Sep 2008 KTA: Planning For Power! 2008 Ballot Measure Forums

This month’s Kitchen Table Activism is to make a plan.  A plan?  Isn’t “activism” about doing, not planning?!  Yes, but thoughtful planning can make our activism all the more effective.  And being intentional in organizing your community’s 2008 Ballot Measure Forum will ensure that your local human dignity group has a real impact on Election Day and beyond!

WHY THIS ACTIVITY? Voters are bombarded with information (and misinformation) about candidates.  But are rural Oregonians hearing enough about this November’s confusing ballot measures?  Immigration fairness, teacher compensation, mandatory minimum sentencing… there’s too much at stake to leave our communities’ education up to paid television ads and billboards.  We all want our communities to have access to clear information and sharp analysis on how these measures advance democracy and offer workable solutions to our communities’ problems – or don’t.  A Ballot Measure Forum will educate voters to vote for justice this fall and, perhaps more importantly, energize new volunteers to work with your local human dignity group for social change over the long haul, no matter what happens in November.


  1. Pull together a planning team.  Who could join the team?  Are there new volunteers who have been looking for a way to get more involved?  Or some long-time but less active members passionate about one of the particular issues at stake on this year’s ballot?  Personally, invite a handful of three or four people to plan the forum.
  2. Meet with your planning team to figure out the logistics.  – The following 7 points make a great meeting agenda!
    • Think back to forums that you’ve attended. What worked well that we could borrow? What was not helpful?
    • Who is the forum for?  Preaching to the choir? No way!  Ideally, the Forum will be attended by undecided voters who count on events like these to help them make up their minds on how to vote.  Yet even the most faithful progressives could benefit from such a Forum.  Another target audience: potential new volunteers or members for your local human dignity group!
    • What date, time and location will be most likely to attract your target audience?  Ballots will arrive in our mailboxes on October 17th; do you want to host a ballot forum just after those arrive?  Or would it be more effective to educate your community before then to beat pre-election Get-Out-The-Vote scramble?
    • How will you let your audience know about the forum?  Set your outreach goals and strategies.  (See below).
    • How will you structure the forum?  The more people have the opportunity to participate and talk about the ballot measures, the more likely they are to learn and act.  What’s right for your community? Look below for ideas!
    • How will you inspire action?  After learning about these nasty ballot measures, participants will want to know what they can do to help defeat them.  Bring information about your next event, and offer them a way to get involved!  Maybe it is a neighborhood canvass to distribute ROP’s STAND Voter Guides or a potluck to strategize on post-election plans.  Whatever it is, make sure you have the details ready to share and are signing people up at the forum.
    • Next steps!?  At the end of your team planning meeting, do a go around where everyone says what s/he is going to do before the next meeting to get the forum going and make it a success! This helps everyone remember what they commit to do and is a verbal list of all the amazing work you’ll be doing!Let ROP staff know what you’re planning!  We’d love to attend your forum and/or help facilitate – but we need to know in advance.  Even if we can’t make it in person, we’ll work with your planning team to help design your forum.
  3. GOTW (Get Out The Word)!   Post up flyers around town, send out an e-mail announcement and follow up with personal phone invites.  Mail out a postcard to your group members.  Consider asking friendly groups to cosponsor the forum (like the teacher’ Union!) — this just means that they commit to sending the announcement email, postcard or making turnout calls to their membership. Announce the event at local churches and schools.  Ask local radio stations and newspapers to run an announcement.  And use this as an opportunity to update (or create!) your group’s database!
  4. Hold the forum.   Don’t forget the organizing basics that can help people feel welcome and increase their chances of staying involved beyond the forum:
    • Hand out nametags and pass around a sign-in form (get those emails!).
    • Have food – especially after the forum, so that people stick around, core group leaders can seek out new faces and make a personal introduction.
    • Pass out literature and contact info for your local Human Dignity Group.
  5. Don’t forget the follow up!
    • Update your database and e-mail listserv with all the info from the sign-in sheet.
    • Make phone calls to new faces to thank them for coming and to learn more about them.   See if they have any questions about your group and encourage them to come to your group’s next event.


  • Is this what Democracy looks like?  After familiarizing everyone with the ballot measures, break up into groups of three or four.  The facilitator assigns each group 2 or 3 measures.  For each measure, the group should discuss the following questions: How does the measure promote democracy (or not)?  Is the solution proposed a workable one for our communities? Write down the answers, do a verbal or a visual report back from each group.
  • Story time.  Put together a panel of three or four people (max) from your community whose lives would be personally affected by a ballot measure (e.g. a teacher, a parent of an English Language Learner, etc.).  Ask each of them to share their story, and to reflect on the impact the measure would have in their life.  Have a moderator prepared to summarize the measure’s broader impacts and leave some time for Q&A.
  • Model Electorate.  People just like us will be voting on these measures in just a couple of weeks.  Why not try a practice round?  Prepare “ballots” beforehand and have participants fill them out on the way in the door.  Then, tally up results and incorporate them into the presentation on ballot measures.  For measures that have voters on both sides of the issue, ask for volunteers to describe why they voted one way or the other.  Be sure to emphasize respect of everybody’s opinion!
  • Structured debate.  There are a lot of differing opinions even among progressives.  Work with a couple of individuals who share opposing views on these measures to participate in a structured debate during your Forum.  Choose a moderator and make sure s/he has the chance to talk with the debaters ahead of time and to develop questions that will help clarify what is being asked of voters and put in relief the advantages and disadvantages of each position.
  • Talking the talk.  Hopefully Forum participants will feel prepared to talk about what they’ve learned with their friends, neighbors and coworkers.  But why not give them the chance to practice?  Split off into pairs and brainstorm the most persuasive points that we can use to talk about the issues that are most important to us.  After 10 min, ask groups to share what worked best and what was most difficult in having the conversations.
  • What do you care!?  Quick show of hands or go around to hear which issues (whether on the ballot or not) participants care about most.  Have core leaders take notes on who cares about what so you can follow up with those folks afterwards and invite them to get involved in specific actions.
  • Ballot Box Bingo.  Open up the meeting with a lively game of ballot bingo or trivia, challenging participants to answer questions related to the ballot measure process, voter registration, and/or specific ballot measures.
  • Two heads are better than one (aka: Nobody Knows it All).  Divide participants into groups of 3-4 people and provide them a 1-page overview of the ballot measures.  Give groups about 30 minutes to look over the ballot measures and try to answer each other’s questions regarding the measures.  Be sure that each group has a facilitator present.  After 30 minutes, ask each group to share any questions they were unable to answer.  Invite other groups or facilitators to answer questions.
  • Note card Q&A.  Pass around a 1-page overview of the ballot measures, a note card and a pen to each person in the room.  Give everyone 10 minutes to look over the measures and write down questions about the measures on the note card.  Collect the cards and read them out loud, inviting special panelists or other participants to help answer.