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A Catalogue of Activism

A Catalogue of Activism

This has been a strange election cycle for me. I was a Republican precinct committeeman for a decade and a consistent campaign volunteer long before that. Being tied into a party infrastructure I never found myself hunting for ways to get engaged. Having resigned from the GOP in ’16 and finding myself a Political Orphan, it has taken some effort to find ways to get involved in this election. Being a Republican was relatively easy.

As mentioned in a previous post, I feel that the most important election of our lifetimes looms in the distance, with much effort, attention and luck needed just to earn a shot at that contest. I’d like to build a catalogue of opportunities for engagement and maintain it here in the OffTopic Forum. It should include information about timing (when is this activity performed), prep and training requirements, estimates about time or money needed, whatever necessary to plan and get ready to act. 

Apart from donations and involvement in local campaigns, I’ve found three ways to get active this cycle, Postcards to Voters, Team, and phone banking for Indivisible. I also managed to get a letter published in the local suburban newspaper, which included a comment in favor of the only Republican candidate I supported this year.

What else is out there? Even better, what are some of the available options for staying engaged between elections? 

Having assembled this, I’d like to incorporate reminders into the regular cycle of blog posts. This may also be useful if it becomes necessary or practical to organize third party or multi-party activities at some point. Organization beats motivation. It even beats money. What have you got? 


  1. If anyone is despairing about “voter apathy” or voter engagement:

    One major reason that I vote early is that I am always able to simply walk right in, vote, and walk right out. Today, I faced a wait of thirty minutes to vote.

    On a weekday.
    To vote early.
    In a midterm.

    What struck me most is that a sizable chunk of the people waiting in line were people in their 20’s and 30’s. I haven’t ever seen anything like this in Georgia.

  2. There has been considerable discussion regarding voting participation. That is a real problem in America. We need much higher voter participation.

    I am pleased to note that WA has moved from being the 42nd easiest state in which to vote to 11th in the last decade or so. OR next door is rated as the easiest and CA is rated 3rd or 4th. Two of the issues that made for the lower ranking for WA is the lack of automatic voting registration and inability to register on voting day. However, we do have registration with getting a driver’s license or state ID card unless one opts out. Also online registration has been implemented. That combined with our mail voting system and with liberal use of drop boxes has helped to increase participation. The addition of prepaid postage by the state this year is predicted to increase the participation rate. We are slowly increasing the participation rate, I believe the state is expecting around around 60% this election. We will see. Nevertheless, I believe the biggest issue is getting people motivated.

    Now that the state has a completely Democratic legislature, I am hoping that in the coming biennium the legislature will implement automatic voter registration and make provision for registration up to election day.

  3. I may have an unique problem (living in deep blue Seattle), but I live in a precinct that voted 88% for Clinton in 2016. We have liberal Democratic state legislators, the Congressperson is a liberal Democratic woman and both of our federal Senators are also moderate to liberal Democrats as are almost all of the statewide office holders. This cycle I made a number of relatively small donations to Democrats in various other constituencies including the three state CDs that I hope will flip and did some phone banking. However I was somewhat frustrated by limited opportunities to help other than by contributions, particularly for someone from out of state. The postcards idea caught my eye, but I am concerned regarding the effectiveness of a postcard from someone from out of state, i.e. on the left coast in Seattle to say someone in TX or FL. Any other suggestions would be appreciated.

    1. I’ve been very impressed with the way the postcard campaign has been organized. It’s also used by local campaigns who organize banks of people. The focus is on GOTV, so the non-local dimension is less significant. It amounts to a manpower extension that reaches people in a relatively personal way, probably one degree less potent than a doorbell ring and several degrees stronger than a campaign mailer (since it’s hand-written).

      1. Interesting.

        Using today’s technology it would seem that it would be possible to create handwritten look-alike postcards in large quantities.

        The postcards could even be tailored to look personalized by referencing local sports team or other events.

        If postcards are that effective of a tool for GOTV, then I might be interested in trying to help.

  4. I became a precinct chair this cycle. There was no grand hand-off from a previous chair because the Dems had never had one in this precinct. It’s been an interesting — and frustrating — experience.

    The second thing I did was establish a Twitter account. A few years ago, in grad school, I was bowled over by the theories and practices of rhetoric, or persuasive speech.

    One theory is that persuasion doesn’t happen like a thunder clap, in response to a single fact, for example, but rather happens over time as the audience develops affiliation with the speaker.

    So I attempted to create Twitter content that, over time, might cause some in #Houston to vote Dem on #healthcare.

    I created no original content, but linked to mainstream articles and research.

    I used hashtags to get my content out into the broader Twittersphere.

    I wasn’t particularly ‘social’, I.e., I didn’t thank people for re-tweets, etc.

    I followed only reputable media outlets and didn’t try to grow followers.

    So, in the first month, 700 people checked my profile. To me, that means my tweets caught their attention and they wanted to know if I was credible. I was very happy about that.

    Over time, the content has trended from the relatively neutral topic of not having health insurance to the lies currently being told by the Repugs about pre-existing condition protections — not neutral at all.

    And I urge people to not just vote, but to vote blue.

    Even now, over 200 people check my profile every month. Twitter says my rate of interactivity is about 2.8%. Old style direct mail is thought to be very successful if you get a 2% response.

    Sadly, I will never know how any reader specifically voted, but then, neither will the Russians

    1. Beto supporters have been employing some fun, harmless retail shenanigans. They will go to stores that have magazines for sale and rearrange them so that covers with Beto are front and center. At stores that sell letters of any kind – they arrange them so that they spell Beto. It’s a little silly but fun…and doesn’t suppress anyone’s votes….

      On a more serious note, when Dick’s Sporting Goods took the stand against selling AR15s, groups met at the store and formally thanked the manager with purchases in hand. “kill ’em with kindness” but also letting merchants know their customer base is diverse.

      1. Hi Mary
        As I posted previously the registration “gap” is a lot larger than the not voting “gap”

        It’s weird that in a country that styles itself the mother of democracy so many people are trying to stop people from voting

  5. I don’t know if it counts, but I have been very disappointed lately with coverage of local and state issues. I have been flummoxed trying to find a good chunky (independent!) analysis of any of the referenda on the ballot here in Georgia, or even a good discussion of any of the down ballot races and what each candidate is running on.

  6. I got some traction supporting the Sleeping Giants effort and was able to get a few well-known, local (Seattle area) companies to stop advertising on Breitbart. Working from that idea, I got very irritated about the covers of National Enquirer at my local supermarket chain (Winco) and got an email address for their national press relations guy (that wasn’t easy). But I sent him a complaint about that magazine, full of pictures of examples of their anti-Hispanic racism and political extremism, and got a good reply back. After that the mag seemed to return to their usual fare of trashy celebrity sex scandals so maybe the supermarket chain told them off. Who knows, but it was satisfying. FWIW Winco has an excellent Hispanic foods section and tremendous numbers of Hispanic customers.

    1. Chances are the changes you saw at the National Inquirer had more to do with their CEO’s eventual cooperation with the Special Counsel to avoid indictment. Congrats on the rest, though. That’s powerful stuff and I’m planning to write about it soon. Just preparing some pointed tweets to Allstate and Progressive about their Fox News advertising. I’m a HUGE fan of Sleeping Giants.

      1. What, you don’t think my email turned a giant tabloid company on its head? ;-D

        I found with Sleeping Giants that it’s a good method to go to the intertubes and research the likeliest executive (maybe the marketing CEO) and lob your complaint right into their inbox. They will often respond.

    2. Beto supporters have been employing some fun, harmless retail shenanigans. They will go to stores that have magazines for sale and rearrange them so that covers with Beto are front and center. At stores that sell letters of any kind – they arrange them so that they spell Beto. It’s a little silly but fun…and doesn’t suppress anyone’s votes….

      On a more serious note, when Dick’s Sporting Goods took the stand against selling AR15s, groups met at the store and formally thanked the manager with purchases in hand. “kill ’em with kindness” but also letting merchants know their customer base is diverse.

  7. We here are deeply engaged in following politics. Others are not. Here’s an example of good reporting that breaks down the hypocrisy between what Trump says regarding support for pre-existing health conditions, and what he (and the GOP and his administrative team) are actually “doing” in this regard.

    One of the critical functions in political discourse is the ability to distinguish between fact and obsfucation. It’s cleverly done; it depends upon lazy thinking; and it subverts the democratic process. One of the questions that came up during the 2016 election and after was which news sources offer the best, fact-based analysis? Analysis that offers breadth and depth in its commentary on complex issues. Teaching people about the importance of source material selection and critical analysis helps them learn how to think for themselves. When they do, they are better able to defend their positions and are better advocates for others who are more open to logic and fact but may not have time or interest in doing the work.

  8. Chris, your guidance to achieve effective political involvement will be a huge help. The typical volunteer spawned from the 2016 election needs structure to focus their energy and resources for optimal benefit. Our current political situation is serious enough that we can’t waste time nor effort if we are going to turn this train wreck around.

    May I suggest using ideas both from your experience and possibly draw upon some of the activities and ideas your followers are putting into practice. The Beto campaign has been incredibly interesting in how it had organized and utilized volunteers. I’m certain each campaign can offer other excellent examples.

    Is this what you are hoping to accomplish? I. E. Offer your political arsenal of tools and invite others!

    1. Mary,

      I am glad you replied to this topic.

      After I had posted, I was thinking it would be important to get a woman’s perspective to the voter’s guide I am contemplating.

      Now, if we could find a female conservation to join the “Orphans’ Voter Guide”, it might get traction.

      The idea would be to present reasoned viewpoints on ballot issues and candidates.

      It would be easy enough to get it started on this blog. After we work out the format, we could try to move to newspapers and direct mailing.

      The intent would be to provide a real resource for voters.

      You and I are both liberals, yet we have significantly different viewpoints.

      I suggest that our differences would be an asset to what I am suggesting.

      1. Different voices from different perspectives is important but I want to see how Chris presents his information. I enjoy a wide range of viewpoints and the regulars here are pretty good about sharing them.

        “Creative ideas” being created daily by local campaigns are of particular interest to me, which is why I suggested a deeper dive into the campaign of Beto O’Rourke. He has attracted first-time political activism in incredible numbers…and, I’m not referring to his fund-raising prowess. There are other, hard-working, interesting campaigns out there that will offer different tactics.

        Still, there are the basics that are necessary for any successful campaign and these are the bedrock upon which all the other more innovative, exciting stuff builds. The level of office matters. Technology has helped even this out but local races (which are very important) are much more personally designed. What will be interesting to study is are common elements of an effectively designed and run campaign.

        Frankly, I’m intrigued as to how we can both be liberals yet “differ” on so many viewpoints….That sounds like a great conversation to have.

        Right now, candidates are in the home stretch and America has a choice. Which direction will the voters choose?

    2. Mary,

      That’s it exactly. As we got into primetime this year (September) I realized I was at a loss for how to get engaged. In the past I was working with a political party, and one that had never done a lot of work on the ground. Now, between being somewhat physically limited by a health situation and lacking inroads into established channels for activity, I lost a lot of time getting ramped up.

      Even with the activities I ended up engaging in, I found myself having to invest a lot of time figuring out how to do it. Those are cycles that should have been spent back in the summer. For example, that Postcards for Voters thing turned out to be fantastic, but I should have been ramped up and ready a month earlier and gotten my neighbors involved. By the time I’d figured it all out my room to get things done was constrained.

      So I want to assemble a catalogue of this stuff now. Instructions, reviews, contacts and information about when to start doing it. We can keep it updated and trimmed and it can be a ready reference when special elections or local elections pop up.

      The voter guide-type of content that dfcord mentions is interesting too, but it would be more interesting in a less screwed up political climate. Right now I barely care about a candidate’s position on anything other than fascism. We may get back to something like that for the Democratic primaries, especially at the state level.

      1. And while we’re on the topic, let’s include organizations like Sleeping Giants that help channel financial protest activities. These will be crucial for “in-between time,” shutting down avenues of right wing propaganda.

      2. Chris,

        This may sound weird, but I feel it is more important to inform rather then compel voters.

        In other words, I am suggesting fighting tribalism (and “Identity Politics”) .

        However, I applaud any sincere effort to improve on the Status Quo.

        I would be up for GOTV drives even though it is probably pro Democratic Party (big “D”) and well as being pro democratic process.

      3. This is just my opinion, but I’m more concerned with attacking the financial incentives around political disinformation than with efforts to persuade anyone of anything. It seems to me that this problem starts with information pollution. Those poisoned by it aren’t going to be persuaded by arguments.

  9. Chris,

    I am presuming you are interested in getting creative ideas for trying to generate traction for a political movement outside Democrat or Republican.

    For what little it is worth, I am ashamed to admit to being lazy about acting out on my frustration with the Status Quo.

    Your links to Team and Indivisible embarrassed me into realizing the tools are readily available and I have no excuse.

    Ok… maybe a small excuse… i would be afraid of getting frustrated that I couldn’t make a significant impact regardless of the amount of effort expended.

    In my youth, I used to rely on the League of Women Voters to summarize the candidate position’s prior to voting. If I remember correctly, they didn’t endorse specific candidates. As far as I know they still don’t.

    Would it be possible to create a “Siskel and Ebert” review of the political landscape without it turning into Crossfire like shout-fest?

    My $0.02.

  10. Lou Dobbs has been peddling conspiracy theories for a while. I might be wrong but I thought he had been a somewhat respected business journalist. Either I am wrong, it has happened with an alarming frequency, or old Lou has taken a swig out of the coolaid!
    Either way, this is why it is so hard to change the path this country is on. Fox News! The people who watch this garbage believe every word. Except of course the words out of Shep smith’s mouth!
    Fox will never change mainly because Murdoch is making a ton of money off Fox. What we need is the advertisers to boycott fox until it really is “fair and balanced”! how to accomplish that? I have no idea!

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