Creating Powerful Local and Regional Events With Little Resources
Elected local and state representatives are far more likely to respond to your issue if you can demonstrate the support of large numbers of their constituents. Forget about petitions, because officials know how easy it is to get people to sign something. The numbers behind your issue can only be demonstrated by your ability to bring out the people, whether to a meeting, rally, fund-raising dinner, or even with a massive outpouring of letters to the representative and to the local newspapers.
But, even though letters and visits to an elected official are of utmost importance, these don't quite make the impression that an official will experience when he views a hall full of people. It is the big turnout of people that you can bring to a public hearing, town board meeting, or to a meeting that is called by your organization that proves your importance. The influence of this crowd of people is paramount.
If people are affected by an issue, it is within the financial resources and organizational capacity of a competent, small local organization to gather together a very large crowd to show the media and elected officials that you have backing.
Keep in mind that, not only is the big event an occasion to promote your specific issue, but it gives you the opportunity to educate people on the principles and importance of private property rights and private property ownership.
1. Getting out the crowd
a. The Government Meeting or Hearing for your Local Town, County, or Region
Easiest to tackle - Getting out the crowd near your home base at a meeting planned by government officials.
Before you plan your own meeting from scratch, consider that the government may be holding just the meeting that you need to get your issue out and to put pressure on the government. This meeting may even be a hearing about your issue. It is essential to take advantage of such a meeting.
· Go door-to-door - Best method
Bring your flyer to every home, and talk to everyone who is home.
· The mailed flyer or letter
About ten days before the meeting, mail a well-designed flyer or letter to everyone in the municipality. Simultaneously, create a buzz with letters to the editor and talking up the meeting whenever possible. A good letter or flyer really will bring out a crowd, if the issue affects the people receiving the letter and they have seen a couple of published articles. However, as the sole means of getting people out, this works reliably only at the town, village, and small city level.
In addition, telephone people whenever possible. Try to get a feeling whether these calls are influencing people. Don't forget to invite your relatives and friends.
· Your representative
Try to get your elected representative to come out and give a statement. If this is a state or federal issue that affects your town, village or county, it is an easy way for the representative to be seen publicly. Chances are that his appearance will bring out the media.
· Geographic scope
The larger the geographic area, the more interest that has to precede your mailing about a public hearing or the like.
A proven way to attract attention to a public hearing is to hold a press-worthy event about a week to ten days before the actual hearing. This gets you in the newspaper and gears people up for the hearing. Maybe your representative will appear at your pre-event with you. Your mailed notices will augment the turnout further. If the people are really aware and psyched up about the issue and everyone knows the date for some reason, such as because a government notice was already sent to the affected people, you don't have to send out your own notices.
b. Your Organization's Big Public Meeting
Careful: Don't stage the "big" public meeting about your issue unless you can get out the crowd.
Interest in an issue builds rapidly. People do not need a lot of time to become excited and get out to the meeting. Just ten days' or two weeks' notice can fire up excitement in a community. But don't delay! Strike while the issue is hot.
Methods to draw people:
· Door-to-door flyer distribution and visits
· Mailed flyer or letter to affected property owners.
This may take research. For instance, in a local re-zoning, the affected property owners be have to be located from the planning map, and then the names and addresses painstakingly obtained from the assessment rolls one at a time, unless advanced GIS resources are available to pull them out through a computer program.
In a federal land designation affecting an area that is mapped out, the outline of the area would have to be overlaid on the county and town maps, and after that every property owner located from the tax assessment rolls.
If necessary, don't forget to include directions to the meeting location, as well as the date, time, and place. State that admission is free.
· Create map of the affected area
Sometimes, you may have to make the approximate map of a re-zoned area or land designation from the best information available, and send around your sketch of this area to the property owners you list as a result of this delineation. The importance of publishing such a map if the government agency is contemplating the restrictive designation of a restricted area cannot be overstated. Nothing works people up more than to find out that their land is going to be placed inside a highly regulated area or an area slated for acquisition.
· Press release: See "Press Release Essentials"
· Posters: Place them in local businesses and stores
· Billboards, banners:
Use empty space that is available on other organizations' billboards. Another possibility is to string a banner across the main street.
· Pre-event about a week to ten days before the big day, making use of media. See part 1a above.
· Letters to the editor: See "Letters to the Editor-Key Points for Success"
· Your newsletter announcement to your members
· Telephone calls to members, friends, and family.
· Keynote Speaker
To create interest in your event, an out-of-town keynote speaker could be invited. A press release about this speaker and your event will often be printed verbatim in the local newspapers, with the speaker's photograph usually welcomed. If you don't have a keynote speaker, sometimes a group photo of, say, four people in your organization planning the meeting, will be published with your press release.
· Your local representatives
Inviting your local representatives to speak is an effective method to bring the media to your meeting. You must decide when and how long they will speak and maintain control of the meeting and its duration. The main speaker of the evening should be a leader of your organization or the guest out-of-town speaker, however.
2. Effective Use of Hearings and Meetings
a. Public Hearings
Most officials who hold public hearings, do so only because they are required by the law and to promote their own agendas. "Why attend? Why speak?" ask many citizens. This is a self-defeating attitude. Begin with the reality of the intransigence and perhaps even the meanness of the bureaucrats who have convened the hearing, but view the hearing as an opportunity. First, even though the bureaucrats holding the hearing may be the very people dissecting important freedoms, they have to hear you out. Afford them this bad experience. Secondly, and more practically, use the hearing for your own purposes. This is your opportunity to promote your issue and your organization. Third, keep in mind for hearings held by officials of county, village and town bodies that they are susceptible to opposition and ideas for revisions, because the people speaking up are the ones that elect them. Finally, use the hearing to give courage and hope to other downtrodden citizens.
· Have you prepared your statement in writing?
Come prepared to speak at the hearing, and bring written testimony, a copy to hand in and a few copies for the press. You do not have to precisely follow your written statement. Be prepared to shorten it if required, but do not sacrifice the power of your presentation.
· Have many other citizens arrived?
A common failing is that, even though there is a room of citizens, many will get shy when their names are called from the sign-up list, and say that someone already expressed their view. Do your best to see that all citizens use their turn to speak, even if to just walk up to the microphone and say whether they support or oppose the government proposal.
· Have you made preparations to record the hearing?
Engage a reliable person to use a camcorder. Your group's use of a camcorder puts the government officials on their toes and shows that you mean business.
· At the hearing, once the government officials have finished their lengthy presentation and made all the rules, are you nervous about what you intend to say?
This is a common mistake. Forget about fitting in with the line of thinking established by the hearing officials. The hearing is your opportunity to be heard for what you have in mind to convey. Don't cow to recalcitrant government. It is your hearing. Speak to the other citizens, the press and TV, even if the government officials are unreceptive to your ideas.
· Can you be heard?
When you speak, make sure that you can be clearly heard. Don't forget to give your name and organizational identification clearly at the beginning of your speech. The best way to be heard in a large room is to assume the attitude of speaking to a person in the back row. If you are allowed a long time to speak, take a cup of water to the podium.
· Is the government portion of the hearing starting to take too long?
Wrest control, if at all possible, by asking questions and making comments posed as questions that damage the government's position. Don't ask questions that enable the government to look good. Insist on drawing the government part of the hearing to a close if it runs more than 15 minutes or so.
· What can your group do to get noticed in a situation packed with powerful opposition groups?
Funny costumes that make a point help people to get noticed, sometimes taking the media crowd away from the environmental preservationists at their own event. "Piggybacking" on a press conference called by a coalition of rival groups, people came a dressed as pigs, for "pork barrel," where the topic was an expensive land grab. On another occasion, a huge man who was actually a lumberjack came to a Congressional meeting that was related to the future of logging, dressed in usual woodsmen's attire, carrying a giant chainsaw. Don't be shy about bringing in large banners and picket signs. The media may be looking for something to photograph.
· Are the officials trying to divide up the citizens at the meeting?
Put a stop to this with some surprise maneuvers of your own. Do your level best to keep the citizens in a position to hear and be strengthened by each other, not divided into focus groups. If you cannot stop the breakup into focus groups, be sure to gain control of as many of them as possible, with your members becoming spokespeople.
· Do you have materials to give out to the citizens?
Have someone quickly distribute the material to each person at the beginning of the meeting or while you speak.
· Are you preparing an article about the hearing for your newsletter or web site?
Bring a camera and get photographs of a few of your members and yourself at the microphone. Photograph key government officials.
b. Your Big Meeting or Rally
Meetings and rallies that seem so spontaneous and which move along with such vigor and excitement are almost invariably extremely well-planned. Don't make the mistake of thinking a successful event will just happen on its own. Don't rely on others to be supposedly "in charge." Don't neglect decisions about the logistics of the event until you are up on the dais faced with the problem of a disruptive person in the audience or a "two-minute" speaker who thinks that he has the podium for a half-hour with the goal of taking over your meeting. Work out the solutions to the usual problems of this type of gathering in advance. Protect your investment in this event by doing as much planning ahead as is possible.
The remarks below are written to apply especially to an evening meeting, but many of them are useful for longer affairs.
· Have you carefully checked beforehand the facility where the meeting will be held?
Who will be there to help you open up? Evaluate acoustics, adequacy of ventilation, enough tables, chairs, a podium, and so on. Parking?
· Have you arranged to have a single, confident, disciplined person moderate the meeting or to be in charge of the movement of events from the area of the podium?
Without one person in charge, the meeting will fall out of your control, a recipe for disaster. Maybe you should be the one in charge.
· Have you planned the meeting schedule in writing, at least for internal distribution for yourself and the speakers, even if you do not have a printed program to distribute?
This written program sets the stage for keeping the meeting moving along the way you have in mind.
· Are you prepared to get the keynote speaker to the podium early enough?
The actual time to hold the meeting depends on the area where you live. In New York State, for instance, city meetings start and end much later than country meetings. At a typical country meeting held in the evening, if you have other speakers before your keynote speaker, you need to have tight control of the time so that you are able to introduce the keynote speaker by no later than 7:30 p.m., and not more than one-half hour after the start of the meeting.
· Have you prepared with brief opening remarks and the introductions for all of the speakers?
Explain the purpose of the meeting briefly as part of the welcome. Gather biographical material for the introduction of each speaker beforehand and embellish it with thoughts relative to your issue. Keep intros relatively short, but appreciative. If there are elected officials in the audience, give them a chance to stand up and receive applause, even if they will not be speaking.
· Are you going to serve refreshments?
Small-town events are especially hospitable if homemade cookies, coffee and tea are served at no charge. Have an intermission at this type of event for people to take advantage of the hospitality. But don't have the intermission before the keynote speaker gives the main speech. If people are especially interested, an excellent question and answer session can follow.
· Should your organization charge admission?
No. However, at an easily visible, but low-key location at the table at the door, a trusted person could be available to receive donations. List all cash donors and send receipts or other acknowledgements.
· Are you going to obtain the names and addresses of the attendees?
Use one of two arrangements, either a few people at tables at the door with sign-in sheets or a pass-around sign-in sheet that a trusted person monitors. Either way, announce that you'd appreciate everyone to sign up. These names will become part of your early mailing list.
· Do you have capable people to assist you?
Prepare in advance for the event to run smoothly. Arrange for trustworthy people who will be available to greet important guests, run errands for you, help set up equipment, handle trouble.
· Are you going to allow questions and answers of the keynote speaker?
This is one of the biggest traps at large public meetings. What often happens is that, because the convener wants to appear fair to the opposition and to give everyone enough time to ask questions, the moderator will allow individual questioners to deliver long harangues and will allow the question and answer period to drag on. Fifteen to twenty minutes additional time, including the responses by the keynote speaker, is more than adequate. Anything longer, unless the attendees are unusually intelligent and good-willed, can change the entire drift of the meeting, end the evening with foolishness, or even turn the tables on the organization that convened the meeting.
On the wonderful occasions when the people attending the meeting ask well-meant, intelligent questions, glorious question and answer sessions result. I have seen question and answer sessions go on for an hour or longer, with remarkable sharing of information by excellent speakers.
The host group may pose some of the questions of the keynote speaker.
Allow the questions to be made directly by the members of the audience. After the moderator calls on someone and the person asks a question, the moderator should succinctly repeat the question for the audience to hear.
· Do you know how to effectively close the meeting?
The single person who has done all of the introductions and has run the meeting simply takes the podium and microphone and announces that the question and answer period is over, but that members of the audience can stay to ask their individual questions of the speaker. Thank the audience, and thank the speaker again, and start the applause. Do this before the meeting starts to drag and before any significant number of people start to leave.
· Is it possible to do publicity afterwards?
You may issue a post-meeting press release not more than a day or two after the meeting, with a recapitulation of key remarks by the speaker and a few good quotes. This story also should also include information about how to reach your organization. You are likely to get this published in several small newspapers if your issue extends far enough geographically.
Don't forget to take photos of any lively stunts that your group carries out, for your newsletter and web site.
c. Fund-raising dinners
Fund-raising dinners generate a uniquely congenial atmosphere that can increase your organization's goodwill, but they involve a large investment in personal resources and finances. Personal contact and direct mail are superior for fund-raising, and big meetings and rallies are more effective for getting your issue before the public, media and elected officials. Yet, occasionally, an individual or organization will volunteer to put on a fund-raising dinner, and will also volunteer the facilities and membership of that person's organization to make the dinner possible. This may be an opportunity that should not be refused.
Many of the points explained above for getting out the crowd and for holding successful rallies and meetings apply to fund-raising dinners. This publication will not cover the details and ideas for how to put on a dinner, but below are a few points related to how the dinner can be most effective in promoting private property rights.
· Does someone deserve special recognition for defending private property rights?
The dinner could be a good time to present a plaque or other token of appreciation from your organization.
· Where would be a good place to put up a display about your organization, your issue, and private property rights?
A display with photographs, free publications, and membership forms should be located off to the side but convenient to the flow of traffic, so that it attracts the people coming to the dinner without blocking the movement. In addition, a small brochure could be placed at each place setting.
· When should the keynote speaker address the crowd?
A good order for the evening, even for an informal buffet or barbecue, is that the dinner is served after the welcome remarks and introductions of guests. After the main course is pretty well finished, the keynote speaker is invited to the podium, so that he starts speaking during dessert.
· How should receipts be handled?
It is dismaying how much money is embezzled or poorly handled by grassroots and community organizations. The handling of cash is such an important aspect of the fund-raising dinner that the point must be made to plan the handling of receipts so that the most trusted individual does this. Generally, only one person should handle cash and a strict accounting should be made. The payment of the host organization or restaurant should be made with a separate check, and all of the receipts entered as a separate deposit to the organization's account.
· How should you express appreciation and promote your organization?
Thank the host organization, if applicable. Have helpful and important guests, and finally, the officers of your organization stand. The reason for recognizing the officers of your organization is that the people attending the event deserve to know who you are. Point out the brochures at each place setting and the free publications at the display table, and do not be hesitant asking people to join your organization. Promote your next public meeting and upcoming events.
· What post-event publicity can I generate?
The award that your organization presents creates the opportunity to take a photograph of the recipient with the person presenting the award. The day after the dinner, you may bring this photograph with a press release about the award presentation to the local newspapers. Include information about your organization. If the award recipient came from afar, mail the photograph and press release to the individual's hometown newspapers.
Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals (Random House, New York, 1971) Available at libraries and easy to read, this influential book on organizing conveys an attitude that helped poor people exploit their own unrecognized strong points to be heard.
A Wake-Up Call - Organizing for Success, Proceedings of the Fifth Annual New York Conference on Private Property Rights - Edited by Carol W. LaGrasse (PRFA, 2001). National leaders and experts reveal essentials about reaching your representative, exposing government to the light of day, effective media work, web outreach, cable television, the successful newsletter, keeping a group together, building coalitions, and fund-raisingall in the context of defending freedom. Still available from PRFA.
"New Crimes, New Power - Zoning and Building
Codes," - By Carol W. LaGrasse, Positions on Property,
Vol. 3, No. 2 (PRFA, May 1996). Includes must-read article, "The
Better Way Defeating and Repealing Zoning, Building Codes,
and Unconstitutional 'Nuisance' Rules Before They Affect You Personally."
Available from PRFA.