How to help political activists, without being a political activist

I know a lot of Keene activists who think of politics as immoral, ineffective, or, worse yet, boring. At the same time, many are generally supportive of libertarian candidates, and would enjoy seeing one win an election.

For those of you who fit this description, you can be much more helpful to political activists than you realize– and without ever getting involved in politics. The help I have in mind is simple and fun, and much more effective than merely voting. In fact, it might be the single most effective way you can help out local liberty-friendly candidates. I’ve been doing it for years, with great success.

What is this wild new form of activism? It’s outreach.

The term “outreach” has been used to describe a variety of activities in the past, but I have a more precise definition in mind.

What is outreach?

Outreach is talking to and making friends with members of the community who are not a part of the libertarian activist network.

How do you perform successful outreach?

Step 1:

Meet people.

The easiest way to meet people is to go to public meetings and events.

First, decide who you want to talk to. Look for groups with similar interests and backgrounds. If you like chess, visit the Knights Chess Club. If you’re a young professional, attend a meeting of the Keene Young Professionals. If you’re a college student, or around the same age, go to some of the many, many events at the college.

Are you an atheist? Try the Unitarian Univeralist church. Religious? Find the church in this area that best fits your beliefs. There are plenty to choose from.

Are you interested in something that the city of Keene is doing? Find the relevant committee and attend their meetings. (City council meetings are pretty dull. Committees are where the action is at. Sometimes.) Are you willing to help out with my liberaltarian project? Go to the city clerk, register as a Democrat, and attend Democratic events. (Find many on the Cheshire County Democrats website. Though watch out for the Friday lunches. Eddie the Grouch might not let you in.) Are you a Ron Paul Republican? Go to local Republican events. Do you think Wallstreet is out of control? Join Occupy Keene. Do you care about the environment? Get involved with the Keene Transition Movement. Do you oppose war? Take part in the weekly anti-war protest peace vigil in Central Square (Saturdays, 11 am to noon).

This is only a sample of the huge variety of events going on in Keene. You can find many more on the Keene Sentinel’s event calendar.

Step 2:

Make friends.

Be polite and respectful. Dress appropriately. Don’t aggressively push your ideology on people (that’s not the point of the outreach).

You don’t have to be outgoing. (I’m certainly not.) Almost always, the group will be happy to have a new member, or the event organizer will be happy to have another attendee, and people will be curious about what brought you to the event. Don’t be shy about mentioning that you are a Free Stater (if you are) or a libertarian.

As long as you’re respectful, making friends is easy and fun. Plus, when you’re finished, you have new friends! (I’m sure we could all use a few more friends.)

Step 3:

You’re done! There is no step 3. It’s that easy.

How does this help political activists?

For better or for worse, when Keene residents think about Free Staters, they usually think about the events in Central Square (420, Topless Tuesdays, illegal dance parties, etc.) and this provokes negative reactions. Anti-libertarian political activists have learned to exploit this by making a big deal about candidates being Free Staters, or even being associated with Free Staters. Voters then react something like this: “Ah, so he’s one of those topless, dancing pot-smokers. I’m not voting for that guy.”

This was done to Andrew Carroll, to great effect. It’s happening to Heika Courser right now. It’s even happening to local candidates in Manchester, though they have a different reputation there. (Link. But see the great reply from the Union Leader’s editorial board.) It’s practically guaranteed to happen to the next person running for office in Keene. This puts libertarian candidates– and even liberty-friendly candidates– at a disadvantage. To put it more bluntly, it sucks.

But what if, instead, voters reacted by thinking, “Oh, Free Stater? Like that respectful young gentlemen I met at the chess club. Those guys are responsible, intelligent people. I think I could vote for someone like that.”

After you perform successful outreach, that’s what will happen. You will have disabled one of the most effective weapons in the political opposition’s arsenal. And those activists running for office will really appreciate it.

Why should you do this?

But you shouldn’t do this just to help political activists. It’s a great idea regardless.

For one, many people you meet– especially at the more politically-oriented events– are genuinely interesting people. Often, they’ll know a lot of things you don’t– about the intricacies of local politics, about what role various people play in the local political landscape, and about Mayor Dale Pregent’s youth as a troubled drug dealer. (I made the last one up, but you get the point.) This knowledge is handy for all sorts of things.

It’s also a convenient opportunity to evaluate the effect of other forms of activism. You now have easy access to a sample of Keene public opinion. Want to know what people think of the latest high-profile civil disobedience? You can find out pretty quickly.

Lastly, if you do enough successful outreach, you may find that you are in a strong position to run for office yourself, should you change your mind about politics. (How do you think I got dragged into this political stuff? I certainly didn’t move to Keene intending to be a political activist.)

… Make friends, learn things, tap into public opinion, set the stage for your glorious career in politics… sounds great, why haven’t you started yet?

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