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Winning public support for constitutional compliance
Jon Roland

I am often asked for advice on how to build public support for constitutional compliance and legal reform. Of course I answer that every day in many ways, but perhaps a few key points should be offered as a checklist.

First, there are several main components to the process:

1 - Building general public support for the cause, and for the advocates of it, which are distinct but tend to be confused in the public mind.

2 - Dispelling opposition to the cause or its advocates. This best done by presenting counterexamples to charges made by your opponents.

3 - Influencing specific decisions. This is best done by working your way up the chains of influence that lead to the key decisionmakers.

4 - Building institutions and structures that can survive transient individual thoughts and efforts. This can include everything from organizations to laws to writings.

5 - Placing supporters in key positions. In the end power belongs to those who do the work, and power to your cause comes by getting more people working for it more steadily and effectively than against it.

Second, it is a skill that is best acquired by practice, and there are few better ways to get practice than to participate in a political campaign, especially one that is well-financed and well-run. You don't have to want the candidate or measure to win. It is worth while just as a learning experience, especially if you take turns doing as many kinds of jobs as you can. Every activist, no matter what his cause, should take full advantage of any political campaigns in his area, and perhaps more than one of them, to get a perspective on the methods and resources involved.

Or you can run for office yourself. Perhaps as a minor-party candidate for a state or local office or for Congress. But you should practice in a major-party campaign first to learn how to do it. And run to win, even though you don't expect to. Always make a total commitment, and conduct yourself as a professional, in anything you do.

Third, keep in mind that it is selling, and all the principles of good salesmanship and marketing apply, including the reality that you are competing for not only support but attention against opponents, who may be better financed and organized than you are. But that can be overcome with a better pitch and a better product, and you have the better product.

Also keep in mind that the sale isn't made with the pitch alone, but needs a good closing. All the advertising in the world will accomplish nothing until you get the "customer" to commit with some action, and that has to be done one-on-one. Yes, there are some things that can be done with crowds, but this isn't one of them. This one requires the exercise of some intelligence, and some personal risk and sacrifice.

Don't try to do everything yourself. Delegate. And recruit recruiters. Multi-level marketing systems can be a good training experience for this, provided one doesn't become addicted to them, as to gambling.

As in any sales operation, the salesmen need to get some short-term wins to keep them going. A few people can work year after year for a distant goal they won't live to see, but not many, especially the attention-deficient people of today. Figure out a way to keep score, and recognize top performers.

Fourth, there are special methods needed for selling things like constitutional compliance and legal reform. Keep these points in mind:

1 - It is easier to sell people on a problem than on a solution, and what you are selling is a solution, so start by selling people on the problems to be solved.

2 - Establish an area of agreement, then build on it. Don't find the ways you differ from others and argue with them. You may never agree with them on everything, but perhaps on enough for cooperation on a common project. You can probably find some provision of the Constitution you can get your prospect to agree with, as originally understood, then show how all the others depend on that one, until you win support for the entire Constitution, as originally understood.

3 - Subvert the herd mentality that sustains denial and noninvolvement, by getting the prospect to do small, seemingly harmless things that get him progressively involved until cognitive dissonance causes his thinking and beliefs to agree with his actions and he becomes committed to the cause.

4 - Chains of influence work on most prospects. Very few persons are truly independent in their thinking. Find out who the prospect admires and get that person to express some support for the cause, even if not full commitment. Since influence works both ways, winning support from the followers is likely to win the support for the leaders, who don't want to lose their status of leadership by allowing the initiative to pass to others.

5 - Don't give people complete ideas or writings. Leave out some parts, so that they will be inspired to fill in the holes, which will give them an investment in the complete concept, and make it "theirs". It is akin to delegating. Don't do everything. Get things started, perhaps, but leave some things for others to do.

6 - Let people make their own mistakes. They will learn more that way -- if they survive. You need to warn them if they are moving in a dangerous direction, but ultimately, the decisions have to be theirs.

7 - Focus on winners. Don't waste time on whiners. There are a lot of people out there with tales of injustice done to them or their friends, who are motivated to act, and who can be led to do so. But some people will never become effective, and some will even become liabilities. It works better to focus on effective people, even if they are not initially affected or motivated, because they can get things done, even if they aren't highly motivated. Someone who is a professional in one area will probably be professional in others, and it is possible to get them interested in the cause as a professional exercise, without ever being emotionally involved. Such persons will be the ones who ultimately make the cause prevail.

8 - Apparent losses may be victories, or can be turned into victories. Would it have served the cause of constitutional compliance better if the Davidians had racked up a higher body count? They would have lost their lives anyway, even if many others had rallied to their aid. But in losing they won more public sympathy and support than they would have if they had won the battle. The causes of American, or Irish, independence, benefited from the initial losses that polarized the people and won support. The losses of the Viet Cong won more support from the previously neutral populace. Without the Alamo, the Battle of San Jacinto might not have been won. Good needs evil to express itself.

Finally, in the spirit of the above, I end this here to encourage others to contribute their own thoughts.

— Jon


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