Organizing in Your Community
Building a Local Team
Below you will find helpful tips on organizing a local meeting in your community or Congressional District as well as key campaign areas for your group to focus on. These are suggestions that will help you, especially when you are starting a new group or one that needs to revitalize itself. Establish regular monthly meetings with your team to support and coordinate your efforts. To establish a team, you might consider hosting a house party for friends, family, colleagues, other local peace activists, etc., to build interest in working with you. You can find a House Party Handbook on our website with tips on getting support.
Please also visit our Action Teams Page, to get started!
For local Meetings, Always remember to bring:
Congressional Contact Information: Bring all your Congress members contact information to each meeting, this includes phone numbers and addresses. If you have more than one congressional district in your area, please bring information for all. This includes your two Congressional Senators and any appropriate members of the House of Representatives. You can bring printable maps of the congressional districts for those who may not know. They can be found at: http://nationalatlas.gov/printable/congress.html. Or if you have access to the internet at your meeting, uncertain group members can look up their district on www.congress.org.
Action items: Bring postcards to fill out, or writing paper and envelopes, so that every one can take at least one small action at the end of the meeting. Many District Leaders find it helpful to bring address labels for nearby Congress members for use on the postcards available on the website. Be sure to remind people that their name and address must appear on the correspondence in order to be considered a valid communication by their representative.
Announcements: Be sure and bring any announcements about upcoming events locally and nationally, including conference calls, trainings, fundraisers, conferences, etc. Keep up with our website for news and information. The Action Team Leader is typically the liaison with the state, national and international effort.
The four most important things you can do at your meetings are:
- To inspire one another
- Learn how to speak PASSIONATELY about the cause
- Plan for next action steps (whom you will contact and with what request)
- Track the group’s progress of activities. The Team Leader need not be the person who facilitates every meeting; that responsibility can be shared.
The Group’s facilitator should:
- Plan out the agenda for every meeting in advance.
- Create an outline and suggestions for actions.
- Review the agenda with the group before the meeting starts for additions and comments.
- Debrief: ask people for feedback so your meetings get more useful and exciting.
To start off the meeting, we suggest you begin with some kind of inspirational reading, quote or sharing. Come prepared with a question or two for people to speak about.
At initial meetings, have each person share briefly what is motivating them to be there and to participate in this work. This allows everyone to have a voice in the meeting. One or two minutes for each person should suffice. These questions can be asked often, as people’s motivation will change.
As you explore with your group the main areas of action below, give some time for open, creative ideas from members. Bring a flip chart or a note pad to read back to the group so that everyone gets a chance to be heard and contribute to the groups efforts.
LEARN THE LEGISLATION
Your initial meetings should focus on the legislation/policies. Your group might choose to spend the first half hour reading sections of a bill together and practicing talking about it with each other. Being well-versed in the content of the bill will be critical as you do outreach in your community and with your Congressional offices. We suggest using talking points from the “background section” of our website or your favorite points from the bill itself. We will have suggested talking points posted very soon. It is also good to study and use some of the statistics on violence.
15 minutes of a meeting can be done as a role-playing exercise. One person acts as an interviewer, the other as a speaker. For several minutes, practice speaking about the legislation and when finished, ask for feedback from other group members — or have everyone pair up and practice radio interviews. This will help you prepare. Be sure you ask each other the very questions you hope no one will ask you. Whether talking with groups or individuals, always be aware of your audience. Different people will connect with different elements or different angles of the legislation. Example: for fiscal conservatives, address the fiscal elements of the bill, i.e. the financial impact of violence on our society and how much money can be saved by preventative measures.
Another important document to read together is our Citizenship Primer.
Read our “Laser Talk” Tips to learn how to powerfully speak to our issues.
Key areas to work in as a group
Divide your energies into four main areas of responsibility listed below in order of importance. Let each team report at each meeting and rotate letter writing; one month the House of Representatives, one month for media, next month outreach to speak at events or to get tables for fairs or other local events. Goals should be set for each area, and then activities organized into an annual calendar so you have a plan for the year.
Congressional Liaison: Interacts on behalf of the group with the office of your Member of Congress. If, initially, your team is only you and one other person, this will be the main job. Click here for more details about working with members of Congress .
Outreach/Coalition Coordinator: (If there are two people in the group, this will be the second person’s job.) Set up speaking engagements and/or conversations with key figures at organizations that will be positively affected by the passage of the Youth PROMISE Act and/or Department of Peacebuilding legislation (i.e. juvenile justice coalitions, churches, service clubs, battered women’s shelters, homeless shelters, schools K through 12, universities, conflict resolution programs, etc.). These speaking engagements will create opportunities to meet others that may want to join your local team. The Outreach Coordinator can also coordinate tables at local events that will help get out the word and build interest in your local network.
Another great way to build a team and interest in the cause is to table at local events. Read our tips for tabling.
Media Coordinator: Contact media outlets in your community regarding the Youth PROMISE Act and/or Department of Peacebuilding legislation. The group can regularly submit letters-to-the-editor, and pitch op-ed pieces. Other possibilities include newspaper articles, radio show appearances, television appearances, hosting annual press conferences, and submitting/pitching editorials. See Citizen Action Guide below for media coaching.
Fundraising Coordinator: Create fundraising events and projects to cover the cost of local activities, including the copying of materials, postage, gas, etc. and to host one event or one campaign recruiting monthly donors for the national effort. More detailed tips on fundraising are below. We also have a house party kit on our website.
Have specific members of the group take on a leadership role in each area to assure that work is moving forward as it should be. Group members may work in several areas, but it is important to have one or two people coordinating each area and checking on follow through with commitments made. Be sure people take away from each meeting, specific action steps. Take note of everyone’s agreements. Before the end of each meeting, it is useful for each person to take one small action, in addition to the larger actions the group is planning for, such as: filling out and sending in Youth PROMISE Act/Department of Peacebuilding supportive postcards or letters to Congress members, media, City Councils, County Board of Supervisors, etc.
Create a year-long calendar that will help to keep the larger picture in mind as you are planning and will greatly increase your group’s impact. The calendar can be revised as the year progresses.
- Take time every meeting to review previous action items to see how people are doing.
- When people have not been able to complete a task, they might feel guilt or regret. It is important to help them release whatever is present there so that they can move on. Please be careful not to judge, but to help re-inspire members to participate. Ask them if they would like an extra support call this week/ or month.
- Donations: You may want to pass the hat for any meeting expenses like copies, stamps, materials, etc. We also request that you request your team, and all new members to become a Peace Alliance Partner, what we call our regular monthly donors to The Peace Alliance. You can download our donation form online (or photocopy one from back of this handbook), then send them in to the national office. Monthly AND one-time gifts are welcome.
- Debrief: The only way you can grow and improve as a team is to discuss what would improve things. Review the meeting and check in with everyone about how well the meeting worked for them. Ask for suggestions. Every six months to one year, select a new leader.
OTHER USEFUL TIPS:
- Keep a list of each meeting’s attendees and contact information. We would appreciate if you would ask members if they want to be on the national mailing list and to send that information to the national office.
- Start a local yahoo email list-serve or googlegroup so that members of the group can more effectively communicate between meetings. www.groups.yahoo.com.
- Consider a conference call in the middle of the month to support your action steps between meetings. Visit http://www.freeconference.com to set up free conference calls.
And remember to Have Fun and Be The Movement!!