Earlier this summer, Voter Choice NJ officially launched our local campaign to win ranked-choice voting (RCV) for Jersey City. We’re already off to a strong start: gathering voter signatures, connecting with local organizations, and meeting with elected officials. Here’s a brief how-to on how we launched our Jersey City campaign, and how you can do the same in your town!
Step 1: Set Your Goal
Before starting any campaign, it's critical to know your end game — what does success look like? What specific policy do you want to pass, and what legislative mechanism does it use?
For our campaign in Jersey City, it was more than just ‘win ranked-choice voting’ — we drew up language for an ordinance, clearly defined RCV and how it would work for Jersey City’s various elected positions, and included a ‘trigger’ mechanism that would put a final deciding ballot question to the voters only after the necessary state legislation was passed to legitimize the decision. (State law doesn’t currently permit municipalities to use a system like RCV for their elections, and we’re working to change that. For more on this, read our articles on the legal framework for RCV, and our strategy to win RCV in NJ.) We also decided that introducing the ordinance through ‘citizen initiative’ would provide the most likely route to passage and enable us to build the strong foundation of public support we’d need to win on the ballot.
Step 2: Understand Your Community
Logically, a key component of community organizing is knowing your community: what are the key constituencies, what other organizations/institutions are active, and how will your issue be received? Building a successful campaign means knowing how to reach people of all backgrounds, through both personal and public outreach. It also requires a nuanced understanding of the political landscape — who the decision-makers are, how they feel about your issue, and what messengers can influence their perspective.
Jersey City is a huge, diverse city, organized by a ward system, with community organizations active in each segment of the city. And, critically, there’s already some strong community organizing work being done in the city on other issues (ex: the controversial redistricting of the city’s wards), which means politically active people are already networking with one another. This knowledge was incredibly valuable for us because, in addition to the broad public outreach we were doing via street canvassing or petitioning at events, we could target outreach towards politically engaged residents by tapping into existing networks.
Step 3: Rally Your Core Group
A strong campaign requires a committed group of activists who understand the goal and feel empowered to drive the campaign forward. Of course, we want to build a huge team of active volunteers to sustain the campaign for the long-run. But at the outset, you would be amazed at how much a group of just 3 or 4 committed, well-organized volunteers can accomplish.
Luckily for us, Voter Choice NJ already had a couple JC residents active in our state organization, and through their personal outreach to friends and conversations with local organizations, we were able to build out a small core group. Meeting with your core team, both one-on-one and as a group, is critical to getting everyone bought into the same plan, sharing ideas, and building a bond with the team. In grassroots campaigning, people are always your most valuable resource - no one person knows everything, so when organizing your core team, make sure to ask questions, solicit feedback, and refine your goal and strategy based on the insights that your team has to offer.
Step 4: Organize Your Launch!
Once your core group is assembled and organized around a well thought-out plan, you’re ready to bring your campaign to life! Your campaign launch should be targeted toward a broad audience of people with varying degrees of political involvement and education on the issue. Pull together a clear and compelling presentation on your campaign: what’s the problem, what’s your solution, your goal, and your strategy for reaching that goal. Incorporate a direct volunteer action into the launch event, and (very importantly!) set clear expectations for how your volunteers can engage with the campaign moving forward. Your launch event will build excitement and get new faces in the room, but it takes a good plan and clear action items to keep those new faces involved for the long haul!
We launched our Jersey City RCV campaign on June 12th at the Outlander Gallery in JC. Our event kicked off with a presentation from VCNJ’s Speakers Bureau team (want a trained speaker to present at your event? Request one here) and included a ‘text a friend’ action to help recruit new volunteers for the campaign. We ended with a brief training on how to circulate an initiative petition, and distributed petition signature packets to everyone who attended with a commitment of how many signatures each person would gather.
Since our launch, we’ve grown our team, trained more volunteers to circulate petitions, met with elected officials, and built leadership among our core group by designating point people for council outreach and tracking petition progress. We have a long way to go and thousands more JC residents to talk to, but with a clear goal, core group, and organizing plan, we’ve put ourselves on the road to success.
Are you feeling inspired to organize local action in your town? Let us know so we can help you get started!
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