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Teaching Political Advocacy

For the past two years, I have taught a class on Political Advocacy and
Activism at UCLA, designed to help students become more effective citizens.
The first year, there were 39 students; last year, there were 85.

Each student worked on a cause of their choosing, either individually or in a small group. The causes concerned a wide range of topics, including:

-organizing anti-globalization demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention

-protesting Starbucks' use of exploitative imagery in its advertising

-supporting school vouchers

-lobbying for the legalization of safe needle exchanges

-campaigning for a school bond measure in Santa Maria, California

-organizing a Student Tenant Union in Westwood

-opposing the proliferation of SUVs

-supporting democratization in Iran

-creating an exhibit on the Armenian genocide at the Museum of Tolerance

-reducing media violence

-raising money for the Orangutan Foundation

-ending the abuse of handicapped parking permits at UCLA

-limiting noise pollution on campus

The following books were assigned for the course:

-Christopher Matthews, HARDBALL: HOW POLITICS IS PLAYED

-Saul Alinsky, RULES FOR RADICALS

-Donald DeKeiffer, A CITIZEN'S GUIDE TO LOBBYING CONGRESS

-Center for Public Integrity, CITIZEN MUCKRAKING

-John Mutz and Katherine Murray, FUNDRAISING FOR DUMMIES

The course considered the following topics:

POLITICAL STRATEGY
-How to Win Friends and Influence People
-Hardball
-building coalitions

WRITING
-grammar and composition
-writing letters to the editor
-writing to elected officials
-press releases
-op-eds
-book proposals
-advocacy journalism

FUNDRAISING
-writing fundraising letters
-grantwriting
-finding potential donors
-fundraising methods

GUERRILLA ACTION
-staging media events
-protests and demonstrations
-sit-ins
-Rules for Radicals

PUBLICITY
-getting on radio and television
-performing on radio and television
-holding press conferences
-pitching stories

POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS
-running for office
-campaign strategy
-campaign organization

CLASS ACTION LAWSUITS
-requirements
-success stories

LOBBYING
-scheduling the blitz
-interpersonal communication

THE INTERNET
-web site development
-web site promotion
-list-serves

FORMING AN ORGANIZATION
-incorporation
-501c3 status
-board of directors

Class sessions consisted of my own lectures, student presentations, and guest speakers. Over the two years, guest speakers included the executive
director of the California Libertarian Party, a field organizer for the California Public Interest Research Group, two professional fundraisers, an East Los Angeles community organizer, a computer consultant, an attorney associated with the ACLU, and a candidate for the San Diego city council.

There were no exams for the course. Instead, students were required to submit a portfolio, consisting of:

-an analysis of all five assigned books

-all project work (such as correspondence, notes, photographs,and petitions)

-a press release

-a newspaper op-ed

-a fundraising letter

-evidence of "guerrilla action"

-a discussion of future plans for the cause

A number of groups achieved some success. The hate crimes group convinced the UCLA administration to enact a hate crimes code (by one-on-one lobbying, hosting a public forum, conducting a petition drive, and writing
op-eds for the UCLA DAILY BRUIN). Students Against Parking Abuse persuaded the UCLA administration to place signs above handicapped parking space concerning penalties for improper use. The school voucher advocate got an op-ed published in the LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS. The Student Tenant Union held a widely-attended meeting on campus. The two members of the Santa Maria Alliance for Public Schools appeared on live television to promote their cause. Noise Free UCLA extracted a number of concessions from UCLA officials.

Several years ago, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam wrote BOWLING ALONE, in which he argued that most Americans have little involvement in civic life. Fewer citizens are voting, fewer people know their neighbors, and fewer residents are joining community groups. Fewer Americans feel that they can influence public policy.

One way to reverse this trend would be for schools to offer courses on the pragmatics of political activism. One person can make a difference--IF they know what they're doing.

Published in Hopedance, September 2001

 

 
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