Written by Audrie Zettick on March 31, 2009
Just got back from the most recent “Save My Ballot” event, at the PA Capitol in Harrisburg. An initiative coordinated by Amercians for Prosperity. It was well organized and included many things: free lunch for attendees, a chance to hear Joe Wurzelbacher (aka Joe the Plumber), send Sen. Specter a message and……. commune with AFL-CIO members who were bused in.
Yeah, they were bused in. Not un-expected. I remember when I ran for Congress, an amazing number of union members were suddenly off work, working the polls on behalf of my opponent.
I got there a little after noon (the event was billed as 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) Apparently, the union members tried to make a lotta noise early on, while featured guests were speaking.
Afterward, I spoke with Tim Phillips (pictured below, with several local protestors), President of AFP about the event. He noted that it was easier to get people to events who were benefiting from them, such as those getting something FROM the government (here, unions); conservatives just want people (and the government) to leave them alone. We’re generally not protesters.
A couple of Card Check opponents who hung around got into shouting matches or heated debates with union members. After watching our crowd, I decided to jot some coaching tips for future protest events.
1) Stick to your issue/keep to message. In this case, Card Check (Employee Not-So-Free-Choice Act). You might be ticked off about other issues (mandatory union dues, the power of the union PACs, what they’ve done to the auto industry, among others). I saw one person debating with a union member about union management structure/power, how they don’t represent their members’ interests, etc. Not sure what they thought this conversation would accomplish; maybe it was a mental health moment allowing them to vent and thereby keep their head from exploding….I understand. But, in this case, we’re taking about a piece of legislation that takes away workers’ rights to a secret ballot and would force federally-appointed arbitrators to write union contracts, forcing them on employers and workers without their consent.
2) Maintain your cool while engaging the opposition, but deploy defensive tactics when necessary. Let them make fools of themselves. We stay level-headed (yes, some days I’m ready to pick up the pitchfork too). Heated debate is great. Group chants (on message!) to override opposition chants are appropriate. I saw one woman shrieking ”union thugs!” and other verbiage because she was upset they were there and had been chanting previously. In this day and age of instant media, cell phone cameras and YouTube, even these chance encounters can work for or against you. An edited video of her shrieking would play well into the hands of the opposition (They hate the unions! And workers! And they’re a bunch of banshees!). Another protestor shouted to the union “you have no right to be here” (well, they do. There’s that Constitution thing).
3) For maximum crowd, make sure participants know when the bulk of the event is. Today’s was billed as 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. I made the assumption this meant it would go on for that long, or at least speakers would continue for a while. It was pretty much done by noon. People showing up at noon or 12:30 would have simply kept walking, as it appeared the crowd was dispersing. I think it lessened the official turnout. Instead, we need to choose and promote a starting time. Period.
4) Dispell notions, when appropriate. We’re not at these protests to make friends, but we are there to engage, provoke thought, and let our voices per heard (and perhaps, even to change some minds). In many cases, we have the chance to voice our opinion in various media–so use it.
In my case, when engaging a union member, I assume that he believes my family’s had no union experience. So I start with: “My one grandfather was a union coal miner, my other one was a union stevador at the docks in Philly. Believe me, I’ve seen the worth of a union. But, THIS bill takes away the right of a private ballot”….etc.
The protestor who’d been having the most heated debate later told me that her mom was a cafeteria worker. That she’d been forced to join the union. I’d heard her debate for 10 minutes and she never brought this up! If I’d had my video cam handy, I’d have taped her mom’s story for the web. Instead, we could have gotten a video of a screaming rant by another protestor that wasn’t on message.
So, let’s keep to message, fine-tune what words we get out and where……. but still keep those pitchforks handy. After all, we have to be true to ourselves.
ADDENDUM: Here’s coverage from the Patriot News. A fair article that gives you a sense of the issue but leads with how the union members were shouting over the speakers. (Note: the link is an excerpt. The full written article was better). I think Joe The Plumber dealt with this by showing class. If he hadn’t THAT’s what would have led the story, and undoubtedly been on Youtube. We can all learn a thing or two.
Written by Audrie Zettick on January 9, 2009
I’m generally not a wimp. As “cuddly” as I can be, I’ve also been known to put the fear of God in people with just a look and my “mom” voice (or alternatively, my “you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-you-left-winger” voice. As a former field hockey player, I know intimately how to wield various household objects in ways to protect myself. It is seldom I feel threatened.
Of course, I also believe in living wisely and I don’t generally place myself in situations to feel threatened. I work at home and on those occasions when I’m alone and the doorbell rings, I glance out the window before opening the door. Frankly, I never felt I shouldn’t open the door. Until this past November.
Shortly before the election, my door rang. I glanced outside and stopped before I reached for the door lock. On my doorstep was a slouching, sloppily-dressed guy with a 3-day old beard. He seemed to have attitude. I hesitated at first, but then spied his clipboard with what looked to be one of our township’s solicitation permits. I figured he might be legit, but nonetheless figured I could bean him with my quickly accessible stack of computer printouts. Or maybe the stapler.
I opened the door and he spoke.
“I’m going around the neighborhood to check who people are voting for for president. “
He had a Service Employees International Union ID on him.
My mind pondered. (”If I tell him I’m voting for McCain/Palin, is my house safe?”). I answered, “I’m keeping my vote choices to myself.” I politely thanked him and closed the door.
I felt strangely dirty afterwards. Not because of him but because I’d not been an advocate for my position. Me, the former Congressional candidate, blogging out loud person I am.
Later, I figured I’d wimped out because I’ve never had someone come directly to my home. Usually, we’re somewhere in the public arena debating issues. But I don’t know what I was thinking…maybe that my house would be “egged” or something.
Shortly thereafter, I told my like-minded, conservative friend of the incident. Her alarm surprised me. Apparently, the SEUI has been trying to start a union at the drugstore chain she works for. She’s a pharmacist and publicly licensed. She’s not a shrinking violet but she’s fearful union reps will look up her home address via her licensing and personally come to her home to get her to “sign” a card. And this is BEFORE we had the discussion on the “Employee Free Choice Act,” otherwise known as “Card Check,” which would virtually replace the option of a private ballot when voting for the formation of workplace union.
Given the way the SEIU reacts to dissention in its own ranks (today’s effort to break up an affiliate in California being one example), who’s to know how they’d handle the power of Card Check (or, the “Employee Anti-Choice Act”). Could someone as strong as I am resist the pressure if someone came to my door, ”asking” me to sign a form supporting the formation of a union?
With SEIU set to spend $10-$15 million promoting their agenda this year, including passage of Card Check, we’d all better be concerned this issue.
I think I’m also going to buy a screen door.