I’ve been a political activist in the Minnesota Republican Party for almost two years now. In that time I’ve had my fair share of successes and screw-ups. To that end I’ve created ten commandments for political activists. Enjoy:
1. Thy Faction Isth Thy Base. There are political factions that exist within any political organization. Learn what they are and pick a faction. You don’t have to agree with everything the faction is about or even be quiet about your disagreement. What you do have to do is not hinder any candidate(s) your faction gets behind and make a concerted effort to help at least one candidate from your faction each election cycle.
2. Trust Isth Earned. Trust no one right away. I made this mistake early on and spent a good many months cleaning up afterwards. You should actively test people you run across in politics for integrity and make a point of working with people who pass. Many people will pass and many people will not. There is no correlation between faction and passing an integrity test. You should actively defend anyone you agree with and know to be trustworthy. Plenty of attacks get lobbed for political reasons and it is incumbent on good people to refute such skullduggery.
3. Cast Off Thy Backstabbers. Ignore people who lack integrity. If they’re in leadership positions you can’t completely ignore them, but try. You’ll save yourself a lot of wasted time and heartache. Dealing with unethical people means you need to prepare for every imaginable contingency and that takes a great deal of time and research.
4. Cradle Thy Producers. Help people who do good work do good work. You’ll never regret helping someone make the world a better place. Try to get these people on your team and make sure they have access to all the resources they need.
5. Strike Thy Balance. Recognize that the party activists and donors have very different standards for electability and the only people who win competitive elections in Minnesota are people who meet both sets of standards.
6. Follow Thy Law. When in doubt, follow the law. You can be assured that any skirting of the legal system will be used as a hammer by fellow activists supporting a different agenda or by activists in a different political party.
7. All Isth Awesome. Be positive. Nothing kills prospects like negativity.
8. Have Thy Plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated or tricky, but if you want to accomplish something have a plan and steps for accomplishing it written down somewhere.
9. Thou Shalt Agree to Disagree. So many activists make the mistake of assuming anyone who disagrees with them is evil incarnate. The government shutdown is a great example. How many times have you heard the words ‘crazy, insane and wacko’ tossed around lately? Everyone has a slightly different set of values and thus their ideal political structure will necessarily differ from yours. Framing those differences in a good vs. evil paradigm is incredibly asinine.
10. Target Thy Message. Never say something you wouldn’t feel comfortable defending in your least-liked audience, but do target your messaging depending on what group you want to reach.
BONUS 11. Speaketh Slowly. Never say the first thing that pops into your head. Ever notice how politicians answer slowly when they’re asked questions in person? It’s because they are moderating their response so that aforementioned response isn’t taken out of context and thrown on a commercial to be played ad nauseam. You should be at least as careful. That doesn’t mean that you never use harsh or incendiary language, but it does mean you need to use such tactics sparingly and with premeditated purpose.
There are my ten (well eleven) commandments for political activism. I hope you find them helpful. I’d love to hear any other commandments you think should be added to this list so let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook.