Herding the Angry Cats into a Pride of Lions: Communication Strategy
In reading the comments posted to my blog, I try to figure out what some of the larger concerns of people trying to operate and participate in meetups seem to be.
If you are a leader (and you can either become a leader through the chance of starting a Meetup, or by simply expressing your desire to show leadership before a group), then you are going to face a substantial level of resistance from people who don't know what they are doing. The really interesting and challenging thing about this campaign is most of the people getting involved with this candidacy is that these are not political hacks. This is great because their enthusiasm is real, but it means they need to be trained.
Here in Pittsburgh, we went to cover the Washington County Fair (which has an estimated pass through of 80,000 people) and we needed people to man the booth. We went ahead and set up out materials professionally, and were ready to go, but having spoken to our members, I know many were very nervous because although they knew why they supported Ron Paul in some way, it was hard for them to articulate to others why they should care, or even more challengingly, be able to answer questions at point blank range.
Their concerns were entirely valid, and what we did was we had a series of workshops designed to help our members build confidence. In the first of these, we talked about how to respond. You can answer a question directly, express sympathy with the perceived point of view, and be open and honest. Ron Paul has a great message that is Constitutional, and if all else fails, you can fall back on that and ninety percent of the people will not find that objectionable. Obviously, some people simply will not agree, and you need to realize that.
To demonstrate, myself and a number of the assistant organizers stood up there and fielded questions from them. We encouraged them to batter us with the best they had, and as they did, and as we responded coherently to each question, they began to see and gain confidence that they could do the same.
The next time we got together, we turned the tables. We had a mock up of a booth made and we went and asked our members why they supported Ron Paul. We started with hard questions, in fact. Sometimes, they were taken aback, but as they learned to field these, and we made the questions easier, they began to see the worst wasn't so bad, and the best was actually easy. Most people want to hear our message and when people begin to realize that is easy to sell, it becomes so much easier.
Having this training, we went to the Fair and had a great success where we had enough people to cover the booth and draw hundreds of people onto a mailing list, create a spin-off satellite Meetup, and really impress and inform a number of people. Moreover, that very same confidence is infectious and now we have a core group of people that can go out there, train others in the group, and feel more at ease in reaching out to those they know.
The simplest way to put this is the best thing a meetup can accomplish is to get people talking. You start by having them talk with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. I say this at the beginning and end of each meeting. But, as they do this, and the questions posed to them makes them more aware, your people can become more able to do things.
Once you reach a certain point, you can do what we do here. We actually tell our members to go out, find the events, and our group doesn't plan for everything (it would be too hard, and an organizer who tries to do that will go insane, believe me) but rather responds to the request of our members for what we can do, judging the resources and amount of people needed, and choosing to focus ourselves on other events.
We actually can do some very large things as well, but what I am telling you is that it usually has a better impact (and you avoid the hairy problems of fundraising, which we can talk about in another post) to get to these local events, and build up your activist base. Even if it is just twenty or thirty people, that is more than enough.
Did you know that most of the really momentous historical revolutions usually began with a group well under a hundred people? They were focused, smart, and strategic. They looked where they could get the most attention, and though they often disagreed on many things, their leaders focused them enough to convince them to focus on the common cause (for us, getting Ron Paul elected) where they were able to succeed.
As a last piece of advice, the difference between success and failure is often belief. If our group is more successful than others, I think the difference could be that we actually believe we will win this. From myself, through my assistants, to each member, I can look each one straight in the eyes, and I tell them this: We are not here to simply make a statement. We are here to win, and we will do everything possible to see that happen. You need inspiration, and if you have that, you will get support. People joining these groups are supporters which is good. People getting things done are believers, and therein lies all the difference.