The general public supports the efforts of hard-working entrepreneurs who are simply trying to earn an honest living and achieve their own American Dream. But more often than not, when the public has no direct self-interest at stake, they will be unaware of your fight and unlikely to take action—unless you bring it to their attention and explain the important principles that are at stake, which do directly impact their daily lives.
In the end, this may all come down to numbers. Which side has more people calling city council or the state legislature voicing their support for or opposition to the proposal? Who has spoken the loudest?
That is why it is so important to get the public engaged and involved. As we have discussed earlier, always remember to meet people where they are at. Use a message that resonates, that you have honed through this guide’s section on media. Here are some different tools that you can use to help raise public awareness:
A simple, eye-catching flyer is the first thing your organization should create. The core team can distribute these to the general public and provide coalition allies with stacks to distribute to their members. Hand these out at every possible opportunity. Give them to supportive local businesses to keep at their cash registers. Distribute them at events or from your own business. Go door-to-door. The flyer does not need to be sophisticated to be impactful. Limit the amount of text that you include on the flyer. You don’t want to overwhelm your audience with too much information. Stick to the basic facts. Your call to action should be the boldest text on the flyer. Include your logo and your organization’s website and social media information.
These are smaller, more expensive versions of the flyers described above. However, they are more eye-catching and easier to distribute, especially if you plan to do a mailing. These should have even less information on them than the flyers, and they should prominently display your organization’s website URL.
If you are thinking about spreading a petition, you should first explore the reasons a petition can be used. You may have only one chance to gather a large number of signatures, so you need to have a specific goal in mind. If it’s possible to start a local initiative or referendum in your community by gathering petition signatures, be sure your petition meets all legal requirements and specifications. You’ll probably need to talk with an election attorney to be certain. Where an initiative or referendum is not possible, petitions can serve as a conversation starter—a vehicle to raise awareness, explain the local situation and, most importantly, recruit supporters and capture their contact information. It is important to note that other than getting initiatives and referenda on the ballot, petitions generally do not have legal status.
If you do decide to start a petition outside the initiative or referendum context, it should have a short statement that supports your mission. There should be a space for people to provide their name, city and e-mail address or phone number. Again, while this kind of petition does not have legal status, it can give you a sense of public sentiment, garner media attention and possibly give politicians some pause. If you get a lot of signatures for your petition, be sure to introduce it into the record at one of the public meetings and give copies to the government officials who will be voting. And, of course, send it to the media.
There are third-party websites like change.org that allow you to create an online petition free of charge. Change.org is not necessarily a good tool for creating effective petitions in the traditional sense, but it does a good job of engaging would-be supporters of a cause because it’s a low-cost way for people to become involved. If your signatory numbers are high, you can publicize that support through your media efforts.
Website and social media
As mentioned above, list your web links on anything and everything you have made: t-shirts, flyers, postcards, balloons, stickers, bumper stickers, etc.
Hang signs (where legal)
Always make sure you’re obeying the law when hanging signs on public and private property. You might post flyers on bulletin boards at grocery stores, staple them to trees, or tape them to light posts and at bus stops—canvas wherever you are allowed to.
Use current members to invite others
Ask each current member to recruit one or two additional supporters to come to your next meeting, or ask them to sign up their neighbors on your petition or website. Your numbers will grow exponentially.
Don’t make prospective members come to you—go to them
Attend other group meetings, fairs and festivals, and where appropriate, distribute flyers and free giveaways with your organization’s website on them.
Sometimes it takes bootstraps grassroots activism to get the job done. Get your walking shoes on and hit the streets with some literature and a sign-up form. You can order door hangers online that you can print on a regular printer. These have one or two sentences about your fight and your contact information.
Don’t underestimate the value of individual one-on-one recruitment. The investment you spend developing a relationship with one activist could end up having more value than a cursory conversation you had with ten.
More public recruitment strategies are listed below under “Make Noise.” However you recruit, always make sure to promptly follow-up, and sincerely thank your new friends for their support.