Tuesday, June 28, 2011


A few weeks ago I participated in my first special interest candidate endorsement deliberation. Because I am not active in partisan politics, not a union member nor even a resident of an area with a neighborhood association, I get involved in issue focused grassroots work. The issue bringing us all together for almost four hours one rainy Saturday morning was keeping our local government neighborhood-friendly in its policies and priorities.

It was an agonizing process and invigorating, too. 18 people from neighborhoods all over Nashville discussed the answers submitted on candidates' surveys, how they had voted, how they'd expressed an intent to vote. Experienced advocates made presentable arguments for swaying standards, upholding them and just showing some love. On several occasions, civility trumped emotional votes. At least once someone pulled rank and had a temper tantrum.

When I ran for Metro Council, on the advice of my campaign manager I did not seek traditional endorsements from political parties, city municipal and service workers, educators, business or trades associations. I sought only the endorsement of a noted womens group. This strategy helped me win my race and modestly fund it. It kept me out of big board interviews, special interest questionnaires and the relationships they help shape at the front end of a term of office. It kept me authentic & independent. Lucky for me, my grandfather was a Metro policeman, my dad an East High grad, my mom went to West, and their friends and many lobbyists people helped me catch up soon after I was elected.

I confess I do not consider endorsements I see published in the paper as I form my voting decisions. If I were a member of an associated group, I probably would. For me the value of the endorsement process is the time people give, filling out and reviewing surveys, building consensus for a group recommendation, sending emails & snail mail to assure all members are involved with a vote. It is the work that builds a nation. Wherever caucuses, co-ops, and homeowner's associations deliberate policy and regulations, they build platforms for candidates to stand on and activists to support.

Grassroots activity is democratic and creative. It is the foundation of good government and a healthy society. Do you enjoy grassroots activity? Of what type? .

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ultimate grassroots experience

I campaigned with Seanna Brandmeir-candidate for Metro Council District 22 this week.

If you are looking for the ultimate grassroots advocacy experience, volunteer to go door-to-door with a candidate or to promote or support an issue. Not only will it give you a feel for the pulse of the people, it will link you with them as only face-to-face meetings do.

Here are some ways I get good results when I canvas a street.

  1. I take someone with me who has ties with that area. It takes some time, but it's worth it to ask around and find someone who meets the bill.  Someone who lives on the street, who grew up there, went to school or is cousins of someone from the area. That way, when I introduce myself, I introduce my friend and say: do you know so-and-so, he grew up over there and we're here because ...." Suddenly we're one big family. Asking for support just comes up naturally.
  2.  I stand back on the porch far enough that people can easily see who I am, and have campaign material visable, at the ready, in my hand. I like to drop back onto the steps, so I can step forward and deliver my card and message.
  3. I always quit before dark. Even though that's important for my own safety, I also know people don't want to open their doors after dark.  Sometimes it's hard to quit when I'm working a list but there is no need to push this one. Get in the car and go home.
  4. I avoid disagreements and debates. Door-to-door is a numbers game, so keep talk short and move on fast.
  5. I smile a lot and stay clear of pets. 
I wish I could report that I always go for the close and ask point-blank: May I count on your vote? - my favorite phrase when I'm on a roll.  Sometimes I just say appreciative things. I have rarely felt unwelcome or imposing. Generally, it is energizing to meet people who are interested in knowing more too. Door-to-door canvasing is a basic grassroots strategy that works for outreach, sales and advocacy. I confess I'm just a modest financial contributor but I'm a willing campaign volunteer. Politics at the grassroots level really brings the process home.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Starting out

I confess, I like to have an opinion. I'm not shy to state it when I have one and was surprised to one day realize not everyone wants to hear it when I do. That's true. Growing up, everyone around me had an opinion. I learned to hear them out and usually, I would jump in and have a say. No one was labled stupid and frequently people would cry. It was a lively discussion group - my family, around the table.

I like civic participation because everyone gets to have a say. I am fortunate to have a job doing it. I like to help others develop a civic voice, so I like being a grassroots organizer. I work with a group of advocates for community health centers, and share staff calls with the federal affairs office of the national association. They are all top-notch. I get to register voters, call on Congress, coach people into contacting their Congressmen/women too.

I speak at public hearings when needed. I write letters to the editor sometimes. I held a public office for two terms and enjoy knowing local politicos, activists and staffers in government. I like to influence policy. I think everyone should.

Today a Pew study stated Facebook users are far more likely to be politically engaged. In my advocacy work, I'm trying to find ways to engage people in social media. Today I posted a message on Facebook - on my profile and one other that I manage professionally -
Remember, Sunday is Father's Day...What interests did your dad inspire you to discover?
My dad inspired me to consider public service & feel confident speaking my mind.

It takes some courage to have a voice. I am pushing my limits, wanting to speak out just a little farther here. How can I encourage others to adopt new practices and confidence if I don't push myself to do that too?