The Big Picture
Forming a Political Machine
Our Initial Goal is to find the Doers and get them started building the political machine to make it all happen. A handful of people canít do it. It takes many, each doing their part in a well-organized system, to succeed. There is no pay for these volunteers, but thanks for a job well done, and the gains they see from having invested their own time, energy and hope. If they donít contribute something of themselves to the forward progress, they are in the way for the rest. If they do invest of themselves in the project, they want it to succeed all the more, and are more likely to invest still further, because it has become their project.
Getting the word out is secondary. It still has a value because it helps find the Doers we need. If people donít want to help, or are fence sitters, we thank them for their interest and tell them to watch what happens.
Voting is the Bottom Line
The vote is not an intellectual one, despite the rhetoric. Only a small percentage evaluate the details. Tenants as a group do not vote in significant numbers, which is why laws donít favor them.
The publicís vote is emotional. Framing the mind picture, the issue to be decided, is what makes the difference. Since we are the ones raising the issue, we get to frame it.
Jumping out with a petition for rent control is political suicide; our City is not ready. Tenants may want a quick fix, but their energy is better directed to City Council. We can proceed incrementally, from the least resistance issues, like City Council enforcement of housing codes, through slumlording, unfair evictions, and senior housing, before tackling those we know there is great resistance to. At each stage, our volunteers see the progress. The politicians see their public support, and gage how strongly they can or need to come out on the next issue. If the landlords have already been identified with slumlording and brutal eviction practices, they donít enjoy public support in later campaigns.
Tenants do not see themselves as a political group, nor do they believe that their voice makes a difference. That has to change. They do not know or identify with their neighbor. They perceive their rental problems as their own, not as part of a large scale pattern. Organization within a problem building is our stepping stone. If tenants feel empowered, particularly acting as a group, the tenant voting block solidifies.
Council Seats vs. Ballot Initiative
Getting a sympathetic majority of the City Council members elected is the easiest course, in our City.
Out of ________ voters, it takes only _______ votes to win a seat [plurality vote = highest vote-getters win]. In contrast, it takes more than ______ votes to win a ballot measure.
Moreover, in a ballot measure, the Statewide landlord money comes in to bombard the voters with scare tactic propaganda, billboards, and whatever it takes to defeat the tenants. That kind of energy canít be directed against disbursed candidates who have acceptable positions on other issues.
In municipal elections, if the tenants represent a significant block vote, candidates vying for top position will be compelled to endorse our position, or surrender all those votes to their competition. Incumbents trying to stay in office have to take a position, too, with the same results, but also have to show that they DID something for the tenants which justifies their re-election. The total effect is a broad spectrum endorsement for tenantsí rights, making the issue a mainstream, and not radical, idea whose time has come.
Dealing with Diversity
Tenants who want to work in this project had something motivate them, something that upset them so much that they will now spend some of their free time getting even. It may have been a huge rent increase, a landlordís refusal to provide heat, a malicious resident manager, unfair or unequally applied rules, or any variety of issues. When they join us, they want to solve that problem which motivated them, not necessarily the one weíre focusing on at the moment. We need to tap and direct that energy, not discourage or frustrate it. They will be there when we need them.
Good Cop, Bad Cop
Even though rent control may not be the groupís immediate goal, there will be those who want to get it now, and start circulating petitions for rent control today. There is a lot of benefit in that effort. The process takes on a Good Cop, Bad Cop [the common interrogation tactic] flavor.
A rent control movement is newsworthy, and that would help inform the tenants that something is afoot. Gathering their signatures, telephone, and e-mail would help the entire causes, particularly with sharing of those lists. Rent control presents an extreme picture that causes the landlords to spend all their time and money fighting them, instead of the moderate picture. Rent control makes the moderate position a far more acceptable package for the politicians to accept. Politicians can push through something for the tenants that is less extreme, and not alienate all tenants by being against rent control.
Dissension from Within
There will undoubtedly be "spies" for the landlord infiltrating the organization. There is no way to stop it at entry levels, since we rely on volunteer help. Their goal is to get access to inside information to share with the landlords, and create dissension within the group. People who want to join right away and handle things like our database, and attend the main organizational meetings, are warning signs. They can be given a minor task first, and see how they handle it, particularly one calling for disclosure of landlord information.
As for the group dissension, whether spy-induced or otherwise, it comes from the extremes. Either someone appears who is so radical and obnoxious that it turns off the good workers, who think this person is what weíre all about, or it is naysayer, who says this is all a waste of time or that we have no right picking on landlords. Surgical removal from the group is the prognosis. For the radical, he/she should be public told that they are too far off from what we are doing, and should look for a or form a group that believes the same way. For the naysayer, the question is "Then why do you come here? Weíre trying to get something done! Stay home and watch us on TV."
If someone is not carrying their load, or doing what they offered to do, they are more hindrance than help, because it takes too much time to supervise them and correct their mistakes. They need a much simpler task or just be politely asked to wait until we have a new project to do.
In meetings, good minds will differ, and that is benefit. From the debate, the best idea and a consensus emerges. No oneís ideas should be characterized as stupid, and people should not be shouted-down or belittled because of their point of view. Everyone should be thanked for their input, politely. Controversial issues should be recognized and sent to an ad hoc committee composed of those involved in the debate and some leaders, and removed from the main debate floor. The main group should be advised that this is obviously a more complicated issue that needs focused attention, and we have more to discuss. Have the committee give a majority and minority report, fairly representing both views, and the results can be read to the main group. That avoids dissension among the members and the potentially negative event of an unpleasant scene at the main meeting.
Anybody can criticize, but few can propose realistic solutions. "Letís have some ideas about how we can do something positive about this problem." always calms them down, because they have to think, not just feel. They also donít want to risk having a poorly received or failed plan.