be more than one side of one 8-1/2×11 sheet and should be in bullet points, not paragraphs of text. Less is more. This can be extrapolated to electronic use easily.
Press releases and press packets need to be clean, succinct and well backed up. No press release should ever be more than one side of one page. Hand, or send, it to the reporter if doing an interview. Use a press ‘packet’ if the info exceeds one side of one page, according to a former Associated Press writer who presented a workshop on effective press interaction for non-profits.
For far too many years now, we have seen a significant ‘dumbing down’ of the American public (at every level). People don’t understand an issue they may be concerned about because far too many organizations put out too much empty rhetoric and too little succinct information. How can someone write their Electeds when it takes longer to glean a bit of fact than it takes to write a few sentences of comment? Concerned folk need more proactive and engaging support to spur them to the front, as activists, one and all.
If we, as concerned Americans, are going to get meaningful change to help abate the gun madness, then public interest organizations and activists need to re-think the current, popular approach of cutesy and get back to promoting education and active citizen involvement.