This excerpt from Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize Power in Your Community includes a series of practical questions to help campaigns decide when and how to engage in electoral organising.
Electoral organizing can help shift power, increase pressure on elected officials, influence election outcomes and force candidates to address issues they would otherwise ignore. Engaging in it properly often requires redirecting significant time, energy and resources from other work and creates the potential for internal and external conflicts.
In their 2007 book Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize Power in Your Community, Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos drew on their experiences of working with Community Voices Heard and other organisations to provide practical advice about how to build community power. The following excerpt from the book includes a series of questions to help campaigns decide when and how to engage in electoral organising.
Note that while references to 501(c)(3) status concern US non-profit organisations there are laws in many countries which affect what registered charities and other groups can and can’t do during elections. For information about public disclosure requirements in Australia visit this article.
One purpose of doing electoral organizing is to shift power, strategically and over the long term. You identify and move specific groups of people who have not participated in the past and who support your issues. You do so in ways that are strategic and focus on goals. -Minieri and Getsos, 2007
Questions to ask and answer about electoral organizing
In considering whether to undertake electoral organizing, you consider a number of key questions and sub-questions:
Will electoral organizing help us achieve our organizational and campaign goals?
- Are the targets of our campaigns elected or not (if you are considering partisan organizing)?
- Will changing who is in office improve our ability to win our campaigns (if you are considering partisan organizing)?
- Are conservative ballot initiatives undercutting our power?
- Will presenting a ballot initiative help us reach our goals?
- Will we reach our long-term goals only if we have more political power?
- Do we know exactly which voters we need to mobilize? Is it by geographic area or by issue? (By issue is harder to pin down.)
Can we use our current organization or do we need to set up another structure?
- If we are 501(c)(3) nonprofit, do we need to establish a structure under which we can be partisan, or can we operate under our current organization and do nonpartisan activity?
Do people in our organization want to do electoral organizing?
- Do our members and leaders see building electoral power as critical for our work?
- Are they willing to expend resources—time, money, and staff—to do electoral organizing?
- Are they willing to deal with being more a part of the system and support candidates or ballot initiatives?
- Are they willing to focus almost exclusively on electoral organizing in the eight to ten weeks before elections?
- Do we have the capacity to run an electoral project? Will it enhance our core campaign work or detract from it?
- Does our organization have the staff and leaders with the skills and drive to engage in electoral organizing?
- Can we work with numbers: numbers of people we need to contact to vote, the number of times we have to contact them, and proving the number of people we turned out? Can we get the volunteers and develop the systems to do these tasks effectively?
- Will our current campaigns suffer or benefit from engaging in an electoral campaign in terms of staff, leaders, and funds?
- What resources and assets do we need for electoral organizing? How will we get them?
- Do we have the technology to develop internal systems for tracking voters, producing voter lists, and managing large quantities of data?
- Do we have the research skills to work with registrars and the board of elections?
- Can we assess our impact?
- Are there other organizations with specific expertise that we should partner with?
What is the political landscape in our community?
- What are voter participation rates in our area? If more people vote, will it make a difference on our issues?
- Who else is engaged in electoral organizing? How active are the political parties in contacting voters and engaging in door-to-door voter contact work?
- Will we get lost in the field because so many other people are talking to voters?
- Will people understand how we are different or will we be the only group out there?
- What are the opportunities for collaborations, partnerships, and sharing resources?
- What are our clear and realistic goals?
- What is our three-year plan: objectives, goals, benchmarks that build off of one another?
- What are some limited, short-term projects we can do to build our capacity and expertise?
Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize for Power in Your Community is an essential resource for grassroots organizers and leaders, students of activism and advocacy, and anyone trying to increase the civic participation of ordinary people. Authors Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos share stories and tools from their nationally recognized and award-winning work of building a community-led organization, training community leaders, and conducting campaigns that changed public policy and delivered concrete results to tens of thousands of people.
This how-to manual includes:
- In-depth analysis of how to launch and win a campaign
- Tools, worksheets and guidelines for training people to lead their own campaigns and organizations
- Insights for using technology effectively, building more powerful alliances, and engaging in the social justice movement
- Elections and Activism: Concepts and Tensions
- Elections and Activism: Campaign Skills
- Elections and Activism: Case Studies