Our vision is to live in a Community where all people can enjoy accountability, integrity, effectiveness and responsiveness from government.
Our mission is to:
; Provide, without bias, the timely dissemination of information and knowledge of government activities to the community and elected officials
; Build, train and empower a knowledgeable, aware and involved community-wide group to monitor the
integrity, performance and responsiveness of elected officials and each of the government departments
; Encourage, by example, a community free to exchange facts and opinions on public issues by facilitating open debate and discussion on the issues
; Demand accountability, effectiveness and responsiveness from our government without which there is a system out of control and ripe for corruption
; Make government acutely aware there is a community watching, monitoring and measuring their activities
From Apathy to Advocacy
Learning from the past is our responsibility
Enhancing the present is our mission
Providing for a better future is our vision
Vanguardians Purpose: To Inform, Educate, & Motivate for Involvement,
Engagement & Advocacy
A healthy civic life comes not from rage or a desire for revenge, but from reason and commitment to community. It requires the daily patience of staying informed and being a good citizen. To have the city they want, the people who have been victimized by their government have to swallow their humiliation, learn from it and vow not to get fooled again.
In Mexico, it doesn't matter what your qualifications are you can get a government job if you're the friend of the compadre of the neighbor of some official. Now I can see that we're in the same tangled-up ball of corruption over here.
In a victimized city, government has pulled off a scheme that seems worthy of the most cynical Latin American politico or the sleaziest American ward boss. Corruption is a virus that always lingers around a democracy, no matter the language and culture in which that democracy operates. It's a disease that can attack any body politic when it's out of shape and neglected.” Hector Tobar Los Angeles Times
ORGANIZE TO WIN`
A GRASSROOTS ADVOCATES HANDBOOK
A GUIDE TO HELP PEOPLE ORGANIZE COMMUNITY
1. ASSUMPTIONS AND MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CAMPAIGNS
2. ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF GRASSROOTS CAMPAIGNS
o Decide on the goal of your campaign. o How to assess community attitudes.
o Choose one person to be your spokesperson. o Do your homework.
o Find an angle that motivates people to take action. o Know who owns the land.
o Build your campaign on a sound foundation. (Checklist).
o Create a well-designed one-page Alert. o Seize unexpected opportunities.
o Civil disobedience - nonviolent and otherwise. o Preparation for public meetings:
Formal meetings set up by public bodies.
Meetings setup by your campaign. (Checklist).
Dealing with confrontations in meetings.
3. HOW TO MOTIVATE OTHERS TO HELP YOU
o Getting help at a distance:
Enlisting distant groups. (Checklist)
The initial phone call. (Checklist)
o Mobilizing and motivating local people:
How to verify mail and phone campaigns. o Using virtual volunteers
o Issues with professionals.
4. THE SECRET OF USING EMAIL
5. THE SECRET OF SUCCESSFUL LOBBYING
o Misconceptions about elected representatives and agencies. 6. THE MEDIA
o Use the media effectively.
o Don't assume decision makers will see good press. (Checklist).
o Misconceptions about television coverage.
7. HANDLING CONFLICTING GROUPS AND AGENDAS
8. DIFFERENT KINDS OF ORGANIZERS
9. EXAMPLES OF SUCCESSFUL COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
12. NON-PROFIT RULES 501(c)3
Chapter 1: ASSUMPTIONS AND MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT GRASSROOTS
(You can be universally popular in your community or you can run successful campaigns to eliminate threats to it, but you can't do both.)
1. Any campaign can succeed if it has enough community support. But most
people who are not active in governmental or political activity have no idea
how the governmental and political processes work; let alone that they can
speak directly to their elected representatives or attend meetings and
speak up on issues.
2. Community support, essential for any campaign, is effective only to the
extent that the concern of the community is specifically introduced into and
expressed in the political process.
3. Elected representatives can control, modify, and cancel the proposals,
activities, and actions of a government agency. Your elected
representative may lack the power to begin things, but usually has the
power to stop them.
4. "Time-windows" for campaigns are longer than you think. ANY project can
be stopped until it is complete.
5. Agencies will align their reports and recommendations to reflect the views
of the elected officials who have authority over their staff and budget. 6. When you cannot develop enough community support to get your own
elected officials on your side, you can often get elected representatives
from other jurisdictions to support you.
7. Any one can create and successfully implement a grassroots campaign - if
he or she has the will.
8. Campaigns succeed or fail based on how much "action" occurs. Action
consists of phone calls to decision makers, written material they actually
read or physically handle and personal contacts with and comments
expressed by people at meetings. Everything else: alerts, videos, TV
coverage, advertising, posters, email, websites, social networking etc. are
mere precursors and facilitators to action; not, in themselves, action. 9. Regardless of what action a person promises to take on an issue, most
are too timid to actually contact their public officials unless you properly
prepare them to do it. Ninety percent of those who agree to take action
don't until your second or third follow-up.
10. Good TV and press coverage alone won't win campaigns. Coverage for
your issue should be sought, but information on TV generally does not
create action. Often when people see an issue on television, they assume
others are taking care of it.
11. No campaign can be won by sending out two thousand or two million
alerts, emails and calls for action. The test of any lobbying campaign is
how many letters and phone calls are actually received by decision
makers, not by how many alerts, appeals and other exhortations to take
action are spammed out.
12. Elected representatives never do more than represent their constituents.
That's why they are called "representatives." They aren't teachers or
change agents. Elected representatives will bend themselves into pretzels
to keep their ear to the ground. What representatives do is a function of
who they talk to and what information and lobbying they have been
exposed to directly.
13. You can't lobby another person without being lobbied yourself. Anytime
you lobby another, you are lobbied back or counter-lobbied. If the person
on the other side of the table is better at it than you are, you may find the
person whose mind you seek to change, has changed your mind. 14. Projects that stink socially, invariably also stink politically, financially, and
ethically. Lift the lid from most bad projects and you invariably find public
funds used to enrich bad actors with political connections.
15. Bad schemes usually create windfall profits for someone. When you try to
stop bad projects, some people will get angry with you. And the more they
benefit, the madder they will get. Machiavelli said that people may
eventually get over your killing of their relatives, but not the taking of their
16. If you turn the other cheek when you encounter personal intimidation in
public meetings, you just encourage more of it. Bring people to meetings
who are emotionally and psychologically capable of dealing with
intimidation. If you don't have any people like that in your organization, find
Top of Page
Chapter 2: ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF GRASSROOTS CAMPAIGNS
(All successful campaigns resemble one another. All unsuccessful ones fail in their own unique way.)
Decide on the goal of your campaign.
Identify the goal of your campaign. Put it in writing. Know and state the specific relief you seek. For example: agency X must withdraw proposal Y. A deadline should be extended to another date. Examples: Don't cut those fifty trees. A zoning change must be denied, etc. Every person who deals with people who are officially "complaining"; from customer service representatives to personnel officers, will tell you that people who present grievances and complaints almost never state the exact relief they seek. But agencies, legislators, and the entire political process are organized to deal with people who seek specific solutions to specific problems. Being very specific about your goal helps everybody understand what you want - from the agency staff to your own volunteers. Decide at the beginning of the campaign exactly what outcome you seek. It is often not enough to just be against something. You may also need to present an alternative, for example: we do not want an industrial park there; we want a nature preserve. We do not want a hotel on that mountain; we want it set aside as open space. If you have an alternative that requires legislative action, have someone qualified prepare that alternative as a specific proposal or a piece of legislation.
Most activists in a campaign can usually agree on identifying the nature of a problem, but when real progress occurs and the other side is ready to settle, some campaigns unfortunately discover that their activists have real differences about what specific relief is acceptable. This is particularly important whenever an opposed project is an "attractive nuisance" or has a socially positive component like using a park to build a battered women's shelter. The final stages
of such campaigns can split a campaign wide apart as some activists support compromise measures while others hold out for complete abandonment. Bad actors increasingly tend to include or involve socially attractive elements in their schemes so they can accuse opponents of sexism, ageism, colonialism, classism, racism, etc. Promoters of bad schemes have learned from watching debates within the progressive community that a certain percentage of activists will withdraw at the first accusation of being guilty of any "ism." Just as a burglar might throw a juicy bone over the fence to distract the junkyard dogs, it is a rare developer these days who does not embed a recycling or daycare center, a community garden, or earmark benefits for minorities in their schemes. This is why in the end game of some campaigns; the intra-organizational conflicts among the good guys are more virulent than the inter-organizational conflicts between the opposing sides.
How to assess community attitudes.
Often during campaigns, if you believe what you read in the newspaper or what you hear at public meetings, you would think that all the local citizens hate change. This is hardly ever the case. Progressives are out there. They just tend to keep quiet. There is a quick, free, and easy way to know exactly where any community stands on environmental issues and it is more accurate than polls. For voting tabulation purposes, counties and cities are subdivided into small geographic areas called precincts. Historical voting data is always available down to the precinct level. Voting behavior for any precinct tends to be stable and predictable over time. To determine exactly how many people in any area hold pro- and anti- attitudes, analyze precinct-voting data from past elections. This data is generally available from the voting registrar in your county or city clerk in your city and is increasingly being posted to the Internet.
Examining gay or abortion ballot measures, or the success of candidates who made these issues the basis of their platform, will tell you about the overall progressive/reactionary makeup of your community. Progressive sentiment in rural areas is generally stronger than you might think. It is common in communities identified as very conservative to find a lot of progressives. Most counties thought to be conservative have at least 25%, and many have 35% or more, of their population who vote progressively. Precinct-voting history provides a sort of x-ray into the views of citizens, right down to the neighborhood level. Within counties that vote conservatively, there will nevertheless be precincts where voters are conservative on social or fiscal issues, but may hold pro-environmental views. Some precincts consist of voters who, while very conservative, have open minds. These are called "persuadable" precincts. Their votes will vary considerably depending on the specific measures before them. Other precincts consist of people with closed minds or "unpersuadable" voters.
They will vote for conservative candidates and issues no matter how horrible they are. Precinct data will show issues and candidates with high percentages of "under votes," where voters didn't vote on a particular item on their ballot. High under votes for an unopposed incumbent may indicate the voters don't like the candidate. For example, if an elected official who runs unopposed is a rabid anti-environmentalist, a high under vote can signal that the voters don't like him. Precinct voting data will also tell you what percentage of registered voters actually turnout to vote. This in conjunction with the data above would show you precincts where, if you could get people to turnout, people would probably vote progressively.
Where local officials are the decision makers for your issue, studying voting data may encourage you to put your issue to a vote in a city or countywide special election. To do this you need a certain percentage of registered voters to sign a petition. You can use the results of telephone polls and door-to-door canvasses to conduct "get out the vote" campaigns to make sure that people who share your views actually go to the polls. Progressives generally have low turn-out, but if you can get them motivated enough to turn-out for an election, you can often pass very progressive ballot measures, even in quite conservative areas. While the presidential elections held every four years in November on average have fifty% turnouts, most votes for local measures are held in specially scheduled elections where voter turn-out is often only twenty to thirty %, or even less, so the number of people you need to pass a measure is small. Historical county precinct returns will give you voter turn-out history for all kinds of past special elections. Choose one person to be your spokesperson.
Deciding on the exact relief you seek also helps solve the "Who will be our spokesperson?" problem.
A campaign without a spokesperson is just a well-intentioned mob. Select one person to represent your campaign. Don't have two or three different people tripping over each other and contradicting themselves with different stories, positions and opinions.
In any campaign, the politics and facts of the situation change constantly. What may be a sound strategy on Monday may require revision on Friday. Serious problems arise when one person decides to change a strategy without informing others. This can lead to bad feelings and public confusion. And when the public gets confused about your issue, your campaign and credibility become muddled. Changes in strategy must be cleared with the group.
The same dynamics that make it difficult to choose a single spokesperson at the beginning of a campaign may make it impossible to do so later. It may be hard to choose a spokesperson when your campaign is just a half-dozen folks sitting
around doing planning. But that's nothing compared to choosing one when the pressure of the media, demands for witnesses at hearings, offers to compromise, actions of groups organized to oppose you, or other fast-breaking events demand clear and concise reactions from your campaign. If you ignore the vital step of choosing one spokesperson, your group may find itself, as others have, at a public hearing where two allies take totally different public positions on your issue.
Do your homework.
Before you begin lobbying against the substance of any project, master the details of the administrative processes it must proceed through. Collect paper copies of all relevant laws, regulations, and planning documents. Mastering the process will allow you to monitor the administrative processes from beginning to end. If possible, perform your legal "scoping" before you have openly declared your opposition. Agency staff may be very forthcoming about the details and mechanics of their administrative processes until they know you are opposing their project. So confine your early conversations to the dry bureaucratic processes which bureaucrats seem to enjoy discussing. After you have openly declared your position, information often becomes difficult to extract from agency staff as you may be viewed as an enemy of the agency. Of course legal and political "scoping" never really ends until a bad project has been defeated, so be on the lookout for every possible angle to help your campaign until it is finished. Do not fail to take appropriate action, file documents, testify, lodge objections, etc. at every point. Discover all the approvals, permits, and processes an agency, commission or developer has to go through. For example, county or state rules may be too weak or unenforceable to stop a project that disturbs wetlands. However, the project may involve federal loans and the funding agencies' rules regarding wetlands may have more teeth and its own separate appeal and input processes. This is where attorneys and friends in state and federal agencies can be tapped.
All private or public projects, must take place on an actual, physical piece of land. All land, and anything to do with it including any projects built upon it, is governed by some regulatory process(es) open to the public. The exact processes will depend on who owns the land, where it is located, and where the financing comes from. But all actions involving land, whether under city, county, state, or federal jurisdiction will have formal processes that create public records that provide one or more entry points for activist intervention.
The vast majority of bad projects proceed successfully only because no one shows up to object at key points in the permit process where projects are the most vulnerable. For example, often developments involve the successful obtaining of a waiver or exception to a law, regulation, or state or county growth
plan. Often a single citizen simply filing or voicing an objection can stop or delay a project for months or years.
There was a recent situation where a very small and completely benign construction project was proposed that would have greatly benefited both protected property and public health, but it threatened a developer's financial interests. So the developer created a phony (one person) environmental group, made up a letterhead and sent dozens of letters to every state and federal regulatory agency with any possible jurisdiction objecting to purported wetlands and other environmental problems. Her objections were largely specious but since federal funds were involved, she was able to force the project to undergo additional expensive surveys and reviews. So all by herself, without an attorney, she successfully delayed the project for many years by forcing the project to prove that it was not harmful. The alleged concerns were bogus and the agencies knew it, but they had no choice but to put the project on hold because the proper papers were filed with the proper agency at the proper time. In this case distant federal funding authorities stopped a local community project and even today, five years later, parts of that project are not yet complete. This case was not special or unusual. Agencies receive thousands of permit applications to install rip-rap projects, which are usually automatically approved unless someone files an objection or asks for a public hearing. But few permit applications ever receive any public comment although even the slightest objection from anyone may cancel or delay a project indefinitely. It is always far easier to stop an agency from granting a permit or awarding a contract then to get them to withdraw or cancel it after it is approved. Although this can and has been done.
In general the more public funds are involved; the easier it is to stop a project. Public funds are increasingly being used to finance private development schemes and hybrids like private/public partnerships on public and quasi-public land are becoming the norm. Usually the more environmentally flaky a project is, the more economically risky it is, and so unfortunately the more public funds are involved. This is because investors hate to put their own money in risky projects. The rules and laws have been made very simple for developers to operate successfully. The underlying premise of most public processes is: "If no one formally objects, then there must not be any problems." Or: "If there had been any problems, certainly we would have heard." If you do your homework, learn the rules and laws, and show up for meetings, foiling bad schemes can be a whole lot easier than you might think.
Find an angle that motivates people to take action.
Every campaign is unique. No two campaigns are exactly the same. What worked in a past campaign may not work in the next. Decide what makes your campaign special and find a creative angle or insight that encapsulates it.
Reduce that insight to a metaphor, a slogan, a graphic or a memorable phrase with a creative slant that people will be able to remember. Such as, “From Apathy to Advocacy.”
For example, if your mayor refuses to consider evidence from experts who prove an industrial park will increase air pollution near a school, you could take a variety of different approaches. You could make a graphic of a group of small children playing in a schoolyard wearing gas masks. You might create a cartoon caricaturizing the mayor as the monkey that heard, saw, and spoke no evil. If a large corporation was behind the industrial park, you could do a "Don't let XYZ Corporation decide our future." campaign. Get people, clubs and associations involved that stand for the issue.
The ways you can slant into an issue, or "position" a bad project is limited only by your imagination and creativity. Create your campaign to craft an angle to motivate, engage, and enrage the target audience. Amuse, amaze and confound. Humor, caricature, and exaggeration all have their place in any effective campaign.
But remember, a campaign theme that might work in a rural area with 15% unemployment and lots of open space, may not work in a large city. A "Don't let government ram this down our throats." campaign might work in a rural conservative community, while before and after pictures showing how a beautiful place will be reduced to asphalt might work best in an urban area. Do your homework. Understand your target audience and the governmental, political, and demographic realities of your community and what will and won't resonate with them. Don't be afraid to change or abandon your message or tactics if the ones you initially choose don't work.
Know who owns the land.
If you want to oppose overdevelopment and sprawl, your chances of success will improve if you determine first exactly who and what you are up against. This requires some special kinds of research and data gathering, including determining who owns the land where the proposed development will occur. Fortunately, it is very easy to find out who owns the land, when they bought it, and the purchase price. Start with public records at the courthouse. In many states the information is online through the Secretary of State. In California there is the Public Records Acr, GCS 6250-6267 and a Civil Right to information. Lending institutions and title companies must be able to easily determine the ownership history of any piece of property to ensure clean titles and not make bad loans. They are paranoid about lending on land already encumbered or making loans to overextended people. So land records are easy to understand and open to their (and your) scrutiny. Therefore all records about land including