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The Planet

The Planet
October 1998 Volume 5, Number 8


Try Bird-Dogging

by Pat Veitch

Nolan Jones, a long-time Club activist in New Hampshire, threw the book at Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) at a citizens' forum held late last year: "You claim to be a leader in Congress on environmental issues," he said, "but your record shows that you've voted for taxpayer-subsidized logging roads, sham grazing 'reform' and the 1872 Mining Law. With an LCV score of less than 40 percent, how can you call yourself an environmentalist?"

Jones was participating in the tried-and-true candidate accountability tactic known as "bird-dogging" - following your opponent from one public event to another and asking pointed questions that reveal a candidate's bad track record. This tactic gets results. In the months following the citizens' forum, Bass' LCV score jumped to 63 percent - making him one of the most improved members in the House on environmental issues.

Bird-dogging is an easy and effective way to inform the public, get media coverage and stop an anti-environmental candidate. It can also be fun. Texas activist Reeca Henderson of Clean Water Action had a great time using a "Tickle Me Elmo" doll to spotlight Gov. George Bush's duplicitous "voluntary" air pollution clean-up program. (Polluting industries are asked, not forced, to clean up their emissions.) At a press conference last spring, each time the governor described the program as "voluntary" Henderson squeezed the doll, which emitted a hearty, canned laugh. The media got the message.

Whether you squeeze an Elmo doll or put the candidate on the spot with pointed questions, the following tips will help make your bird-dogging a success.

Get Your Facts Straight.

When you go to an event to sound the alarm about a candidate's voting record, you must have accurate information. Back up any statements you make with specifics. Spreading inaccurate information can hurt your credibility. It's a good idea to provide supporting documentation to distribute at the event.

There's Strength in Numbers.

For greater clout, organize your bird-dogging event with coalition members. Remember, your message will be strengthened when you join ranks with non-traditional allies.

Be Prepared

Set your communication network in motion early to turn out Club activists and coalition partners. Contact media outlets to let them know you'll be there. Provide the bird-doggers with questions for the candidate. Be sure everyone has background information prior to the event. Make signs and prepare handouts that spotlight the candidate's record.

Be Creative

Originality and creativity lead to media attention for bird-doggers. Make a visual impact. Are you planning to nail an anti-environmental candidate on his or her support of animal factories? Dress up as a hog. Is clean air the issue? Wear a gas mask. Or create a continuing character that will serve as your campaign's mascot, such as Tommy the Toxic Waste Drum, who dogged Gordon Smith during Oregon's Senate campaign in 1996.

Follow General Guidelines. Have fun, but make sure you stay within the boundaries of good taste, common sense and the law.
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