Libertarian State Leadership Alliance
The Libertarian Volunteer
How to recruit new members and get more media on April 15th
By Tom Regnier
Libertarian Party of Florida
An April 15 anti-Income Tax rally is a great way to get across the LP's message about taxes. In Broward County, Florida, where I live, the Tax Day Rally has become an annual tradition. It is a chance to let people know that the LP opposes the income tax (on a day when their disgust with that tax is likely to be at a peak) and to let people know how to contact the LP.
In Broward County, the perfect place for such a rally has always been the main post office in the evening. Once the smaller post offices around the county close, people who still haven't mailed their income tax forms have nowhere else to go to get them postmarked by midnight.
There is always a long, slow line of cars extending for a mile or more as people drive through the post office's circular drive to drop off their returns. There are always extra police and postal workers on hand to handle the overflow -- and, of course, Libertarians with flyers and signs. Most late filers drive slowly within a few feet of us as they approach the post office, so it's easy for us to hand them literature. A great many are eager to roll down their windows and grab our flyers as they drive by.
Million Dollar Bills
The National LP's "Million Dollar Bills" are the best handouts for a tax day protest. You can have your local LP number printed on them -- or get them pre-printed with the national LP's 800 number. Other LP literature about taxes is good too, and you might want to have a few other flyers about the party's positions in general on hand for people who ask about them, but it's best to stick to the one issue of taxes as much as possible.
As for signs, we like to keep the message short and simple. Each sign should have a short, easily understood message, plus the party's name and phone number. We've used such slogans as "Repeal the Income Tax," "Abolish the IRS," and "Less Government. No Income Tax." We also have the Statue of Liberty logo on all our signs.
The signs were fairly inexpensive to make. After checking out the exorbitant prices at several professional sign stores, I found I could simply design the signs on my computer, take letter-sized copies to Office Depot and get them enlarged to 18" x 36" and laminated for about $15 each. We then mounted them on masonite with sticks attached, and had weather-resistant signs we can use year after year.
Another touch we've added in the last couple of years has been American Revolutionary uniforms. We rent a full uniform or two from a costume shop. You only need one or two people in the full costume to evoke the Revolutionary spirit. We also have about 10 or 12 three-cornered hats on hand for other demonstrators to wear. You can add Libertarian Party banners, 13-star American flags, and "Don't Tread on Me" flags. One advantage of this is that it invites TV news cameras. Though we had been getting mentions in the print media for years, it was only when we added the costumes that we got television coverage as well.
Be sure to send out press releases to all the local media several days beforehand to let them know you'll be there and why. And if you have some kind of visual gimmick planned, be sure to mention that in the press releases. For example, some other affiliates have dressed up as Indians and dramatized "Boston Tea Parties."
Each local LP has to find its own way of doing a tax protest. Other types of locations -- such as in front of an IRS office or in a large mall -- may work better for some affiliates. At a minimum, you need flyers or signs, preferably both. We find that the tax protest is a great way to get activists charged up and spread the Libertarian message at the same time.
Tom Regnier is the Secretary of the Libertarian Party of Florida. You can reach him at TRegnier@aol.com
By Ron Bargoot
Libertarian Party of Massachusetts
There's been some discussion lately among Libertarians about outreach to attract voters to the Libertarian Party. One group we might approach is the African-American community. Let me relate to you this story as an example of how receptive they might be.
I received a call three years ago from Brian Higgins, the news director for WILD radio in Boston. WILD was hosting a public forum at Roxbury Community College on gun-related violence. There were to be two moderators, Brian and Dolores Handy, the anchors for the Channel 68 10 o'clock news. Brian is a Libertarian, and he thought it would be a good idea to have someone there to represent our views. Since gun control is my big issue, I accepted the invitation.
I arrived half an hour early. I had brought some flyers and articles related to the issue to distribute to the other panel members and the moderators. I distributed the information while we were in the "green room" waiting to go on stage. On article, written by Ken Smith, got the most response from those present. Mr. Smith, an African-American, is an accomplished journalist and network TV news anchor. His article, entitled, "It's time for African Americans to rethink their stand on restrictive gun control," really generated discussion among the panelists. It calls on the African-American community to fight restrictive gun laws.
This article infuriated Dolores Handy. She could not believe he had written this article. When I asked her why, she said, "Because I can't believe he would have said something so stupid." We had a heated discussion, which ended with her asking me: "Why are you even here? My answer was, "Apparently to be the voice of reason."
Finally, we were led onto the stage. I was the only non-African-American panelist out of six speakers. [Boston] Mayor Menino was supposed to show up, but he didn't; he sent an aide instead. Out of an audience of over 500, there were maybe 10 non-African-Americans. I was very intimidated. As it turned out, I needn't have been.
After we got on stage, the introductions began. There was a representative from the Boston Police Black Patrolman's Association, the mayor's anti-gang task force, a mayor's aid, a minister, and a teenage girl representing the group "Gangpeace."
All of their introductory statements produced polite applause. I was the last person introduced. My brief statement was as follows: "I am here to represent the Libertarian Party. We feel that in this rush to lower the crime rate, people's civil rights and individual liberties are being trampled into the ground." I didn't know what to expect, but I didn't expect what happened. The place went crazy!
People stood up, clapping, cheering, yelling things out. I was more surprised than anyone else on stage. One interesting note: Sitting in the front row, right up close to the stage, was an official-looking white man in a suit. I noticed that when I was introduced as a representative from the Libertarian Party, this man's head snapped around so fast to look at me, I thought he'd hurt himself. I found out later in the evening that he was a representative of the BATF. One of the most satisfying moments in my life came that evening when I got to make him look like an idiot in front of all those people.
Dolores Handy (who refused to direct any questions to me all night) was asking the BATF guy about statistics on gun crimes. He stood up and started spouting numbers. He mentioned how many thousands of guns were seized after being used to commit crimes in Boston.
I interrupted him and asked, "Of all those thousands of guns seized, can you tell me how many were legally owned by the people who used them to commit the crime? He gave me a really weird look, shuffled some papers, and admitted that he couldn't do that.
I asked, "You mean to tell me the BATF doesn't keep statistics on something as important as that?" His reply, "No, we don't." He was done for the night. He tried to comment a few times (from the audience; he was not on stage) and every time he did, he was shouted down by the audience. They weren't interested in anything he had to say.
This was the most incredible learning experience I have ever had. This was a potentially hostile audience. One of the two moderators didn't even want me on the stage. I was the only white person up there. But our Libertarian philosophy went over big. Nearly every comment I made got huge applause, much more so than anything said by anyone else.
The real attitude of the African-American community is a lot different than the one portrayed in the media. They are the ones being devastated by the War on Drugs, and they know it. They are tired of being treated like they have no rights.
During the evening, they opened up two mikes for audience questions, one on each side of the auditorium. A young man of 17 or 18 stood up to make a comment.
He said, "I try to do the right thing. I'm still in school. After school I go to work. I don't get out of work until 11:00 at night.
"On my way home, I'm just walking down the street, dressed like this [he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, heavy long-hooded down coat, and a ski mask. It was extremely cold at night that week, in the single digits] and I got stopped three times in one night by the police.
Each time I had to take off the mask, take off the coat, and take off the sweatshirt. I stood there freezing while they called in on me. All of this because of Stop and Frisk.!"
African American community leaders are afraid to speak out against the drug war. They still have the faith in the government being able to solve all of their problems; but a growing number of community members are losing their faith. They are beginning to see that the government is not their salvation, but actually the cause of their problems.
Ready to listen
We have a lot of work to do. The African-American community is ready to listen to us. They are tired of what's happening in their neighborhoods. They know the War on Drugs has turned into a war on minorities. Any outreach plans the Libertarian Party makes must include a strategy to include them.
Reprinted from the February 1997 issue ofMassachusetts Liberty. Ron Bargoot is currently a candidate for State Representative.
How you can help me help other LP activists
There's an old saying: "If it wasn't for deadlines, I'd never get anything done." That's me. Without a deadline to move a project from the "To-Do" to "Done" stage, some things just never get, well, done.
One such project was the Libertarian Volunteer in 1997. On top of my regular duties as Communications Director, I also took over as editor of LP News last year -- and the Volunteer got lost amidst the shuffle of more important deadline projects.
But not in 1998. We've decided that the Volunteer is a priority, so it's been put on a regular schedule. We'll publish every two months -- with your help, that is. Since the Volunteer is a newsletter of practical advice for Libertarians, who better to provide that advice than the Libertarians out there doing politics? Starting in this issue, we're increasing the number of "first-hand" articles about effective political techniques -- whether outreach, communications, campaigns, or whatever. In other words, what works. We've also started a regular series of articles entitled "What Works," which will focus on simple, practical political techniques. Look for the first three in this issue.
For the next batch of "What Works" articles, though, I need your help. Has your state or local party engaged in a successful project? Let me know, and I'll share it with 1,800 of the LP's most important activists. Not only will other Libertarians benefit from your success, but you'll also help me keep future issues of the Libertarian Volunteer on deadline. Together, we can move LP success from the "To-Do" to the "Done" stage!
Have a question about party-building, media relations, campaigning, newsletters, fundraising -- or any other area of LP political activity? Or questions about national LP policies or plans? Mail them to: Libertarian Party, Libertarian Volunteer / Ask HQ, 2600 Virginia Avenue, NW, Suite 100, Washington, DC 20037. Fax: (202) 333-0072. E-mail: 73163,email@example.com
We have a minor problem: A group advertised in our state party newsletter, offering a "Christian libertarian" perspective. They referred to themselves as Christian Research.
It turns out that, unbeknownst to us at the time we accepted the ad, these folks are Nazi sympathizers. We now know this [because] a long-time member picked up some of their literature. It included a pamphlet entitledThe Jews and Their Lies, and a tract called something like The Bible: A Guide for Survivalists, Racists, and Right-Wing Extremists.
The group has pre-paid their ads, which we accepted several months ago.
(a) Cancel the ad, refund the group's money, and explain that we misunderstood the group's nature when we accepted the ad, and we have determined that their beliefs are inconsistent with ours?
(b) Honor the contract, but refuse any attempt to renew the ad?
(c) Accept the ad, as it make no mention of any undesirable views, and trust our readers to make their own decisions?
- J.S., [State withheld]
A: Cancel the ad immediately, and refund the unpaid balance. Explain to these folks (politely) that it has become clear to you that the goals of their organization and those of the Libertarian Party are not compatible.
Remember: The primary function of your newsletter is to encourage and promote the political success of the Libertarian Party. Advertising racist, Nazi organizations does not accomplish that goal.
Your newsletter, to a very large degree, defines your identity to many of your members, prospects, and the media. You will be judged by the company you keep ... and by the folks who advertise in your newsletter. Be cautious about who you allow in your newsletter, and what they promote.
I'm on the e-mail list to get LP press releases. I grade most of them as well done, very professional. I have forwarded several to the attention of my local newspaper editor, with comments as to why I think the papers should print those news releases. I also invite the editor to call or write with any questions or just to talk about it.
The bottom line is that none have ever been published and no editor has ever called.
So the question becomes: What is the best strategy to get the clear thinking from those LP press releases into newspapers?
- R.P., Minnesota
Second, I'm not surprises that your (small town?) newspaper doesn't print our press releases; most newspapers tend to focus on local activities, rather than "national" news.
Third, before I answer your question, I want to explain the differences between a press release, a letter-to-the-editor, and an op-ed piece.
A press release is a "news" story from us -- with the news being (usually) our opinion about a political issue. In most cases, that press release will trigger a call from the media to us, so they can get more information (and write their own story), or from a radio station (so they can schedule an interview to talk about the issue).
A letter-to-the-editor, on the other hand, is a personal opinion from someone in their subscription area.
An op-ed piece is similar to a letter, but usually longer, and written in a different style.
So, it's unlikely that any local newspaper will ever get our press releases, and spontaneously print them as letters or op-ed pieces.
That said, here are some ways you can use our press releases:
1) Take them and rewrite them in the form of a letter. (This will usually involve making them much shorter -- in the 250-word range). If you can tie it into a local angle, so much the better.
As for any possible concern that they will see our press release and your letter, don't worry. There are more than 210,000 individual media contacts in this country, and we hit less than 2,000 of them on a regular basis. So, right away, the odds are 99% that they didn't see our press releases. Plus, we don't send our press release to many smaller newspapers (that is, less than 50,000 circulation). And, we don't send them to any letters-to-the-editor editors, so the odds approach 100%.
2) Take them and rewrite them as op-ed pieces, signed by you. Again, a local angle will be helpful, but not as necessary as for a letter. Read the columnists and op-ed pieces in your newspaper for ideas about proper style and format.
3) Take them and rewrite them so they come from a local LP organization. Again, a local angle would be helpful. Instead of quoting a national LP figure, quote yourself, or quote your county LP chairman. [For more on this topic, see related article on page 5.] Or, at your next local meeting, pass a resolution about whatever the topic of the press release is, and put out a press release about that resolution (using language from our original press release). That helps take the press release from the realm of mere opinion into the realm of "news" -- an actual resolution passed by a local political organization.
- Send them to talk radio stations, instead of newspapers, quoting yourself. You may get called for a follow-up interview. Obviously, you'll want to target talk show hosts who discuss politics. And, obviously, you need to have a fair amount of working knowledge on the topic -- so do your "homework" before doing an interview.
I hope these suggestions are helpful. Please keep up the good work, and keep trying to promote the Libertarian Party.
I recently did a radio interview for my state LP. I think I did pretty well, but want to do better next time. I wonder how [does the staff of the national LP headquarters] prepare for these things? How do you decide on a specific message for a given show and topic, and what tricks do you use to keep the show on your chosen message?
- E.I., Massachusetts
A: Preparation: We do most of our radio interviews in response to press releases. When we write a press release, we have a file of newspaper and magazine articles on that topic, any additional info we've gathered (Cato studies, and so on), and the "long" version of the press release (that is, the e-mail version, which is about 150 words longer than the faxed version that the media gets).
We also sometimes have a "sound-bite/fact" file, which is material that didn't make it into the press release. We review all this material before the show, highlighting important information.
Obviously, the press release has the specific Libertarian "point" we want to get across; all the rest of the material is to provide backing information and radio-friendly quips and quotes.
Also: If it's an important show, we will write up some "tough" questions we might get asked, and then discuss possible answers. Or, we'll do a little role-playing and toss some tricky questions at each other. Then we'll discuss ways to respond better.
About keeping "on message," there's no trick that always works. Just know the point you want to make, and try to make it two or three times, in different language. You may even want to write it down: A one-sentence reminder of your central point. Keep in mind that the host has ultimate control over where the show goes (he controls the microphone), so sometimes you just have to talk about what he wants to talk about. But, whenever possible, bring the topic back to some Libertarian point you want to make.
A few other general tips:
- Speak in short sentences, and avoid jargon.
- Show your personality. Humor and the use of real-life examples will make you more likable, and consequently, more credible.
- Back up your opinions with facts.
- If you use statistics, put them in context, ideally by using a colorful example.
- Be ready to supply a Libertarian solution. Remember, criticism of an opponent's position is only a vehicle through which we can present our ideas.
When on the air, don't:
1) Say "um." This is difficult for beginners, since "um" is a normal part of everyday conversation. One way to avoid it is to pause for a second before answering a question in order to arrange your thoughts.
2) Engage in an argument with the host or callers. Politely explain your position and try to answer any objections, but if a caller becomes combative, you should say, "I can see that we're going to have to agree to disagree on this issue." And then move on.
A few months ago, after speaking with Kris Williams at national LP headquarters, I realized we were making little or no contact with most of our registered Libertarians in Delaware. I decided to institute a point of contact -- the District Coordinator -- in each [Congressional] district.
The job of the DC is to make consistent contact with all the registered Libertarians in their district. After only a few months we have a DC in almost half the districts and, as a result, have increased average attendance at county meetings four-fold.
District Coordinators are also responsible for keeping an eye on, and making contact with, their State Representatives -- and mobilizing Libertarians to support or oppose bills. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to put any Libertarians in the State House, so, in the meantime, we are trying to become a more effective lobbying organization.
Anyone interested in instituting a District Coordinator program in their state can contact me at (302) 994-0633 or Mikeroid1@aol.com
- Mike Smith, LP of Delaware
An e-mail friend and I had an idea a while back and have begun to get some substantial results. I'd like to pass it along for party-wide distribution.
My friend and I get on an AOL chat line and begin a libertarian conversation. One of us will stimulate and the other will respond. Rarely does it take more than a few minutes of this before others on the chat line join in with questions and comments. Before it's over (average session, one hour) we will give out the LP phone number, www site, and address to a dozen people.
Here is the best part: There will be no cost to the party and very little to the individuals. Those LP members who are already online are already paying for chat line service.
During the Harry Browne campaign, the LP utilized talk radio. Let's add the Internet, newsgroups, and the chat lines as a means of getting the word out. If even a few dozen LP members do this on a regular basis, we can make the party grow.
- Bear Jones, Libertarian Party
Garnering more local media: A proven three-step process
By Scott Kjar, Libertarian Party of Alabama
I log on, check my e-mail, and somehow end up on the local news. I read my e-mail, and a few days later I see my name in print. I download my e-mail, and my picture appears in the local paper.
Is there something magical about my e-mail? Yes! The magic in my e-mail comes to me from the National Libertarian Party.
But more on that later...
Before I can get local media coverage, I have to know what local media outlets are available. This step is actually pretty easy" The phone book! I pick up the local phone book, go to the Yellow Pages, and I start looking up headings like "Newspapers," "Radio Stations," "Television Broadcast Stations," "Magazines," and "Publications." From there, I write down the name of each media outlet, its address, and its phone number.
If possible, you should pick up a copy of the newspapers and magazines, and see who writes their political material. Watch the television news and see who covers the political stories. Listen to the radio stations and find out who handles the political beat. Or, just call them! That's right, you can call the local media outlets, ask them who handles politics, and then record the name. (And while you've got the receptionist on the phone, ask for their fax number!)
Once you've got your local media list created, you'll want to figure out a good way to keep track of it. If you have a computer, record the information in a database. If not, you can type the information onto a sheet of paper. Do it in the size of a label, so that you can photocopy your page directly onto a sheet of labels, then just peel them off and stick them on envelopes when you need them.
(For media outlets with fax machines, often a fax is the fastest, cheapest, and most convenient route to take. I have the fax number of the local newspaper programmed into my own fax machine, so I can get info out within seconds.)
I mentioned the magic e-mail that I get from the National LP. You see, the National LP sends out e-mail press releases every few days. These are items that the national LP HQ has already sent out to national media, such as the Washington Post, or NBC. However, it's a pretty good bet that the National HQ has not sent them to the Opelika-Auburn News (my local daily paper), or to the Tuskegee News (a weekly paper in the next county).
That's where I step in. You see, I simply take the National LP press release, download it into Microsoft Word, put it into an attractive font, add my own name as a local contact (while leaving the national LP contact information also on the release), and print it out.
I don't have to worry about whether my press release is well written -- it already is. I'm not concerned about whether I am following the rules of putting together a release, or if I have given too much or too little information. After all, the people who write these at the national HQ -- Communications Director Bill Winter and Press Secretary George Getz -- are professionals who do this for a living.
All I need to be able to do is print it, and mail (or fax) it.
Once in a while, steps one and two are sufficient, and a local media representative calls me and asks for an interview. Usually, though, a little follow-up is required. So, I go back to my press list, I pick up the phone, and I call the person to whom I sent the press release. I ask if they received the release, and if they would like more information.
Sometimes, the person did not receive it. (This usually means they saw it, threw it away, and forgot about it.) Offer to re-fax it to them, and call them back in a half-hour.
Other times, the person did receive it, but is not interested in the story. That's okay. Reporters see a lot of potential stories every day, and most of them never get covered.
That's right, most of them never get covered! There is a finite amount of space in a newspaper and on TV news -- and it isn't possible to cover every story (no matter how important we think it is!) Thank the person, and move on. Haranguing a reporter will rarely succeed in getting you good press, but it is almost guaranteed to get you bad press.
In our best-case scenario, the reporter got the press release, thought it was interesting, and thanks you for calling. At this time, you suggest a get-together with the reporter to discuss the issue, and try to set an appointment. You are on your way to local media coverage.
Two notes of caution
First, reporters may not always know the ins-and-outs of your issue, but they can generally tell whether you know the ins-and-outs. Don't try to dazzle the reporter, and don't try to make things up. Marshall your facts before you meet a reporter. If you need additional information or sources, call the National LP HQ. After all, since they wrote the original press release, they can probably also tell you where to get additional information.
In some cases, George Getz and Bill Winter have faxed articles to me, so that I could show my local media representative that the issue has been covered in other places. (While national journalists may want to break new stories, local journalists are often more comfortable knowing that someone else has already decided that an issue is newsworthy.)
Second, when you meet with any reporter, whether for TV, radio, or newspaper, you should dress for the event! If you show up in a scruffy pair of pants and an obscene tee-shirt, you will be dismissed as a fringe element. If you look and act in a professional manner, you will be treated appropriately. Also, keep in mind that you just might end up on TV, or your photo might end up in the newspaper. If you look like a scraggly mess, then your image becomes the local LP's image. Professional business attire is always appropriate in such situations.
By following the Three-Step Approach, you can increase your local media presence without doing a great deal of work. And once one local media outlet picks up a story, you then want to redouble your efforts at the other outlets.
For example, I had a particular story I promoted here about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments and Bill Clinton's "apology." At first, no local newspaper covered the issue. However, once a local TV station gave me a two-minute story, suddenly all local media wanted to hear our views.
Thus, it is easy for you to help get the LP message across. Just read your e-mail!
During a "cyberchat" on America Online on February 13, 1997, Charles Murray, author of What It Means to Be a Libertarian, was asked: "People often associate libertarianism with militia looneys or other extremists. Whatever gave libertarianism such a bad name in the popular mind, and is there a succinct but non-hostile retort if one encounters this attitude?"
His answer:"One thought: libertarians first can emphasize that the militias are 180 degrees opposite from libertarians when they advocate initiating the use of force. The group that libertarians most resemble in their ethics is not a militia, but Quakers. Libertarianism is a deeply peaceful, cooperative way of looking at the world. As I intepret it, it has two ethical principles: Thou shalt not aggress against thy neighbor, and thou shallt not deceive or defraud.
"If libertarians emphasize this ethical substructure to their political thought, I think that common ground can be found with many people who would never otherwise think of themselves as potential libertarians.
"One other thought: libertarians too often focus on the logic of their position. That logic, grounded in natural rights theory, is indeed powerful. But it also makes libertarians sometimes seem isolated and unconcerned with the stuff of daily life. Libertarians should say more often and more emphatically that freedom is not only our birthright, but also the way that people and communities can leac righ and satisfying lives."
If you're running for office and plan to do most of your campaigning in cyberspace -- don't expect to get more than a tiny percentage of the vote.
That's because only 5.3% of Americans say they get "plenty" of political information from the Internet. Another 8.1% get "some"; 13.1% get a "little;" and a whopping 71.7% say they get no political information from in cyberspace. (Results were reported in the February 1998 issue of Campaigns & Elections magazine.)