How to Train a Bird-Dog — New Hampshire Peace Action
Introductions (5-10 min)
Current Political Landscape (5Min)
Define Bird Dogging and why it is Important (5 Min)
- A bird dog’s job in hunting, is to find hiding birds, and scare them into flight, or “flush them out” so that they are in the open and vulnerable. Similarly, a political bird-dog forces candidates out into the open, and exposes their stance on issues.
- Bird-Dogging should be employed on both parties, and all candidates, it serves three distinct purposes.
- Educate the Public: Bird-Dogging gives activists a public stage- frequently the media is present at candidate events, and at the very least, there will be a group of people listening to the candidate. When you ask a question, you can include facts that some of those folks don’t know, and you can challenge them to think about the issue in a new light. The right question to the right candidate can make national news: EG: NH Peace Action volunteer bird-dog Dave Tiffany asked presidential candidate John McCain the question that elicited his statement that he wanted to keep troops in Iraq for another hundred years.
- Educate the Candidate: You will have the ear of a potential future decision maker; maybe you can tell them something they don’t already know.
- Make Candidates articulate their position: Good politicians are masters of rhetoric, but never actually say where they stand on an issue, form questions that are specific enough to force a yes or no, and politicians have to take a stand.
How to Get a Chance to Ask a Question (5-10 Minutes)
- Arrive Early, and sit close to the candidate
- Look like a supporter: dress up how you imagine a supporter might dress
- Have your hand up first: when it sounds like the candidate is wrapping up their stump speech, and about to take questions, get your hand in the air, fast movement catches eyes, and the first hand up almost always gets called
- Smile: throughout the presentation, stare adoringly, and smile; candidates pick up on body language and facial expressions, and will intentionally pick folks they think are friendly to their positions
- Don’t give up: Every candidate has to leave, if you don’t get a chance to ask your question, position yourself along their egress, and shake their hand. Don’t let go of that hand until you have asked your question, walk them to their car holding their hand if you have to.
Role Play One: Street walk (15 Minutes)
Without preparation, have the group stand up, and move to an open area, give them a basic candidate briefing (EG: My name is George Haddock, I am running as a republican, and associate with the Tea Party. My key issues are taxation and cutting domestic spending)
Trainer is a candidate, and he/she is walking down Main Street. Have each person shake the candidate’s hand. The candidate will keep it brief if possible, and dodge taking a position on any given issue.
After the candidate has shaken everyone’s hand; break character and talk about what questions if any were asked, and how the candidate responded; now take a few minutes to write down a question. Repeat the exercise now that everyone has prepared to meet the candidate.
Break down and analyze the effectiveness of different questions, have the group cross critique.
Handout and Discussion: How to Bird Dog: the 12 Steps of Bird Dogging (10 Min) Courtesy of NH Citizens Alliance for Action
Role Play Two: Town Hall (15 Minutes)
Give a few moments to prepare questions, then go back into role play, where facilitator is playing role of candidate; afterwards critique.
- Were hands up quickly?
- Did participants smile?
- Were questions specific?
- Did they have too much or too little preface and framing?
- How did the way the question was frame affect the way the candidate responded?
- How would adjust your approach to asking a question based on the form (event, coffee shop, radio talk show, town meeting, street, house party)
- How would you adjust your approach based on the candidate’s views?
- How would you anticipate bird-dogging would change over the course of the campaign?
Coordinating a Bird Dog Campaign
Some tips for coordinating:
- Always go in with a partner; but don’t stand together, you don’t want to be easily identifiable, and if you are split up, you are more likely to have one of you get called on.
- Report back to whoever you are working with, this way you can adjust your questions to account for what the candidate said last time, and keep a central record of progress.