Grassroots 101: What All Activists Should Know

Tips for Activists

Special thanks to Sandra Crosnoe, long-time grassroots organizer. Among many other things, Sandra is the author of Finding Gems and Sharing Them, and an admin of the R3publican blog. Sandra  wrote most of the advice for #9 and #10 and contributed to several of the other concepts.

If you’re thinking about getting actively involved at the grassroots level and either have never done so before or have only had limited experience, there are a number of things to keep in mind moving forward.

Lincoln, NE Rally March 15, 2009Activist at a March 15, 2009 rally in Nebraska

1. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to get involved?’

Spend some time thinking about this. There are many people who are frustrated as they can be with “the state of our Union”. They intuitively feel the urge to get involved, actively.

But can you specifically state why by giving clear reasons, and state what you would like to accomplish?

If you can articulate clearly why you are doing something, you can more clearly see what it is you should be doing, and with whom you should be working.

For instance, if I know I am for restoring Constitutionally limited government, I’m going to be predisposed to the notion that top-down operations are not worth my time.

2. Learn history

“History repeats itself.”

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Cliches? Yes, but just because something is a cliche doesn’t mean it is untrue.

History lessons aren’t just classroom endeavors. Every phenomenon, person, group, etc., has a history.

Activism at the grassroots level, tethered to Constitutional principles didn’t just spring up in the last six months. It has been around for many years.  Recognizing this fact leads to one simple question: if there has been truly Conservative activism for a long time, why has it failed to achieve the desired results?

“Studying” the conservative grassroots movement will reveal answers. Outside of the independent nature of liberty lovers as a common element, the same old stories seem to develop.

People lacking any other ambition than to support policies that are Constitutionally based have been repeatedly used by individuals and groups who have agendas that have little to do with accomplishing the overall goal.

The concept of restoring Constitutional principles means decentralized power. Decentralized power for everyone. So the establishment, such as the Republican Party cannot actively support this concept; it would mean a loss of power.

3. Don’t Assume Anything

One of my teachers used to drive me crazy, nearly on a daily basis with a word dissection:

“The word assume, let’s look at.” (She would draw two lines, one each before and after the “u”) When you assume you make an ……. out of you and me.”

Although it drove me crazy as a child, I appreciate it as an adult.

Never assume just because someone has an “R” behind their name, calls themselves a “Conservative”, say they are for “x” or “y” position, means that they agree with your principles. This is true for individuals, groups, and organizations.

3. Always evaluate.

You cannot always know what someone or some group is truly about until you roll up your sleeves and work them for a while. Never stop analyzing what you see.

Can you see the forest for the trees? If you see yourself surrounded by nothing but trees, perhaps you’ve lost your way.

In other words, you should occasionally stop and ask yourself, is what I’m doing really moving towards the overall goal?

4. Know who you are dealing with.

Find out who is on the board of the organization, for example. What is the mission statement of the group? Do some research on the organization’s history, find out if they raise money, and if so, what activities do they engage in to raise it, how is the money spent?

5. If you are going to join any online group, such as on Facebook, find out who the admin is.

This goes back to knowing who you are dealing with.

6. If you are going to promote any online group, asked to be made an admin.

Besides knowing who you are dealing with, you can also learn a lot from the answer to your request. Just looking at how many admins there are, for instance,  for a Facebook group with a large number of members can tell you something.

Real leaders empower others and do not thirst for it themselves.

7. If you are going to give money to any organization, make sure you know what their policies are regarding the funds’ use.

Find out what percentage of monies raised goes for administrative costs. If it is high, the organization’s activities are going to be largely focused simply on funding their own operation and not on the issue or cause they put forward they would like to impact.

8. If any of your personal efforts gain momentum or prominence, expect to be approached from many quarters. (Just ask any city’s Tea Party organizers!) Adopt a policy in advance of being approached. How will you handle it?

Clearly we are living in times where there is a culture of celebrity, a predisposition to cult of personality, and much emphasis placed on pedigrees and branding.

It is an almost Pavlovian response for too many of us to be flattered when State Coordinator, Sam Slick, for “Insert Your Most Admired Political Action Group’s Name Here” contacts you and says, “Hey, Betty Lou! We are so impressed with what you are doing! We want to work with YOU.”

Afterall, you’ve seen Sam Slick on the biggest regional TV news affiliate a number of times and he is so well spoken….

But then it turns out that Sam has more on his mind than “helping you”. He basically wants to take over. His organization has been sending out thousands of emails noting themselves as the official sponsor of your event, and they’ve embedded a PayPal “Donate Now!” button in their messages.  Sam didn’t discuss it with you and and you don’t see any of the money to defray expenses. You view the email in an effort to understand whether or not the organization has laid out what it will use those PayPal donations for. It just says “Support the New Patriot Movement”.

Fictional scenario? Above? Yes. Based on reality? Also, sadly, yes.

The truth is you don’t need these kinds of organizations to conduct any activity whatever.  All of the tools, for instance, that were used to organize the 45+ city simultaneous Tea Parties on Feb. 27th were free of charge. (Twitter, Facebook, NING, WordPress, Conference Call).

Can groups like this be helpful? Sure. Just set your boundaries.

9. Fund-raising

Be aware that there are laws surrounding the collecting and dispersing of money in the political arena. If you are going to engage in fund-raising, then you must make yourself aware of the rules and properly file reports to protect yourself and those you are working with.

If someone is fund-raising and wanting you to help them, it is always prudent to ask them how they are organized and who their treasurer is and for an accounting of how the money collected will be used up front before you help with anything or email on their behalf.

Beyond doing proper research to ensure you are working with people and groups of principle and that you are abiding by the law, if there is ever any real reason to secure donations, for the sake of your own credibility, you should clearly state the specifics about how the money will be spent.

It is my belief, and I have heard others state the same, you are better off if you try to conduct all of your endeavors without ever trying to raise money. It is curious how many of the best causes receive unsolicited donations. Regardless of this fact, it is always best and almost always possible to conduct activities without having to solicit funds. This is true even when convening a large event like today’s Tea Parties.

10. The keeper of the List.

If you are organizing any kind of event or activity that involves collecting contact information from participants, you are responsible for what happens to that information. You have a fiduciary responsibility to those folks who entrusted you with with their information. They’ve given their name to you because they want to hear about a next activity or event and/or get further information from you.

Lists should be kept local.

Please do not sell or give away.

If you are a real grassroots organizer, you will take care of the lists collected and keep them in trusted local hands and email about events and campaigns to them, but never, never, never send them to ‘a national effort for a good cause’. Once you have done that you will have forever diluted your local efforts because they quickly migrate without your permission and to efforts and causes that may not even be about what you think they are about.

If any group approaches you offering help, it is easy to provide them with a task. Let them know the best possible way they can help is to promote the event to their own membership.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Most of us have busy lives, we don’t have time to waste.  Spend yours wisely working on projects and causes that help meet the goal or on any person or organization who either waste your time or use you for their own agenda.

To be informed is to be well-armed. Trust, but verify.

Do you have an other tips for activists that I’ve overlooked, or just have something to add?

By all means leave your comments here. I will add your suggestions with credit to the source to the text of this post periodically when I get a chance.

19 thoughts on “Grassroots 101: What All Activists Should Know”

  1. Shelli,

    Thanks for a terrific and timely post!

    I am wanting to make it multiply and sharing with friends all over the country. I appreciate the time and energy you are putting into grassroots efforts. You are a bright and shining star for the people of Nebraska.

    It is a delight to work with you on projects like this and the Constitutional Liberty Coalition on facebook and as well.

    Keep the light on and burning brightly for the grassroots across America!! People like you give me hope that we will wake up as a nation and repent and turn in time. . .


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