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The Patriot's Guide To The Revolution


The Patriot's Guide To The Revolution
Adam Sparks, Special to SF Gate
Monday, May 17, 2004
©2004 SF Gate

"To preserve the peace of our fellow citizens, promote their prosperity and happiness, reunite opinion, cultivate a spirit of candor, moderation, charity and forbearance toward one another, are objects calling for the efforts and sacrifices of every good man and patriot."
-- Thomas Jefferson

Most Americans would universally agree with Jefferson's definition of a patriot. In addition, most actually think of themselves as patriotic, although, frequently, the form of action patriotism takes is quite different from one U.S. citizen to another.

With support for the occupation in Iraq at an all-time low, many Democrats are asking, "Why isn't John Kerry 20 points ahead of Bush in the polls, instead of in a dead heat?" The two-party system may not meaningfully express the wide range of political aspirations of the people. Disenchantment is widespread. There are as many conservatives disappointed by and angry about President Bush's policies on deficits, outsourcing of jobs and the huge expansion of the federal government as there are progressives annoyed by Kerry's support of the war in Iraq and his ambivalence about same-sex marriage.

Increasingly, voters are leaving both parties in droves to become independents. Others, in part out of desperation, are giving another look to the many underreported issues raised by presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who until recently was considered merely a spoiler for the Democrats.

Americans are increasingly feeling that politics is getting more remote. The big-money TV buys that dominate presidential campaigns are a far cry from the retail politics of a New Hampshire or an Iowa, where every coffee shop and bingo parlor in the state has been visited repeatedly by every presidential aspirant. But, to many, even those events are merely photo ops. The voters are often struck by the relentless feeling of disenfranchisement wrought by the onslaught of TV-sound-bite politics.

Even the alleged watchdog media apparently speaks in a unified voice. And why not, when six global corporations control more than half of all mass media -- newspapers, magazines, books, radio and television -- in our country? Gone are the days of independent investigative reporters. Now, the papers all read as though the articles are all from the same wire stories and corporate press releases.

How else can you explain the media's near-unanimous sense of moral outrage over America's prison-abuse excesses, demanding immediate courts-martial and the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld? Yet the same media wanted a go-slow approach and showed little or no outrage over Saddam's far more heinous war crimes and his notoriously brutal torture chambers. The major distinction missed by much of the media is that torture is for us not a state policy but an aberration, unlike as for much of the Middle East.

A Patriot's Guide to Political Activism

The din is deafening. How does a small group of individuals effectively gain a voice anymore that rises above the noise?

How is it possible that a million mothers can march on Washington and just a scant few of the political elite bother to take notice? It happened because they marched when Congress was out of session. There are ways, however, for a few patriots or even an individual to take up Jefferson's call and make a difference.

Get Involved with Your Local Political Party: Regardless of which party you belong to, it needs your assistance in registering new voters. It could use help with phone banking at election time, and it never has enough volunteers throughout the year. In California, local party leaders are elected. If your party isn't cutting the mustard, run for a seat on the County Central Committee, the local steering body of your party. Call your local county-elections officials to find out what it takes to run. The process is painless, and, in most communities, you can become an elected official without spending more than $100.

Put the "Party" back in the Party: Throwing a party or get-together at your house is a great way of connecting with people. Small house parties are a great way to meet and support local candidates and connect with like-minded community members.

Start an Issues-Oriented Committee: Start with only five friends, and you could form a powerful group. If, for example, your group is interested in preserving after-school sports programs, start networking with other parent groups, plus schoolteachers and counselors. Pretty soon, you'll need an auditorium to hold your meetings.

Check out is the Web site that put Howard Dean on the map and got him rolling in the chips. He collected tens of millions of dollars a month in campaign funds, and it all started with a simple grassroots group facilitated by

It was Will Rogers who famously said, "I don't belong to any organized party. I'm a Democrat." In fact, if group-membership figures on the Web site are any reasonable indication, the Democrats are far better organized than the Republicans. A liberal grassroots group called Democracy for America has 165,000 activist members on, compared to only 24,000 members of, a conservative organization. Similarly the Democratic Party has 52,000 members, compared to a measly 7,700 Republican members on the site.

There are already thousands of groups you can join online; most already meet in a community near you. If they don't, makes it easy for you to get a local group organized. Or, if you don't see an organization that interests you, it enables you to begin one. I just joined an East Bay conservative group, and I'm so happy now that I no longer have to just talk to the wall.

Triangulate: Once you've got your group going, it's a powerful political strategy to triangulate. Create three venues for activism that complement, reinforce and overlap each other. The basics: gatherings of people, media and the Internet.

Build a Media-Friendly Network: For example, if you know of a sympathetic talk-show host, columnist, editor or reporter who cares about your issues, keep him or her in the loop. Develop media contacts. Pretty soon, when you have a big event planned, you may get the publicity you seek. For example, major urban newspapers gave all the details of recent peace marches before they occurred.

Create a Web site: Once you've got your group meeting in a physical location, you'll need a place for them to gather between meetings. A Web site will fill that need and attract new members.

Know Your Enemy: If you just stick around with your own like-minded group, you'll grow stale. Understanding the opposition is basic to learning how to defeat it. To understand the thinking of your opponents is the most fundamental and ancient form of espionage. In this case, read their Web sites and their newspapers and listen to their speakers. If you're conservative, watch CNN, ABC, NBC or CBS for the liberal spin, or listen to NPR or the Pacifica radio stations; you may need a barf bag, but do it. If you're a liberal, watch the Fox News TV network, or, on radio, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. It may drive you insane -- if you weren't already before you began listening.

Don't Write to Your Congressional Representatives -- Visit Them: Most mail to members of Congress gets tossed straight into the recycling bin. If you're lucky, an aide might count your letter as one of thousands before it's discarded. But don't hold your breath about the possibility that your thoughtfully written letter will even become a statistic.

Members of Congress always say they want to hear from the little people, but they don't. Set up meetings to get in front of their faces. Find out when Congress or the Legislature has its recess. You can then often find your representative in his or her home office. Make an appointment, and then get your group or your issues group to go together. Make your group sound big and important. After all, to you, it is big and important.

Bypass the Media: The media loves to point figures and dish out criticism, but, believe me, they can't take it. The media folks have big egos and thin skins. If a column or news story is inaccurate, or if another major story is simply not getting covered, you can do several things. First, complain; if it's a big newspaper, it might have a reader's representative. Lay out your grievance to the rep clearly. If he or she finds merit in your argument, the rep will make sure your side gets heard. Or, if the paper has no reader rep, take your beef directly to the reporter or an editor.

Also, if you have a unique perspective -- for example, you're a retired colonel and the local military base in your community is closing -- consider writing a guest column. Editors are always looking for guest columnists, and, if you have any expertise or specialized knowledge, you're ahead of the game. Editors seek out intelligent writers, and your column will be prominently read on the opinion pages.

If you think the media is too liberal, you're not alone; check out and join Accuracy in Media or the Media Research Center. If you think it's too conservative, look up Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting or Common Dreams.

Phone Talk-Show Hosts: This is probably the most satisfying of all the instant-gratification media strategies. You get to say what you wish, immediately and unedited. It's exciting, and your viewpoint can reach tens of thousands of minds instantly.

Better yet, if you've got an issue, arrange an expert in the subject to appear on the program as a guest. Call the talk-show host's producer.

Run for Office: In many communities, some elected offices don't require much money for anyone to be a competitive candidate. There are races for school boards, water boards, transportation districts, community-college boards, sanitary districts and so on that control many millions of dollars and can be effective platforms to help you articulate your unique perspective. Check with your local elections official to find out what offices are being contested and what the qualifications are for candidacy.

Support Candidates Who Share Your Stands on Issues: If you don't have the guts, the will power, the interest or the time to run, support candidates who do. Write checks, compose letters to the editor, host coffees in your home and volunteer for campaigns.

Start Your Own Revolution: Several years ago, the City had to cut back the number of police officers in order to finance burgeoning social programs, including health care for the expanding indigent and immigrant population.

A friend of mine decided to do something about it: He single-handedly organized a petition drive to require a minimum number of officers in the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD). Eventually, the proposition, known as the Full Force Initiative, got on the ballot and passed. Now, the SFPD has a minimum staffing level. It's amazing that, even in liberal San Francisco, an initiative like that could pass. Apparently, even liberals don't want their heads split open by a thief in the night.

Join and Support a Big, Established Organization: Joining a group that already is taking its fight to the streets is a big plus. If you're so angry that you don't want to sit there and take it anymore, don't. If you're for property rights, consider supporting groups such as the Pacific Legal Foundation, or, for taxpayers' rights, consider the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

If you're for protecting the legal rights of prisoners locked up at Guantánamo Bay, join the ACLU or if you're against the war in Iraq, check out If you want the conservative spin, log on to or Freerepublic.

If you want to be politically successful, have a plan and carry it out. It can be as complex or as simple as you want; simplicity is sometimes better. It was inventor and genius Thomas Edison who once opined that success is "10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration." That may sound like a bit too much commitment and a lot of work for the novice getting involved in politics, but it was comedian Woody Allen who morphed Edison's timeless wisdom with the opinion that "90 percent of success is just showing up." They're both right.

Adam Sparks is a San Francisco writer. He can be reached at

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