Local Political Action
Once your local has made an endorsement of a candidate, there are numerous ways in which you can assist that candidate and his or her campaign to be victorious on election day. It is important to consider these options within the framework of your budget and available resources. In addition, it is critical to honestly assess your resources and capabilities in order to ensure you are an asset to your candidate. Remember, it is better to under-promise and over-deliver on your ability to contribute to the campaign, rather then over-promise and under-deliver.
No matter what your resource limitations, there are a variety of ways to make a contribution to a campaign. Each method of activism varies as it relates to cost, time commitment, number of volunteers and other factors. It is important to consider all of these factors and how they will affect your overall plan when deciding the best course of action.
Following are some basic ideas to get you and your local started on political action.
· Recruit a key contact at each fire station or for every shift.
· Post candidate-supported information and volunteer opportunities on bulletin boards at work, where possible, as well as in your local publications.
· Maximize voter education through union publications (i.e. local newsletters, web sites, blast emails, etc.).
· Update your local membership list, collecting as many email addresses as possible. Email is a cheap and efficient way to quickly get information to members.
· Make sure your members are registered to vote. If some members are not registered, provide information on how and where they can register to vote.
· Write letters to the editor supporting your candidate.
· Volunteer to be a surrogate speaker on behalf of the campaign. As fire fighters and first responders, you know the unique challenges concerning homeland security and safety issues in the community. Work with the campaign to find out on what issues you could be most helpful.
· If your employer will allow, organize a visit to your fire station with the candidate and invite the media to join.
· If you are coordinating a Fire Ops program, invite the candidate to participate in the program. Invite the media to join as well.
· Host a candidate or issue forum for your members. Or, if your local is too small, host a community forum on public safety issues, particularly if public safety is an issue in the campaign.
Volunteers are important to all effective and successful campaigns. Volunteer activism is a opportunity for you and your local to assist a campaign regardless of your financial resources. Remember, in localized races volunteers are just as critical to a campaign as money is, as these races tend to be low budget campaigns.
Most locals struggle with volunteer recruitment for political campaigns. The bulk of the volunteering is conducted by your officers, who are also handling other responsibilities for the local. Recruiting volunteers begins now! It is never too early to start working with your local leadership and membership to begin recruiting for the next election. Many locals make the mistake of waiting until the last few months before an election to develop a campaign plan and build a volunteer base.
Keep members engaged in the political process throughout an election cycle. Constant communication with members will ensure they are up to date on current political issues, understand those who are currently elected and their job performance, will meet with potential future candidates and consider upcoming political opportunities in future election cycles. The more informed a member is, the more likely he are she is to feel invested in the outcome of an election and, therefore, more likely to get involved.
The best way to recruit volunteers from your membership is to have a good political education program. Invite your friendly incumbent elected officials to speak at union meetings on legislative matters critical to the fire department. Suggest that elected officials write a guest editorial column for your union publication or web site. Host various social events for your members throughout the year, and invite your friendly incumbents to socialize with your membership.
Perhaps, like many IAFF locals, you are involved in numerous charity events, such as MDA and others. When holding these events, invite your political friends to participate in helping your cause, and at the same time expose your members to your friendly politicians. The key to building a successful volunteer effort in your local is to engage your membership early on by educating them not only on your issues, but on those elected officials who have been there to help you. By introducing these elected officials to your membership you also allow your members to see and hear for themselves first-hand the benefits of the local’s political action. Investing in a good internal political education program early on should pay dividends later when you are recruiting volunteers.
Following are some helpful suggestions on building a volunteer team.
1. Recruit a volunteer coordinator in the local. The volunteer coordinator’s main responsibility is to build membership involvement in the political process. A volunteer coordinator should be well organized and able to donate time to building a volunteer base.
2. Volunteers can participate in a variety of different campaign opportunities. It is important that volunteers are matched up with a job that they are comfortable with doing and will enjoy. In order to retain members as volunteers, it is also important to be responsive to their interests/skills. Also take the time to find out what types of activities each member is most interested in.
3. The biggest problem in securing volunteers today is the limited amount of time a person may have to volunteer. One way to address this issue is to break down your volunteer activities into smaller time blocks. Rather than asking members if they are free on Saturday to participate in a literature drop, ask them if they are available from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. If you need to cover a full for your literature drop, recruit volunteers for two shifts (10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.). For some volunteers, activities can become a family affair. For example, when conducting literature drops, encourage your members to bring their families along to help for a few hours. End the literature drop with a pizza party at the local union hall so members and their families can spend time together afterwards. Not only does this allow you to get your activity completed, but it fosters closeness within the local. This can also help your internal political education efforts by having the candidate or someone from the campaign stop by and thank the members for their help.
4. Make sure that volunteer activities are well organized. Many campaigns will be in charge of organizing the volunteer activities. In many cases, you and other volunteers will simply need to show up at the agreed upon location, date and time in order to begin work. Take the time to work with the campaign beforehand to ensure that they know the number of members attending, the time that they will arrive and depart and clarify each task the volunteers will be asked to complete. This will help ensure that a volunteer’s time is used in the most productive way and will increase the likelihood that they will want to volunteer again.
5. Use union publications, web sites, email lists and firehouse bulletin boards to notify members of upcoming volunteer opportunities. The more information and notice provided to members, the greater likelihood they will be available to help.
6. Establish volunteer goals for each fire station or shift. If a local has more then one fire station within the local, set volunteers goals for each station. This will create a sense of competition and accountability within the local and might encourage participation. Take the time to recognize the fire stations/shifts that reach their goals.
7. Take extra time to recognize members who volunteer their time. Many locals have a handful of members who do the bulk of the political action work. It is important to recognize these members’ extra work so they don’t burn out. Consider establishing an award for the top five members who volunteer on political action at the end of each campaign season. Or, perhaps set incentive levels for the amount of hours a member volunteers. For example, for volunteering 10 hours, a member receives a T-shirt or coffee mug.
8. Build money into your political budget for volunteer activities. After going door-to-door for a candidate, setting up lawn signs, marching in a parade or any other volunteer activity, it is nice to offer refreshments and food to members who participated. This will encourage members to participate and reward them for their involvement.
One way to enhance your local’s political action is to build a coalition of other like-minded organizations that will work with you on behalf of your endorsed candidate. Coalitions and partnerships can increase the number of activists and resources working on a campaign.
There are a variety of places to look when building a coalition.
· Organized Labor Community
1. Neighboring IAFF affiliates
2. AFL-CIO (State Federations and Central Labor Councils)
3. Change to Win Unions
4. Public Employee Coalitions
5. Venders (Attorneys, Accountants, Printers and Suppliers)
· Political Party Support
1. Current Elected Officials
2. Former Elected Officials and Candidates
3. Political Party Structure
4. Political Clubs and Organizations
· Community and Homeowner Groups
· Fraternal and Veterans Associations (Elks, Rotary and VFW)
· Civic Organizations (Chamber of Commerce, Jaycees)
· Religious Groups and Churches (Knights of Columbus, Masonic Lodges and Auxiliaries)
· Minority Organizations (African American, Latino, Asian)
· Trade Organizations (Realtors, Retail Merchants)
· Education Advocates (Kids First and PTAs)
· Crime Prevention Groups (Neighborhood Watch)
· Tax Advocacy Groups
Once an endorsement is made, there are several ways in which you can help generate earned media (free) and publicity for the candidate. Public polling has consistently shown that fire fighters rank highly in public opinion. A Phoenix Mayoral Survey (1/07) showed that 85 percent of those polled viewed fire fighters as the most trustworthy in the community. A Nationwide Canadian Poll (1/07) found that 93 percent of the community felt that fire fighters were the most trustworthy. A Harris Survey (7/06) revealed that 86 percent viewed fire fighting as an occupation with great/considerable prestige.
As fire fighters, your local’s endorsement matters in the community and can make a difference in a political campaign. While labor-friendly candidates will seek as many labor endorsements as possible, the endorsement of their local fire fighters is one that is highly sought. It is important to use the media as an outlet to get that endorsement known in the community.
Following are examples of ways in which this can be accomplished.
1. Organize an endorsement press conference for the candidate. This could be held outside of a fire station (if permissible) or any other setting that will help illustrate your endorsement. Make sure to coordinate this with the campaign beforehand in order to maximize the exposure of the endorsement. For example, the campaign may want to roll out your endorsement with the candidate’s public safety plan. The IAFF can assist with help in drafting press releases as well.
2. Organize a letter to the editor campaign. Many newspapers limit the number of submissions one person can make during a certain time period. Start building a list of volunteers who would be willing to draft and submit letters to the editor on behalf of a campaign.
3. Offer the campaign a representative of the local to serve as a surrogate campaign speaker on behalf of fire service and first responder issues. This person would work in coordination with the campaign to make certain that the message of the local and the candidate is consistent. Make sure that the person in this capacity is comfortable with public speaking and working with the media before taking on this role.
You do not have to raise a lot of money for a candidate to be helpful to his or her campaign. Fundraising is not just about how much money an event raises, but about the opportunity for the candidate to meet more people in the community who could become supporters. Many lower-dollar fundraisers, such as a chili cook-off, allow a lot of people to attend and to get to know the candidate in a casual setting.
Following are some suggestions for fundraising opportunities.
1. Develop a fundraising plan based on your budget and goals.
2. Organize a low-dollar fundraiser at your local union hall or similar type of community-gathering location. The fire fighters could host or co-host with another supportive organization or the campaign itself.
3. If the local is limited in the amount it can contribute because of either campaign finance limits or limited resources in the local’s PAC fund, the local can always host an event for the candidate and bundle checks. For exampleif the limit on what the PAC can contribute to a campaign is $1,000, and you only have the ability to contribute $500 from your PAC fund,your local can host a fundraiser and spend up to another $500 (up to your legal limit), allowing attendees to make their contribution checks payable to the campaign. The local can collect all of these checks at the event and then bundle them together and deliver them to the campaign. This is perfectly legal and allows the local to raise additional contributions for its endorsed candidate over the legal contribution limit.
4. Discuss a special assessment of your membership in order to raise money for your own political action plan or PAC fund.
The IAFF Political Action department can work with you and your local to coordinate a political action plan. The IAFF can provide assistance with press releases, campaign materials, mailing labels, walk lists, phone lists, campaign professional referrals and as other campaign resources. Call (202) 824-1582 or email email@example.com for more information.