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The Planet

Planning a Grassroots Campaign

The Planet, May 1997, Volume 4, number 4

By Alita Paine

We used to begin each campaign with a policy proposal, say, reauthorization of the Clean Water Act. Then we would work from our policy goals and eventually define our public education needs, campaign by campaign.

Now we begin with a media market, define our public education messages and themes, and create a foundation of public support and community dialogue for change. We then take delivery on that foundation through direct administrative action or legislative lobbying and advocacy.

As an example of this approach, in 1997 we will concentrate the bulk of our public education resources in 40 "Tier 1" media markets. In each of these sites, we will pursue education efforts on a local problem or issue that can be tied to our national themes and priorities.

The Sierra Club has adapted the following campaign planning guidelines from the Midwest Academy's Direct Action Organizing model. The model consists of 10 categories, all of which must be taken into consideration in any organizing effort.

The Sierra Club Planning Matrix

  1. Issue Focus: What is the main issue focus of the campaign and how does it relate to the Sierra Club's national conservation priorities?
    • Example: Protecting the natural heritage and water quality of Georgia's Okefenokee wildlife refuge. This issue is directly linked to the Club's water and wetlands priority.
  2. Goals: When identifying your goals, ask yourself these questions: What are our long-term objectives? What is a victory? What do we want to accomplish? What are our political goals? What are our organizational goals? Goals must be clear, shared and communicated, well articulated and generally quantifiable.

    You should also ask: How will this issue focus advance the conservation goals of our group/chapter?

    • Example: Conservation goal: Halt Du Pont's plans to stripmine the trail ridge on the eastern side of the Okefenokee. Organizational goal: Build two new groups.

  3. Central Message, Theme and Story: What is the key message you hope to deliver through this campaign?
    • Example: Protect the Heritage of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge -- For Our Families, For Our Future.

    What are the key themes you will use to reinforce the message?

    • Example: Need to protect water quality, the integrity of the Okefenokee ecosystem and preserve this important natural heritage.

    What story will you tell to reinforce the message and themes?

    • Example: Du Pont plans to stripmine the trail ridge on the eastern side of the swamp. This ridge served as a natural dam trapping receding coastal waters to form the swamp 6,000 years ago. Du Pont's strip mine threatens to destroy the ecosystem of the Okefenokee.

  4. Organizational Considerations: You should plan to come out of the campaign organizationally stronger than you went in. List the resources you bring to the campaign. In addition, list the specific ways you want your organization to be strengthened by the campaign.
    • Example: More leaders, more experienced volunteer base, more political clout, more media visibility, new constituencies. Also list any weaknesses and/or internal problems that may prevent you from conducting a successful campaign. Come up with a plan to address those problems.

    • Target Audiences: A key element of your campaign should be strengthening the environmental constituency in your community. Which of the following key audiences will your campaign, its themes and its organizing tactics emphasize?
      • Women 20-45
      • Parents and others concerned about public health
      • Hunters and anglers
      • Farmers
      • Young people and students
      • People/communities of color
      • Who else?
  5. Allies/Opponents: Who cares about your issue enough to join you in your campaign effort? Who can you bring in to help? Who else is affected by the issue you are working on?
    • Example: The Okefenokee Protection League. Also, who are your opponents? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What will they do/spend to oppose you? How can you counter their strengths?
    • Example: Because Du Pont is a huge multinational corporation, it can be a good "bad guy."

  6. Targets: A target is always a person (or group of people) who has the power to grant your demands, not an institution or elected body. You need to ask yourself what power you have over your target. Is that person a friend, an enemy or neutral? Who besides the Club has power over your target? What motivates or interests your target?

  7. Tactics: Tactics are actions taken by your group that will bring the desired response from your target. For each target, list the tactics that each constituent group can best use to make its power felt. Tactics should be fun and demonstrate real power. Tactics can raise the morale of your members, get media coverage and demonstrate power directly to your target.
    • Examples: Radio spots, rallies, tabling, literature drops, scorecards, street theater, letters to the editor and petition presentations.

  8. Timelines: To finish off the planning process, make timelines and assign individual
    responsibilities for the campaign. Include all major campaign events, tactics and deadlines.

  9. A Written Plan: There's an old organizing expression: "If it ain't written, it ain't a plan." Put your campaign strategy on paper. People need to see it, agree to it, and use it as a road map for their work. Having a plan on paper keeps you on course and provides you with the means to hold everyone accountable.

For more information, resources and assistance from the national office, see "Key Contacts" on page 7. See also "Volunteer Leaders" on page 7 for a list of key volunteers working on the Club's priority issues.

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