Property Rights Foundation of America®

Property Rights Foundation of America Position Brief

Plan to Win

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.


The Three Stage Evaluation
1. Describe your goal.
2. List all of the tactics you could employ to reach your goal.
3. Select the tactics that appear feasible.

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:

a. Your core group or you visit your members of both houses of the legislature
b. Visit the members of the legislature who would be more concerned about rural areas.
c. Visit every member of the legislature
d. Visit the governor's office.
e. Bring a carefully selected, trusted local official or prominent local citizens on these visits.
f. Create a succinct one-page flyer about the proposal and distribute it to every resident of your town.
g. Publish a clear map, possibly as a flyer, showing the areas where economic activity will be eradicated.
h. Call a meeting in your town.
i. Travel to each potentially affected town to hold meetings.
j. Visit organizations in the area, such as the Farm Bureau, church and civic groups, telling about the proposal.
k. Obtain resolutions of opposition from the three town boards.
l. Try to get support for your cause from offices of local religious districts.
m. Start getting out a series of flyers and bulletins, mailing them to residents and town boards, especially about your events.
n. Organize a rally at the legislature.
o. Organize a busload of local people to visit the legislature and rally.
p. Have mass visits to members of the legislature, at least twenty people at each day of visits. Invite the media to join you.
q. Write letters to the editor.
r. Organize a letter to the editor campaign.
s. Organize a letter to legislators campaign.
t. Write a critical analysis of the proposal and publish it, circulate it to the media and all members of the legislature.
u. Do an economic and tax impact analysis of the proposal and publish it, circulate it to the media, governor, and entire legislature
v. Set up a web site and an e-mail campaign system.
w. Put the member of the legislature from your area who voted for the study in the hot seat with letters to the editor.
x. Invite both members of the legislature from your area to speak at the rally.
y. Invite a representative of the governor's office to speak at the rally.
z. Announce that you have formed an organization for justice for the communities.
aa. Sponsor a fund-raising dinner event and invite the media.
bb. Hire a lawyer to plan a Fifth Amendment Takings lawsuit or other lawsuit and exploit this litigation at every publicity opportunity.
cc. Bring a pro se lawsuit about a narrow illegality to the way the legislation was developed.
dd. Have a press conference with one of the affected property owners.
ee. Organize a media tour of several affected properties and have the owners tell their stories. Have little children present.
ff. Organize a parade, with floats, to the capitol. Include farmers with their tractors, loggers with their hauling trucks, and people representing other economic activity.
gg. Stage a high visibility or potentially disruptive, but legal, protest at the legislature, near the capitol, or on the concourse.

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.

Back to:
Citizens Strategies for Defending Private Property Rights Zoning and Building Codes - National PRFA Home Page

© 2008 Carol W. LaGrasse
All rights reserved. This material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.