HOW TO ORGANIZE WATCH TEAMS FOR ACTION GROUPS
Wherever one is located, we’re all subject to the actions of many different lawmakers. For example, in my congressional district in Florida (the 2nd Congressional District, Florida) we have to keep up (on the Federal level) with our two U.S. senators and our U.S. House representative – in addition to keeping up with the President and his cabinet and all the Federal agencies. On the state level we have several Florida House Districts within our Congressional District, and we have 3 state senators for this region – in addition to keeping up with the Governor and his cabinet and all of the state agencies. That’s an awful lot to keep up with and way too much for most of us to do independently. As the investigative and objective traditions of our press seem to be eroding, we can’t rely on the press to keep us informed of all the detail we need. The beauty and efficiency of an action group derives from dividing the labor and delegating the tasks involved in watching these lawmakers to different teams and then delegating the tasks within a team among the team members.
WATCH TEAMS FOR LAWMAKERS
An Action Group should create one ‘Watch Team” for each lawmaker or agency within their georgraphical area. Within each team, the various tasks involved in learning about and monitoring the activity of the lawmaker or agency can be delegated among team members.
So, what are all the tasks that should be delegated and undertaken? Here’s at least enough to get you off to a good start. We will all learn more as we go.
Each Watch Team needs a “Group Liaison” or “Team Leader”. A volunteer for each team needs to coordinate the delegation of duties within the team and report back on significant findings and events to the full action group. The Group Liaison should create a secret Facebook group (or some other type of protected area to exchange and record information) and join all of the members of the team.
When watching a lawmaker or candidate for office, you first need to learn his or her history. Where are they from? What have their life experiences been? How have those life experiences affected their attitudes and beliefs? What is their current attitudinal profile and what are their beliefs? If you’re familiar with the “Shape O Ball” toy for toddlers, you know that it’s a learned skill to find the right shape that will fit into a particular shaped hole to gain entry of the piece into the puzzle. The human mind works in much the same manner. People will not accept ideas that have no existing portal to their mind as configured by their current attitudes and beliefs. So, the trick is to create a ‘Trojan Horse” puzzle piece – one shaped so that it is accepted into their thought, but then expands and broadens their beliefs once accepted. In more concrete terms, you have to start with what a lawmaker already accepts and believes – and work from there – to persuade him or her to adopt a new idea or accept a new position. You can’t do that effectively unless you understand their current attitudes and beliefs.
If you can’t persuade a lawmaker in any fashion (and there are many that we can’t these days), the other alternative is to strategically pressure them into cooperating to some extent. To do this effectively you have to know his or her vulnerabilities. For example, if your representative has no desire to run for another term (and some don’t, they just want to earn favor with certain contributors, effect some immediate changes to help their industry, and make the connections necessary to help them financially after leaving office), threatening to hurt his or her chances for re-election will not be effective. For others who are planning a political career, getting re-elected is a primary concern.
Thus, it’s very important to understand the history of your lawmaker and what their attitudes and motivations are. At least one team member needs to be assigned to concentrate on this task. Wikipedia is a good starting place to learn biographies. The lawmaker’s websites usually have a biography (albeit one that is spun to their advantage). Google searches that look for past articles mentioning their name, finding organizations they have joined in the past, etc. are also helpful to find the information that may not be well known. And, of course, talking to people that know or have known the lawmaker personally is also a good source of information.
Sign up for the lawmaker’s newsletter, follow his Facebook page and Twitter Account. Sign up for the lawmaker’s newsletter (an unpleasant task for those of us in very conservative areas, but a necessary one), get on their snail mail list, follow his or her Facebook page and Twitter accounts, and monitor the lawmaker’s websites (they usually have an official listing on the official legislature page and then their own website as well). This way, you will know what he is currently thinking and also how he or she is currently trying to shape the attitudes of constituents. This can be done by the same member who is responsible for history or by another team member who works closely with the former.
Stay current on your lawmaker’s voting record. Another team member should be assigned to track the lawmaker’s voting record. A great resource to do so is at https://www.govtrack.us/start. When you get to the particular lawmaker’s page on govtrack, you can sign up for alerts.
Sign up for Google Alerts relating to the lawmaker. With a google account, you can go to https://www.google.com/alerts# and create alerts for the lawmaker. This will give you a daily email containing all the stories that have shown up on the web referencing or referring to that lawmaker since the last alert. I have used Google Alerts for other purposes for years and find them to be very helpful.
Keep up with the lawmaker’s calendar, track his or her appearances, and show up to as many of those appearances as possible. (Here’s a spreadsheet that may help for anything you may have missed.) This task is closely related to the previous one, of course, but dividing the efforts of tracking, planning, and attending town hall meetings and appearances between different team members may be helpful to keep from overburdening members. Often, if it is an important meeting, it is good to bring out the entire team or even the entire group to an appearance. The Group members appearing will need to be coordinated by the Watch Team and well briefed with questions and arguments (and perhaps signs) in hand.
Create relationships with reporters who follow, cover, and write stories about the lawmaker. Research on Google News Daily (https://news.google.com/news) to find out what reporters have written about your lawmaker. Find and follow those reporters on Facebook and Twitter, and build relationships with them. Before you attend or plan an event, reach out to these journalists and explain why your group is protesting and provide them with a press release including background materials and quotes. (Journalists are busy — even those who might not agree with you appreciate when you provide easy material so they can write a story quickly. If they get in a rush to fill up space, it will be published.)
Keep up with the gossip. As unsavory as this sounds and as difficult as it may be for some teams to make the connections, if anyone on the team has connections with investigative reporters or with people who know the lawmaker personally, those connections may be willing to ‘leak’ to you certain things the lawmaker has said or done in private that may soon become a public issue. For example, cell phone videos of private meetings often surface these days. Not to encourage anyone on the Team to do that, but when others do and it’s going to hit the news anyway, it’s good to have a heads up on it. Plus, just to be aware that a lawmaker has alienated a longtime friend or supporter can also be useful information. Politics is hardball. Team members should behave ethically and follow their own conscience, but we should all be aware that private mistakes often bring a politician down and if someone can stay in ‘the gossip loop’, it gives the team and the group a heads up on when the lawmaker may be vulnerable and this is good to know in planning actions.
I’m sure there are many more tasks to which Watch Teams need to attend and many more tools to help them carry out the ones that have already been mentioned. but I think this covers the basics to get you started. We’ll keep adding more tasks and tools as time allows and, if anyone would like to share additional tasks, tools, or strategies, please let us know in the comments.
WATCH TEAMS FOR ISSUES
In addition to Watch Teams for lawmakers, an Action Group should also form Watch Teams for Issues. These teams, instead of tracking particular individual lawmakers, track issues and keep the action group informed on developments for that issue. We will cover that in a future article.