Organizing for Local Action Toolkit

Amending the U.S. Constitution is a long-term campaign that will require the participation of groups across the country to be successful. Thank you for your interest in working locally towards this important goal, and welcome to the Move to Amend movement!

This toolkit provides guidance on how to organize in your local community, region or state, and how to implement successful campaigns that will move all of us closer to our long-term goals. We invite you to use the suggestions and documents provided in this toolkit and to adapt them to your local needs.

When you click links in this document they will open up in your web browser for you to download. You can also view and download all files in a Google Docs folder online.

Please send us the materials you develop so that we can provide them to other MTA groups as examples. We will include them in future editions of this toolkit or link to them from our website.

Big thanks to our friends at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee for letting us borrow from their organizing toolkit.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. The Role of Local Organizing

2. Bringing Your Group Together

3. Actions & Campaigns

4. Publicity and Press

5. Growing the Movement

THE ROLE OF LOCAL ORGANIZING

We aim to amend the U.S. Constitution to restore our democracy. This is a long-term campaign, because it requires the support of a large number of legislators and because large corporations will resist. However, most people will support our efforts if we reach out to them.

This fight will not be an easy one. A constitutional amendment may be proposed by a 2/3 vote of Congress or through a constitutional convention called by 2/3 of state legislatures. In either case, 3/4 of state legislatures must vote to adopt the proposed amendment for it to become law. Therefore, in order to succeed we must mobilize people across the country to put pressure on their elected officials. Effective local organizing is vital to our success.

Whether you are a seasoned activist or new to organizing, we hope this toolkit will be useful as  you organize in your area. The first step is to come together locally, to get organized and to educate yourselves about the issues. Next, work to educate the population in your local area and your elected officials, and recruit people to join the movement. Finally, mobilize people to put pressure on your state and federal legislators to support a constitutional amendment.

One approach that we urge all local organizations to consider is a resolution campaign. Working to pass a resolution in your community, county or state allows you to open up a local conversation about corporate power, to educate people and to recruit new members to your organization. Once passed, your resolution will send a powerful message to your elected officials that their constituents support amending the Constitution. As we succeed in passing local resolutions across the country, the momentum for change will build and it will become increasingly difficult for elected officials to ignore the will of the people.

We urge you to strategically use other approaches also. Some, such as forums, media work and lobbying, are described in this toolkit, but we encourage you to be creative as well! Move to Amend will help you connect with other local organizations across the country so everyone can share their good ideas and learn from each other's experiences. 

BRINGING YOUR GROUP TOGETHER

Your first step is to bring a group of interested people together. Check out our "Five Easy Steps to Get Started."

As you grow your group, we encourage you to reach out to a broad spectrum of people, and to refrain from involving members of only one partisan group. Remember that diversity brings strength to organizations, and work to create a welcoming environment for everyone. If your membership reflects the diversity of your community, you will be more effective and less vulnerable to opposition than an organization that reflects the views of only a few community members.

You may choose to create a new organization, to form a group within an existing organization, or to bring together a coalition of existing organizations. Note that the Move to Amend affiliation process differs by type of organization.

Tools:

Forming a New Organization

Forming an entirely new organization gives you the freedom to focus entirely on Move to Amend issues, and to recruit all interested individuals in your area whether or not they are part of existing organizations. One disadvantage is that you will not be able to rely on existing organizations for needed resources, such as meeting space and financial support.

A good way to launch a new organization is to hold a kickoff event. This allows you to bring people together, to educate them about the issues and to begin a process of discussion and decision-making. To ensure that the event is well planned and runs smoothly, we suggest that you first assemble a small initial planning group of 3-8 people. This group should put together a program, choose a date and location, and plan a publicity strategy. After identifying all tasks that need to be accomplished, divide them among the members of the planning group.

Your kickoff can feature speakers, film clips, or short skits about the impacts of Corporate Personhood and Citizens United on our democracy. To liven things up, you could also include icebreaker games, refreshments or live music. Remember that your goal is to launch an organization, however, so make sure to include a discussion among those present about their ideas for the new group. People are most likely to remain engaged when they are an active part of decision making, so by the end of the kickoff try to come to some decisions, or at least agree on a list of questions to be decided soon (note that if choose a name, it must include the phrase "Move to Amend" if you plan to apply for Affiliate status later). Make sure to record everyone's contact information and agree on the next meeting date before people leave.

Tools:

Forming a Group Within an Existing Organization

If you are part of an existing organization that is interested in Move to Amend issues, you may wish to bring a group together within the organization to work on them. The best way to do this will depend on your organization's structure and primary focus.

One way to start is by educating people in your organization about the Citizens United decision, Corporate Personhood and related issues, and by explaining how these are linked to your organization's primary focus. For example, if your organization is a labor union, you can discuss how corporate influence results in policies that favor management's interests over those of workers. If you are part of an environmental group, you can explain how Corporate Personhood limits our ability to enforce environmental regulations. If you belong to a faith-based organization, you can talk about how treating profit-driven corporations the same as human beings is a moral issue.

Once people in your organization understand why these issues are important and relevant to them, suggest forming a new committee, broadening the activities of existing bodies, or otherwise integrating Move to Amend issues into the work of your organization. You can also suggest that your organization consider applying to Move to Amend for Partner status.

Tools:

Forming a Coalition of Existing Organizations

If you are interested in bringing together a coalition of organizations, the first step is to carefully consider what role you expect the coalition to play. A coalition can be formed with a broad mission (such as working on Move to Amend issues generally) or to accomplish a specific task (such as conducting a resolution campaign). Of course, a coalition formed around a specific task may continue on after the task is accomplished and move on to broader, longer-term collaboration.

First, have a conversation within your own organization about forming a coalition. Then reach out to the leaders and members of other groups to present the idea and ask for their input. Explain the link between Move to Amend issues and each organization's primary focus, and describe clearly how participating in a shared effort would achieve specific goals. Once you have generated interest, set up a time for representatives of the prospective coalition partners to meet in person or conduct a conference call. Discuss the role of the coalition, identify goals and specific tasks, and create a timeline by which to chart progress. Select future meeting dates, decide how you will keep in touch between meetings, and discuss outreach to other organizations to grow the coalition.

Keeping Your Group Connected

Whatever the form of your group, it is important that a method of internal communications be established. You will need ways to let people know about upcoming meetings and events, and you may also want a means for group members to discuss issues between meetings.

Many groups handle these communications primarily through email. If your group is small, one email list might be sufficient. However, if it is large you may want to consider separate announcement and discussion lists to allow everyone to receive announcements without having be part of potentially high-traffic email discussions. Many free services, such as Google Groups and Yahoo! Groups, enable you to set up email lists even if you are not a computer expert.

Other electronic means of communication include social networking sites such as Facebook, Meetup and Twitter. You can also create your own website, and/or post notices of upcoming events on the national Move to Amend website.

If the members of your group do not have internet access, you will need to find other ways to keep people updated. For those with cell phones, text messages can be used to publicize upcoming events. For others, phone calls or mailed newsletters may be necessary. In cases such as these, holding frequent meetings on a regular schedule may be the best way to keep your group connected.

ACTIONS & CAMPAIGNS

When considering possible actions and campaigns, a good first step is to brainstorm as many ideas as you can. Consider how each action would help you educate people, recruit new members, put pressure on elected officials or otherwise move us closer to our goal of amending the Constitution. Also consider the capabilities of your organization. Identify those actions in which you are most interested, and create a timeline to show the order in which you plan to work on each. This section describes some possibilities, but is by no means an exhaustive list.

Launch a Study Group

To educate the members of your group and others in your community, one option is to form a study group. A study group provides an opportunity to read about Citizens United, Corporate Personhood and related issues, and then to discuss them in a group setting. Typically a study group will have regular meetings, at each of which different assigned readings are discussed.

Tools:

Hold a Public Event

Public events can be used to educate the public, to recruit members to your organization, to build relationships with other organizations, to get press coverage and to raise money.

A public forum featuring a series of speakers is one option. In addition to discussing Citizens United, Corporate Personhood and the need to amend the Constitution, you can ask your speakers to talk about how corporate power affects your community. Try to schedule speakers that reflect the diversity of your community and who can speak from a variety of perspectives. Good speakers do not need to be experts or have impressive titles; while it is fine to include a university professor or elected official, also consider high school students, members of communities of faith, and individuals with compelling personal stories. You can also arrange a speaker from the national Move to Amend organization. Assign each speaker a different topic, and let each person know how much time they will have and the order and topics of the other speakers on the program.

Arts and culture events are other possibilities. Feel free to be creative! You can put on a play about Citizens United, sponsor a children's art contest on Corporate Personhood, or host a concert or poetry reading. Street theater, guerilla art or flash mobs are other ways to creatively send a message to the public and garner media attention.

Consider asking other organizations to endorse your event. Endorsing organizations may be willing to donate money or resources, and can also help you publicize the event. For other suggestions on publicity, see the Publicity and Press section below.

Tools:

Table at Local Events

Tabling at local events is another way to educate the public and recruit new members. Community festivals, political rallies, farmers' markets, film screenings, picnics of local organizations, and other local events can provide good opportunities for outreach.

To find out whether you may table at an event, reach out to the organizers. Often a fee will be charged to reserve a space, and you may be required to provide your own table and chairs. Set up large, clearly worded signs at your table. Bring copies of the Move to Amend petition for people to sign, as well as flyers about your local organization that people can take with them. You can also distribute Move to Amend brochures and other materials.

Tools:

Pass a Local Resolution

We encourage all local organizations to consider working to pass resolutions in support of amending the constitution in their local communities. This is a great way to educate the public and to send a strong signal to legislators that people care about these issues. The ways in which you can pass a resolution will depend on the laws in the state and locality where you live.

One option that is available in most places is to ask your city council, county commissioners, village board or other governing body to pass a resolution. First, prepare the resolution you want passed (you can use the sample resolutions below as guides). Map out the members of the council or board, identify likely allies and ask to meet with them. At each meeting, explain how Corporate Personhood is a local issue that impacts the residents of your community. Show the elected official the resolution you have prepared, and ask for their support. If they are supportive, ask whether they are willing to introduce the resolution, and also ask for their advice (they may be able to help you find other supporters and provide you with other valuable insights).

Be aware that your city council or board or other body can change the resolution you gave them to suit their own preferences, so it pays to be strategic from the outset to ensure that what is passed is what you want. Try to meet with every member of the council or board to explain the issues to them and answer their questions. Also, make clear to your allies what parts of the resolution you absolutely do not want changed (e.g. the call for a constitutional amendment).

You may want to collect signatures from local residents in support of the resolution, or ask them to send postcards, letters and emails to their elected officials. When the day for the vote arrives, pack the meeting room with your supporters to put pressure on the officials to adopt the resolution. It can be helpful to have "credible" figures, such as lawyers and professors, present to speak in support.

If the members of your council or board are unresponsive, don’t give up! Develop a strategy to sway them. Identify constituents or organizations that have influence over these officials, approach them and ask them to join your effort. If you feel that another nearby community might be easier to start with, consider teaming up with residents of that community to pass a resolution there first. Sometimes elected officials are scared to jump out in front of an issue, and it makes it easier if they’re not the only ones.

Another option available in some places is to ask your council or board to place the resolution on the ballot to be voted on by the people, rather than passing it directly. Passing a resolution through initiative can send an even stronger signal to legislators that people want to amend the constitution. If you choose this option, make sure to plan ways to educate the public before the resolution appears on the ballot.

Finally, the laws in some states allow you to put a resolution onto your local, county or state ballot directly by collecting signatures from local residents. If this option is available to you, consider using it. One significant advantage is that this gives you the power to decide exactly what the final resolution will say. Also, gathering signatures is a great way to talk to (and educate) many local people, and to recruit new members to your organization. A signature campaign of any scale requires substantial organization and effort, but it can be well worth it.

Any resolution destined for the ballot should be kept short, because if it is too long the text appearing on the ballot may need to be a summary of the resolution, rather than the resolution itself. Brevity is even more important if you are gathering signatures to place your resolution on the ballot, because most people will want to read the resolution before signing. You can use the sample Madison resolution below as a guide.

Organizations can also pass resolutions. When a prominent local, state or national organization states its support of amending the Constitution, this can educate its own members and also attract press coverage. Therefore, in addition to working to pass resolutions in your community, your group may want to encourage organizations to pass their own resolutions. Organizations can also be asked to endorse the effort to pass a resolution at the community level.

Tools:

Educate and Lobby Your Legislators

Amending the constitution will require action from state legislators, and most likely federal legislators as well. Educating the public and passing local resolutions are probably your first priorities, but you may want to consider lobbying work as well. Many people react negatively to the idea of lobbying, since they associate it with powerful corporations and other "special interests". However, lobbying is simply the act of educating an elected official and urging him or her to take a particular action. It is a useful tool for organizations working for the public good.

You can lobby your elected officials to educate them about the need for a constitutional amendment, and to ask for their support in calling for one. You can ask state legislators to sponsor (or at least vote for) a resolution calling for a constitutional convention, and federal legislators to propose (or at least vote for) an actual amendment.

One way to lobby your legislators is to meet with them. You can set up a meeting either in their place of work or their district office when they are home between legislative sessions. To request a meeting call or email their office. Give your name, your organization, and explain why you want to meet with the legislator. It is best if at least one person at the meeting is a constituent of the legislator (up to four people is not uncommon). When the date of the meeting arrives, dress nicely and arrive on time. Bring with you a short white paper that includes your contact information, explains basic facts about Citizens United, Corporate Personhood etc., and clearly outlines your request. You will probably not have much time with the legislator (often 15 minutes), so rehearse what you plan to say ahead of time and make sure that everyone in your group will have a chance to speak. You may arrive at the meeting to find out that you are meeting with a staff person rather than the legislator. If this happens do not take it personally; just be friendly and tell the staff person everything you were going to say to the legislator.

You can also lobby through letter, postcard or calling campaigns. These methods have the advantage of not requiring people to be in the same place as the legislator. If you can organize a large number of constituents to write or call, legislators will take notice.

One way to influence future legislators is through the questionnaires and interviews that many organizations use when deciding which candidates to endorse. Find out if organizations that support your efforts or are part of your coalition endorse candidates running for state or federal office, and encourage them to include questions about undoing Corporate Personhood and amending the Constitution. This sends a signal to candidates that their position on these issues may determine their endorsements, and also allows you to hold them accountable once elected if they fail to follow through on their promises.

PUBLICITY & PRESS

As an organization seeking to educate the public and advocate for change, you should know how to publicize your events and work with the media.

If you want reporters to cover a forum you are holding, the successful passage of a resolution, or any other story, issuing a press release is essential. In today's world of downsized workforces in media companies, press releases not only alert reporters to potential stories, but often serve as the core of the stories themselves. A press release is written much as a news story is; the most important information is provided first, and supporting details (such as statistics and quotes from notable individuals) are given later. It should be short (ideally one page, and no more than two), and the contact information of at least one person from your organization should be given so a reporter can ask for more details. The press release should follow the standard format (a sample is given below). Send your press release out a couple of days before you expect reporters to cover an event or publish a story. You should send your press release via email and fax to the appropriate reporters (based on the beat they cover) at all local newspapers, radio stations, blogs and other news outlets. You can assemble this list yourself from scratch, or ask organizations that support you if they have a press list you can use.

Another way to invite media coverage is to hold a press conference. This is an event you set up to present a story to the media and to answer their questions. Unfortunately, the same downsizing trends that are making press releases more important are making it harder for small organizations to draw reporters to press conferences, so unless your have something highly newsworthy to share you may want to consider other ways to reach the press. More information on press conferences can be found in the document How to Hold a News Conference below. 

Submitting opinion pieces is another way to get your stories into the newspaper. Letters to the editor are short pieces (typically less than 150 words), while op-eds are longer (up to 600-750 words). Both letters to the editor and op-eds should be timely, responding to a recent article or event of interest, and written in clear language about a single issue. Op-eds are much more likely to get published if they are signed by a well-known individual, while this is less important for letters to the editor. When writing either type of opinion piece, check the guidelines for the newspaper you are submitting it to to make sure you are complying with all guidelines.

Radio is another effective way to get your message out. Sometimes a press release will lead to radio coverage, but you can also approach local radio hosts and offer to come on their program. If they accept, find out how much time you will have and whether it will be live or pre-recorded. Prepare talking points to help you stay on message, and also responses to likely questions.

There are many other ways besides newspapers and radio to get publicity. For example, you can post flyers in public places or distribute them to passersby. You can speak at the meetings of sympathetic organizations, and ask them to forward announcements to their members. You can create events on social networking sites such as Facebook or Meetup, or post videos on YouTube and share the link via email or social networking sites. Finally, if you are a local Move to Amend affiliate, you can request that an email be sent to everyone in your local area who signed the petition on the national website.

Tools:

GROWING THE MOVEMENT

Once your local group is established, consider helping others elsewhere get organized.

One way is to share your experiences with other local Move to Amend organizations across your state and the country by participating in conference calls and email exchanges. As the number of local organizations communicating with each other grows, our movement will become smarter and stronger.

Another way is to share your successes over local or regional email lists, via stories in the press and with the members of nearby sympathetic organizations. If you do this, it is very likely that people will come to you asking how they can do something similar in their own communities. You can put these people in contact with representatives of the national Move to Amend organization, and if you like, you can also offer to mentor them or help them find other people interested in organizing in their area.