An Introduction to Relational Organizing, Part 2

Okay, where were we? Ah, that’s right, relational organizing and how we used it on the Pete Buttigieg campaign to catapult our campaign into top-tier presidential campaign status.

Last week, we left off talking about the difference between seeing a commercial for a restaurant that went in one ear and out the other versus when your best friend, who you know and trust, tells you about that same restaurant.

Now, to get back to it, I know that trust probably isn’t the first word that you think of when you think of politics or political campaigns and that’s understandable. It’s easy to see politicians as talking heads that say whatever they think you want to hear to get elected, but then once they are elected are no better than the last politician that bamboozled you into thinking that they too were “different.”

Here is the thing though, when the conversation comes from someone that you trust, you are more likely to listen, just like if they are recommending a restaurant to you. That conversation will definitely stick with you much longer than a mailer that ends up in the recycling bin or the robo-text you ignored.

Here is a real life example of how what we have been talking about actually translates to a political conversation:

You’re at a family barbeque and you take advantage of a break in the conversation to ask your uncle, an Afghanistan War veteran, if he has heard about another veteran from that same war who is now running for president. He says he has not and you’re able to engage in what you know about the candidate from the perspective of someone who knows something about both the candidate and your uncle.

By starting the conversation with something that relates to your uncle and comes from you, someone he trusts, you’ve piqued his interest and opened the door to a meaningful and authentic conversation in a way that a campaign volunteer or a commercial on TV never could.

Had you led with something like, “I think that the president is a blowhard and we need any functioning adult with a pulse in office to replace him…,” that almost certainly wouldn’t have gone over as well. However, because you as his relative know things about him that the highest paid political consultants can only ever dream of; you are able to talk about the things that you know align with your shared values rather than just reciting poll-tested talking points.

That is relational organizing in action, my friend. Sometimes it looks like a long conversation with a family member on the front porch, sometimes it is sharing a campaign video on Facebook and tagging your friends to ensure they see it, and sometimes it is as simple as thumbs up from another shopper that sees your campaign button at Trader Joe’s.

My former volunteer organizers reading this blog post will be the first to tell you that I like to think about relational organizing as planting seeds that will grow over time. You aren’t necessarily going to turn someone who is on another side -- or even just on the fence -- into a full-blown supporter of your candidate or your cause in one conversation. It may take more than one conversation with more than one person, it may take them having a conversation coupled with seeing a campaign ad or an Instagram post, or sometimes it may take them doing some research on their own after your conversation. Going back to the seed planting metaphor -- it will almost certainly take more cultivation. Relational organizing takes time and work.

As we keep relating to others by sharing our stories, empowering others to do the same, and working to find and build on our shared values, you may just be surprised who you see starting to retweet your campaign’s tweets, or who lets you know that they are planning on voting for “your candidate” in the upcoming election.

I want to leave you with a couple of quick tips to get your relational organizing started:

Talk about your “why”: I have a secret to tell you. It isn’t going to be a polished talking point given to you from a campaign that is going to persuade people to vote for your candidate. It is going to be your personal connection to the campaign and your story that is the most convincing tool that you will ever have in your organizing tool belt. Your personal story doesn’t need to be a long, drawn out monologue; it just needs to be a minute or two about why your candidate or cause is important to you. Having that why will also help ground you when you have a conversation that doesn’t go positively.

Practice makes perfect: I know that it sounds silly, but the more you practice telling your story, the easier it will become for you (and the quicker you will be able to adapt it based on to whom you are talking). As you are getting started in your organizing, practice telling your story to someone you trust like a parent or a best friend. That way, by the time you get to striking up a conversation with someone that you may not talk to on a regular basis, you will feel more confident.

Look through your contacts: Your cell phone contacts, Facebook friend list, and Instagram followers are just a few places that you can look for leads to start your relational organizing. Think about where your contacts live and do some research about the candidates in their area so that you feel ready to answer any questions that come up (or at least be able to point them in the right direction to find the information themselves like the Secretary of State’s website).

Keep it simple at first and have patience: Like I mentioned earlier, you may not be able to turn someone into a supporter of your candidate or cause right away. Start by opening the door in a simple way. Even something as simple as “Hey! I just wanted to make sure that you have all of the information that you need to vote safely this crazy year” can start a productive initial conversation. Then, you can dive deeper and share your story with them.

I hope that this blog has inspired you to get out there and start your relational organizing. We have just 99 days to ensure that we make as many connections as possible before Election Day. Even though 2020 has felt like the longest election cycle EVER, I promise voting is going to start soon. Once Labor Day rolls around and there is paid media and information overload coming from every campaign and independent expenditure out there, relational organizing will be the only way that we will be able to cut through the noise and make true connections that will bring us wins for races big and small.

If you want to know more about how to ensure that relational organizing isn’t just another political buzzword for your campaign or organization, reach out to us and we can work with you to build the tools that you’ll need in order to relationally organize effectively.

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