Gun Rights Politics is About Precinct Organizing, not YouTube Clips

Gun Rights Politics is About Precinct Organizing, not YouTube Clips
By Steve Bierfeldt courtesy of RMGO

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners

Colorado – -( At a campaign rally on a cold winter evening, thousands of individuals crowd around a stage to hear a Presidential candidate speak on life, liberty, and the Constitution. Homemade signs litter the crowd as the fiery congressman from Texas speaks to a sea of activists, many whom had never before taken an interest in politics. As he concludes, cheers erupt from the mass of people as they celebrate the one man speaking what no other candidate dares to say. Ron Paul has ignited a crowd desperate for a leader and in doing so has energized the thousands in attendance, as he asks for their support in the upcoming Presidential primary.

The next day, about 75 percent of them do not show up to vote.

The above illustrates the difficulty facing the liberty movement today—the willingness of its participants to engage in philosophical discussion, policy talk, or social activism, but their reluctance to engage in political action, the only thing that counts on Election Day.

Unfortunately this has even bled into the issue of gun rights, self-defense, and second amendment advocacy. Individuals who claim to support the rights of gun owners are too often preoccupied with personal recognition or high ideals, instead of focusing on eliminating bad policies and enacting good ones.

Even nationally recognized organizations that pledge to defend the rights of gun owners often find themselves caught up in the pomp and circumstance of putting on a show for the cameras instead of focusing on tangible results.

With the shock of last year’s election fading and 2010’s mid-term elections rapidly approaching, we see many in the gun rights movement cling to the same techniques that have proven unsuccessful in political campaigns.

I count myself tremendously blessed to have experienced a number of facets of the liberty movement. I have been able to volunteer for Ron Paul in his candidacy for President as well as separately learn from many in the gun rights movement who have spent decades defending the Constitutional amendment that protects all others.

When I served as campaign manager for a Ron Paul-endorsed candidate for Congress, I was able to put those skills into practice. This essay relates what I have learned.

Liberty candidates and their supporters all too often believe a fancy website with an automated real-time ticker will revolutionize the campaign and bring immediate media attention to their cause. They believe simply announcing a “money bomb” will be all that is needed to reform the system and transform their candidacy from an upstart radar blip to a powerhouse ready to take on the political world. But, as wonderful as money bombs and interactive website assuredly are, there is more to real politics.

Despite the signs, the blimps, and the unmatched enthusiasm of Ron Paul’s supporters, on election night when the returns came back the votes were not there. Not in Iowa, or New Hampshire, or Wyoming, or Michigan. Paul’s supporters were often quick to react to the tactics of the political establishment and media, tactics we believed to be underhanded (and which oftentimes were). But the liberty movement limited its effectiveness when it only played defense. Ron Paul’s supporters watched political talking heads dismiss him as a fringe candidate, who purportedly had a handful of supporters spamming polls with text-message votes, and their only response was to complain about the bias they were up against. Just as gun rights advocates should not expect favorable editorials from the New York Times or the Huffington Post, we should never be content to sit and complain. We can whine about how unfair the media is and how we will never be given a fair shake, or we can do something about it. We can hit the establishment where it really hurts, not in the online polls, but where the political class is most vulnerable—in local elections and the grassroots organizations that are the base of the political pyramid.

Dedicated To Destroying Principles
One look to our town councils, state houses, or local political parties will show us the people we are up against. Many of these folks have dedicated their lives to destroying the principles we believe in.

They care nothing about the right to self-defense or those they hurt by refusing to allow honest Americans to carry firearms.

They have sold gun owners down the river for only a paycheck, their proverbial 30 pieces of silver, and sometimes only out of a desire to have a title or control an office. In response we have committed ourselves not to taking their titles and offices away from them but instead to complaining about the system and offering symbolic actions. If elections were won by rifle shoots, turnouts at gun shows, or empty holster protests, our movement would have achieved victory 20 times over. Instead we will continue to lose, and lose badly, until we realize it is up to us, as the next generation of freedom advocates, to learn how to win.

The starry-eyed second amendment activist believe a sound philosophy is what should take precedence above everything else in political life. He believes an un-comprising adherence to principle should trump hard-won victories, party politics, and a desire for power, fame, and fortune. The starry-eyed activist is 100 percent correct. It is in this that the true believer in the second amendment has the advantage.

When working for a political nonprofit that would by all definitions be described as one run by “Establishment Republicans,” I was often railed and berated for my defense of the Constitution, and the second amendment. As a gun owner living in the state of Virginia I am permitted to open carry by law. I exercised this right and carried a properly holstered pistol to the office each and every morning.

Though the office was filled top to bottom with self-described “conservatives,” day after day I was railed and berated for promoting my Constitutional right to carry a firearm. I was informed that cowboys weren’t allowed in the building, told I “wasn’t being responsible,” was called named on the email list-serve, and at times had to sit and patiently wait as co-workers brought Nerf guns down from other floors to engage in a “shootout” outside my office.

After one such defense of the ideals of our founding fathers I was called “young,” “naive,” and with a sigh and a chuckle was lectured by colleagues about how they, “Remembered when they were that immature and idealistic.” My response was simple: “good.” While I will not always be young, I hoped I would always be idealistic—always willing to put principle ahead of politics, even if that meant costing myself an election, being called names, or remaining unpopular with those in power.

The advocates of gun rights have a tremendous advantage over their entrenched political counterparts. While we face a foe that has the techniques and technical knowledge to win elections, we take solace in the fact that our foe is morally empty. Training oneself how to write a direct-mail letter, assemble a press release, or become a better public speaker is merely a skill that can be learned and refined. But having that skill and choosing to throw away political prestige in order adhere to a sound Constitutional philosophy is a road few people are willing to take. However, this does not mean we who support gun rights should fail to cultivate the technical skills our opponents’ possess. Our side must learn how to succeed not just on the Internet or in the journals of intellectual thought, but in the political races and campaigns that shape our government. Gun owners are among the most dedicated individuals one will find in any cause, political or non. Very few are willing to budge on any aspect of the second amendment no matter how small.

Yet this philosophical correctness is not enough to initiate the transformation that is needed in government. Believing you are correct is not enough. Even actually being correct is not enough.

Politics is not an art, expressive and creative, no matter how much so many of us want it to be. Campaigns and elections are very much a science, with tried and true methods that move votes from the living-room couch to the election booth. The science of elections is based on numbers, statistics, and techniques that have concrete goals.

Yard Signs vs Robo-Calls
Yard signs are popular campaign memorabilia—but yard signs do not vote. Volunteer for any candidate in virtually any race, and you will be hounded about yard signs. The candidate always wants to know what color they will be, where they will go, and how many can be placed along the highway. Yet yard signs are something that campaigns seem to do just for the sake of doing them; statistically they have an extremely low impact on changing minds, switching votes, or mobilizing the base.

By contrast, as much as many of us complain about automated pre-recorded messages from candidates—robo-calls—there is a reason campaigns, even in the age of advanced social networking, continue to do them: they work. Despite the anecdotal stories you hear about someone becoming angry at the flood of automated calls he has been receiving and pledging not to vote for that candidate out of spite … it does not happen. Ask yourself, if you truly believed in the message a pro-gun candidate was proclaiming and thought he was the only candidate in that race would defend your right to own a firearm, would you really refuse to vote for him simply because of a few automated telephone calls? If so, then statistically you weren’t going to vote for him anyway. Such voters are negligible.

Some dismiss old-fashioned direct-mail letters that include surveys and requests for contributions as either out of touch with the new way of doing things or simply as junk mail from groups that are out to make a quick buck. In reality, direct mail serves as a proven method to gauge what issues are important to an organization’s membership base. An organization which takes the time to find our which specific second amendment issue is most important to you, is an organization setting itself up to best serve you and its members.

From a fundraising angle, there is a reason groups send out physical mail asking for help to fund project proposals: it works. Every part of a direct mail letter is a scientific instrument used to provide the best product and service to the member of that organization. Direct mail should not turn off gun owners but instead bring them into a world where they too can learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to recruiting for a cause or spreading a message. There is a reason most direct-mail letters are printed in courier font. It is because most donors to political organizations are over 70 years old, and the font reminds many of them of a typewriter. It gives them a tactile connection to an organization with which they feel philosophical sympathy.

What is effective and what is easy are often two completely different things.

The most effective way of changing minds and recruiting new voters or members is the tactic so many of us shy away from—door-to-door recruitment. Political operatives, campaign workers, and volunteers all agree when asked what the best technique is to influence voters: knocking on their door, handing them a piece of literature, and talking with them. Despite right-wing jeers about Barack Obama’s label as a “community organizer, the ability to sort and mobilize a community is the most basic and most effective way to win in politics.

A successful movement breaks down its locality as specifically as possible in order to appoint outgoing organizers who are a good match for their areas. In the realm of political campaigns, the selection of “precinct captains” is made to ensure that those in charge have a friendly face and a strong tie to the community. In today’s world, we could live almost our entire lives without ever leaving our house. Delivery services, tele-commuting, and Netflix have made it theoretically possible never to need to engage another person in meaningful conversation. Yet despite all of our modern conveniences, deep down people long for individual connections.

Talking With A Complete Stranger
Going out of your way and initiating conversation with a complete stranger can be nerve-racking. You will undoubtedly run into individuals who make it quite clear that you are not allowed on their property again, especially when you mention how much you love guns. But the most important question to ask of yourself about that is, “So what?” We pay respect to a congressman from Texas who at age 72 sought the nomination for president despite being harassed, bullied, and excluded from debates by members of his own political party, and yet we are unwilling to endure the discomfort that might occur from an interaction on a neighbor’s porch?

A little awkward conversation is a small price to pay in the fight for liberty.

You don’t have to wait for the next campaign season to become active—organizing can, and should, be done everywhere and all the time. Instead of talking about the poor leadership that exists within your local political party, force a change. Find out the date of the next election for party chairman and spend the next several months recruiting gun friendly individuals who live in your county. Use established political techniques to build a network of activists and then file the paperwork to become a candidate. Make it clear that under your leadership the party will take a solid stand on the second amendment and will never leave a fellow gun owner out in the cold. Instead of talking about philosophy and the need to bring in new leadership to the county party, become the vehicle that accomplishes it.

Familiarize yourself with the Campaign for Liberty and make it a point to visit their web site each day. The organization formed by Ron Paul has established a national local coordinator program, offers new featured articles every morning, and hosts both statewide and regional conferences containing some of the best political training you will ever receive. Those who adhere to the ideals of freedom no longer have any excuse for not getting deeply involved. Through groups like the Campaign for Liberty, you can learn the political techniques you need to wrest control of government from those who have contributed to its overgrowth.

Your fellow gun owners do not need your homemade signs or your blog posts. They need votes to win their elections and restore strict constitutional government. There must come a time when each defender of liberty says “enough” and commits himself to a struggle that enacts change rather than merely discussing it. That time is now. This is your country, and it’s being taken from you one election at a time. Take it back.

Steve Bierfeldt is the Director of Development for Campaign for Liberty. A version of this article first appeared in “Young American Revolution,” the official publication of Young Americans for Liberty, and is the premier publication for young libertarians, conservatives, and anti-statists of all stripes.

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