Two different communities faced a similar issue related to state government policy. Neither community is wealthy or influential. One lost and the other is winning. What was the difference? In one community, the people tossed out a few efforts, were afraid to organize at the halls of power, and, at one point, expected someone from outside the community to lead them. In the other community, the leaders and other citizens worked hard in synchrony toward a clear goal, with sometimes bold efforts directed at every level of government.
1. Arriving at Your Goal
The warning. In a fictional sample case, you have read glowing newspaper articles about a conservation plan proposed in the state legislature for an area that includes your town and two neighboring towns. You are suspicious, with concerns about the effect on private property rights.
Initial information. You cannot tell from the article exactly what is afoot, but names of legislators who are involved, funding for open space protection, and the completion of an official study are mentioned, among a few other details.
Quick study. You should obtain a copy of the study and the proposed legislation. You should contact your legislator for these documents, or, that failing, the sponsoring legislators or bureaucrats related to the legislation. Then analyze the legislation. For purposes of this discussion, suppose that you discovered that, among other details, the legislation calls for large lot zoning (for example, 50 acres per lot for most of the land, which is labeled a "core" area), funding for purchase of development rights, a narrow list of potentially permissible uses on that same core area, other restrictions outside the core area, and the governor's appointment of a zoning commission to rule on any applications for development in the tri-town area.
An intimate meeting. You and a small group of friends sit down and discuss the proposal. Your farmer friend is concerned that his son won't be able to expand his farm equipment repair shop into a combined repair shop and dealership, or build his house on a corner of the farm. In the longer term, he is worried that he won't be able to sell part of his land for development, if he decides to retire and give up farming. A friend who is in heavy construction is concerned that a gravel-rich area that he purchased recently will not be available to supply his construction needs. He has a more general concern that, with radical restrictions on the land, there won't be many business opportunities in the future for his construction work. The minister of your church, a respected man who has a history of service to the local people, is concerned because he is aware that radical preservation will cause the middle-income working people of the sort that belong to his congregation to gradually leave the area and that the relatively few well-to-do people who replace them will not be raising families locally. There is also a woman in your small group, a grandmother, and like you an idealist, and concerned about the future of the community.
Among these five people are many resources, and they have a great deal of practical judgement and vision. You are fortunate that you know each other for many years. But, even if you could not initially get together such an inner circle, you can still pursue the following steps, gathering trusted allies as you go.
The goal. The group has no difficulty agreeing that they must work together for one goal, defeating the proposed legislation. There is already a buzz around town about working with the program, but your informal alliance is not swayed. An auspicious beginning.
2. The Weapons Inventory:
List the Desirable Tactics that Could Help You to Reach Your Goal
Because you come from different walks of life, you have the ability to list a variety of potential tactics that will help you defeat the legislation. You have to force yourself to list all ideas as they come, not to evaluate their feasibility. So you get to work, writing down all ideas, without regard for your financial resources, political connections, time limitations, and the like. You do not record the advantages and disadvantages of each tactic at this point.
Your list will be quite long, some of the items will overlap, and some of them not even be worthwhile. But by now, you have done the "quick study" and have a lot of basic information about the proposal and its proponents.
An alphabet list sample of tactics:
3. The Plan: Select Tactics to Start Your Attack
Eliminate dangerous options. First, circle the tactics that have obvious pitfalls, and hold off on them until they can be evaluated in the context of deeper knowledge. Examples to hold off on are the lawsuit announcement (bb), unless you have experience with a recognized attorney in the field and can define the litigation plan and costs; the forming of an organization (z), unless you have a well-thought plan for a very narrow board of directors to retain close control; and bringing trusted local officials and prominent local individuals to your small group visits to members of the legislature (e), unless they have reliably and publicly demonstrated their uncompromising opposition to the proposal.
Select a range of activities, evaluate their feasibility
and utility, make a flexible plan, and set up a timetable.
The selections from the list, which are elements of your initial plan, should be based on at least three parallel fronts on which you launch your attacks on the proposed legislation. Each attack is like a battle in a war. The selection of attacks is based on both their usefulness and your actual resources. In our example, the deadline when the legislation would be likely to be voted on in the legislature should be paramount. The accomplishments of the three battle fronts should be well ahead of the deadline so that more can be accomplished or you should have a sub-plan to get the vote in the legislature held off, perhaps by working with a sympathetic, influential member of the legislature.
Front One: This leads to the decision to select both tactics a and c immediately, because, in addition to impressing your members of the legislature, you desperately need to find allies anywhere in the legislature, perhaps from beyond rural legislators, to keep you posted on the proposal and hold off the vote, hopefully in committee. (Readers of this brief will see by just a few examples how any plan is modified opportunistically.) Therefore your first front is the legislature, and the tactics used from your list can be increased in number and intensity as you progress. At this stage, you should also look for connections that will be helpful, such as the farmer's connection to the State Farm Bureau, the business owner's membership in a state business organization, or the minister's connection to a denomination, any of which may have an office in the capitol. But don't wait for help from influential groups; just surge ahead.
Front two: Another of your three fronts will be the local town, because the town will be the strong base of your effort. Your diverse core group could tackle items f, g, h, and i, the flyer and map for the local town, the local town meeting, and visits to the nearby affected towns. Your goal is to get the people visibly involved in the letter writing effort, to get the media at the meeting, and perhaps to bring people who are especially talented into helping you plan your group's specific events, such as the parade (ff) or the bus ride to the legislature (o). The work of the most talented volunteers has to be monitored just as in a business operation. But, a prime development would be if some of the other local people aggressively start taking measures on their own and get in the media. This results in more attack fronts on which the battle is being fought from your side, and vastly increases your potential for victory. Do everything humanly possible to help any other informal group that forms to carry out a rally or other event so that every line of action demonstrates a mass of support for your cause.
Front Three: The third parallel front must be the media. First, your side must exploit what is known as (free) guerilla publicity, namely the letters to the editor column (q), which should include all local newspapers, including weeklies, as well as the newspapers at the capitol. The letters by each individual member of your core group should start immediately and continue, while one member of the core group leads the public letters campaign (r), which is done best in small weekly meetings conducted for that purpose. At the same time, a stream of media events should be generated, which means exploiting every event you create, whether a citizen meeting (h) or rally (n) or the release of a report (t).
Note: Use this sample situation to see how the process of planning to win works. Create your own plan from the specifics related to your situation.
The wars we wage to defend our rights are won by fighting realistically and simultaneously on several fronts.