By Ned Sullivan
Whether it's a local or statewide issue, voter initiatives present important opportunities to exercise your democratic rights and to advance your green agenda.
We just won a significant vote in my Hudson Valley town of Red Hook. We gained approval to create a fund to protect farmland and water supplies and to create ballfields for our kids. In a town of 10,000, the ballot measure passed by only 31 votes. National and local real estate brokers mounted a campaign against the one-time, buyer-paid, closing fee on homes priced above the median. They branded the initiative a tax and scared seniors on fixed incomes into thinking it would drive them out of house and home. The elements of our successful campaign may be useful to you in gaining approval for an open-space bond issue or electing local representatives who favor thoughtfully planned growth over sprawling, carbon-polluting developments in your community:
- Neighbor-to-neighbor contact is the most powerful tool to win a local green campaign. I spent several weekends going door-to-door and explaining the referendum my neighbors. Hostile eyes turned friendly when people realized I lived just up the street. Don't spend time debating with people who have made up their minds. Thank them for their time and move on to the majority on the fence who may be persuaded by the important details that you can explain in person. Don't forget to sincerely ask people to vote to support your issue.
- Direct mail is effective if it emphasizes a few key themes that appeal to voters. An investment in a public opinion poll can help you zero in on a winning message. Strong graphics that convey your message in a glance to busy people are a plus. Emphasize the economic, as well as environmental benefits of your initiative. People respond to pocketbook issues more than environmental themes. We sent a half-dozen pieces touting the same three messages in the weeks leading up to election day.
- Nothing is more important than voter turnout. Door-to-door canvassing and phone calls to voters can help you determine who is on your side so you can mobilize them on election day. Do whatever it takes to get your supporters to go to the polls, such as offering rides to seniors and making sure they know the correct polling place. Votes that coincide with the general election are better than single-issue special elections that tend to draw out more fervent opponents than supporters.
So if you have an important green cause, take it to the people. If you're well-organized and communicate effectively, you can win. That is what it takes to protect your back yard and to help turn the tide on global climate change.