It’s time to sit down and have a little talk. There’s a few things that are becoming apparent as I’ve watched the reaction to Parkland. One is that Bloomberg’s game has been much better organized and more focused than it was after Sandy Hook. My impression then was that the gun control movement was poorly prepared and organized. Bloomberg was still mucking about with Illegal Mayors, and the Brady organization was flat broke and not really ready. The White House hadn’t yet spent much time on gun control, and Sandy Hook was the pretext that got them started. That has not been the case this time. They’ve learned a lot, they were much better prepared, and they executed on their strategy very effectively.
NRA used to be an organization that was good at grass roots organizing. I have participated in some of those efforts as a volunteer coordinator over several campaigns. I stopped in frustration, because we could never recruit any volunteers to coordinate. It was always just Bitter and me. Back then, I thought they were my deficiencies; maybe I didn’t have the touch. There were some volunteer coordinators who are pretty successful. But since then, I’ve learned I can be an effective organizer of volunteers. The chief problem was that I didn’t have enough local connections to be effective. The other thing I learned is that people did not recognize NRA as an organization that they are or should be directly involved with. We might like to say “I’m the NRA,” but I’m not sure that’s really ringing true for a lot of people these days. NRA is an organization that sends them a magazine and asks them for money. A lot of members might agree that NRA is important, and that why they maintain their memberships, but they are more in the role of passive consumers of what NRA is offering.
That has to change. We must turn them into active participants. NRA will not accomplish that by continuing to encourage members to passively consume more Ack-Mac-generated Angry Dana videos. I worry that in another few years of planning and learning from prior mistakes, when Bloomberg et al get their next pretext, the dam is going to break. It may have broken already; this is all still playing out. We can lament that Bloomberg has been more effective this time because he’s hiring professional organizers who know how to work with a small number of dedicated activists, or we can beat him at this game by upping our game.
This past weekend, I organized a mailing of more than 200 letters to local lawmakers from members of my club. We came up with templates people could start with. We were ready to look up lawmakers for members, and had a bunch of envelopes, pre-printed address labels, and stamps. I offered work time (which applies against dues) to members who participated. The response was pretty good. We are an NRA Gold Star club. How many other clubs out there would like to do something, but don’t quite know what to do? How many other clubs or shooting outfits view NRA as some far off organization they don’t really know or interact with?
Grassroots activism is hard. It’s a lot harder than paying Ack-Mac to make another series of angry videos. But effective organizing takes more than feeding people’s anger. You have to effectively turn that anger into something useful and positive. For that, there is no substitute for face-to-face local contact. NRA doesn’t seem to do a whole hell of a lot of that outside the Friends of NRA program.
I would strongly encourage NRA to focus on a few areas:
- More outreach to NRA affiliated organizations, specifically for the purpose of training people how to be effective. But less specifically to get face time with members. Doesn’t have to be top people. Could be Board members. Could be local volunteers.
- A lot of clubs and shooting organizations need help with technology. NRA could be a lot of help with this. Technology facilitates communication. I could never have organized the letter writing campaign with the technology we had even two years ago. I was only able to do that because I put a framework in place to facilitate it. It was a lot of work, but paid off. What I’m lacking is the ability to communicate with other area clubs. I’m slowly building that, but that’s a harder problem. Again, NRA could do a lot to be a facilitator to get local organizations talking to each other. Sometimes being an outside organization can be an advantage, and this is one of those times.
- People need to have politics explained to them. Most people don’t understand the political process. They need to see and understand how their action fits in. I was recently reminded of a passage from a leftist organizer: “Power tends to appear magical to those who have less of it, and mechanical to those who are accustomed to wielding it instrumentally.” The article continues: “Itâ€™s not magical kids, and itâ€™s not George Soros sprinkling money around. Itâ€™s hard work by people whoâ€™ve trained to do it.” When the balloon goes up, our people have to know what to expect, and be able to spring into action. We’re very good at self-organizing, but some people will need it spelled out a bit more than others. You don’t want to lose because you’re only depending on self-starters. In my experience, self-starters are rare, and they are getting rarer in the younger generations.
We have a lot more people at our disposal, and unlike their people, ours have a lot to lose. They will have to pay people to organize their small cadre. We should require far fewer paid professionals. But the work nevertheless has to be done, and it’s something that can’t be accomplished with a membership accustomed to passively consuming content. NRA needs to spend more time getting out there among the people, and most importantly educating them, and offering the tools they need to be successful.