Lessons from the Campaign Trail

Whew!  With the 2008 election season finally over, it almost feels anti-climactic not to be talking about “the issues” all the time with everyone I meet.  Over the last few weeks of the campaign, I volunteered some time for the Obama campaign, and was thrilled to see him win in such a landslide on election day.  But this is not a political blog, so here I offer some tips I learned along the way about how to effectively promote a social cause such a return to simpler living.

First, the Obama campaign succeeded largely because they were able to successfully brand themselves outside the traditional political system.  Rather than “Vote Democrat”, they emphasized “Vote for Change”, a tag line that excluded far fewer potential voters.  When framing a campaign to raise awareness, sticking to the issues and resisting the urge to paint yourself in one camp or another is a valuable tool for reaching across to people who might not share all of your views, but who are passionate about an issue that you are too.

Also, the campaign made excellent use of people’s strengths, asking them to donate whatever they could, and allowing them to contribute in the best way the knew.  This meant that rather than a shy computer genius signing up and getting told to go hit the streets and talk to people, they were encouraged to do what they knew best… design a computer interface that allowed for easier donations, in this example.  Campaign benefits, and the volunteers feels that their talents were put to good use toward a real contribution without trying to pound square pegs into round holes.  Being mindful of people’s preferences is very important, especially in a situation in which you depend on volunteerism to complete your goals. That being said, I was asked if I wanted to hit the streets on election day, and though it wasn’t something that would generally appeal to me, I found the experience so uplifting, I can’t wait to do it again.  But the fact that it wasn’t shoved down my throat had a lot to do with that.

On another level but related, the Obama campaign made use of people’s existing resources in a way that most previous presidential bids have not.  In the past, volunteers would show up at a call center with all the resources needed to promote the cause, assigned, and then controlled centrally from this point.  This year, people organized home calling parties, a la MoveOn.org’s movie watching parties, and left it to participants to bring laptops, cellphones, and other necessary equipment to make the calls.  This was accomplished through good use of an internet hub, the Obama website, which allowed volunteers to access necessary information in one spot from anywhere.  They also gave each volunteer a blog to share their experiences with one another.  So if you had a sudden urge to call people at 9am Saturday morning, you could log on, find a list of people in swing states who needed to be called, and do that from the comfort of your own home.  Brilliant.  Careful planning of the central hub allowed for a diverse and decentralized force of volunteers to stay organized.  And by using people’s inherent talents, Obama was able to recruit a young and diverse set of talents to his cause, ending up with an iconic poster by one of my favorite artists, Shepard Fairey, a 26 year old speech writer who had everyone crying on election night, a social media campaign designed by one of the top dogs at Facebook, and a legion of dedicated campaigners who’d never even considered getting involved before.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the campaign strongly emphasized a “no drama, vote for Obama” ethos that carried through to the volunteer level.  Volunteers and campaign workers were there for one thing only, to help Obama win, and they managed to avoid most of the infighting that is usually associated with political campaigns.  By running things like a business, keeping to set goals and the fulfillment thereof, personal differences became less and less important.  After all, if you and your buddy both care about composting but disagree strongly on, for example, the benefits vs. risks of offshore drilling, there’s no reason to hamper your home composting conference with discussion of drilling when you are trying to teach 100 people how to set up a worm compost bin.  Stay to the stated goals, accomplish them, then set new, loftier goals!

This was a historic campaign in every sense of the word, and I’m sure the coming weeks will see many more positive strategies identified as routes to Obama’s great success.  Me, I’ll be kicking back and letting my feet rest a little from all that walking, and thinking about ways that I can use those same lessons from above to make Solarious the best resource ever for people trying to escape the trappings of on-grid living. To everyone who voted last week for either candidate, I heartily salute you for taking an active part in shaping the future of American politics.  After all, changes don’t make themselves, and true democracy depends on its constituents to frame the dialogues that will guide its elected leaders.

Now that election season is over, I’ll have more time again to post here, so check back for upcoming profiles of some amazing companies who are taking green living to the next level.  Because in today’s marketplace, you vote just as strongly with your pocketbook as your ballot.  We can, we did!

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