What is birddogging?
"The term "bird-dog" comes from hunting; the bird-dog's job is to flush the birds out of the bushes and into the open. Politicians are like the birds--they try to keep their positions hidden behind vague rhetoric. Using tightly crafted questions, the successful bird-dog forces candidates to reveal their position on an issue." - Move to Amend, Tips for Birddogging Candidates
How can I use this tactic to organize for Medicare for All?
We're asking you to identify your candidates (of all political stripes), show up for their public appearances, and ask them to commit to sign onto single payer legislation (or take additional action if they're already on the bill). And we want their response on video.
With the ubiquity of smartphones, almost anyone can birddog on camera. Then share your video widely - on social media, with local journalists, progressive organizations, and anyone else who can reach your candidate's constituents!
Awesome, how can I get started?
The purpose of this guide is to show you, step by step, everything you need to approach your candidates with a well-drafted question and create a shareable video that will get people in your community talking.
This webinar goes over the how and why of birddogging, including:
- our strategy to win Medicare for All and where the tactic of birdogging belongs
- how to choose a candidate to birddog
- how to craft your question for maximum impact
- how to optimize your chances to talk to the candidate
- case studies, a Q&A session, etc.
Step 1: Planning
- Identify your candidate(s) and their position on single payer.
- Ballotpedia offers a useful tool to find your candidates (it will ask you to enter your email address; you can leave it blank and still get the info).
- Once you know your candidate, see if they say anything about single payer on their campaign website. To find their site, google "(candidate's name) for Congress". You can usually find their healthcare positions under "Issues".
- Check out their H.R. 676 cosponsorship record (Representatives) or their S. 1804 cosponsorship record (Senators)
- Recruit others to birddog with you. Even if you're at a townhall or some other public event where the candidate is expected to take questions, you have no guarantee of being called on. In order to maximize your chances of successful birddogging, bring as many people as you can. At minimum, this is a two-person job.
- One person needs to be a designated videographer - someone with a good phone camera
- Everyone else needs to be ready to ask the same question
- Draft your question with your team.
- Draft one question that everyone will be prepared to ask. It should be about cosponsorship (rather than a general “do you support” question) if they're not already a cosponsor.
- If they are a Democrat but not a cosponsor: your question should be, "Will you cosponsor (the bill)?
- If they are already a cosponsor, you can ask them to take another concrete step beyond sponsorship;
- Ask them to join the Medicare for All Caucus
- Research their campaign donations at fec.gov; ask them to stop taking insurer contributions
- Research when the candidate will be making public appearances and choose a location to birddog. Ways to find their events:
- google search! "Joe Kennedy townhall"
- check their website's calendar, their Facebook page or Twitter account
- call their office
- subscribe to their listserv
- look them up on a 3rd party source like townhallproject.com
Step 2: Execution
- If you're at a townhall, read tips 2-5. If you're hoping to catch your target at an event or outside their office or in some other setting where they won't be taking questions, skip to step 6.
- Arrive early so you can choose where you sit, preferably close to the front
- You’ll need a strategy for the 3 different kinds of question-taking you might encounter:
Attendees raise their hands and the candidates calls on them at random. This is the easiest type to prepare for - just make sure you sit near the front.
"Line Up at the Mic" Style
People are invited to queue up for Q&A. If you see this set up when you enter the forum (usually the mics will be in the aisles, towards the front, or maybe staffers will be holding mics) try to sit close to the mics so you can be ready to jump in there.
Cowardly Write-In Style
The candidate picks and chooses from written questions (usually taken from attendees at the beginning of the session). You don’t have much power here; the best you can do is have multiple people there who can write the same question.
4. The designated cameraperson should sit in a place where they can capture both the birddoggers and the candidate in the same frame (so maybe on the other side of the aisle, if in a seated situation).
5. Once Q&A opens, raise your hands immediately.
Birddogging Without a Captive Legislator
What if your target isn't holding a townhall?
Usually legislators will have a list of events posted on their site or social media - find out where they'll be and show up. It's admittedly more difficult, but just as effective. Again, one person should do the camera, one person should ask the question. Shake their hand, very quickly introduce yourself, and immediately ask your question. If they won't stop to talk to you, you can walk alongside them.
For the Speaker: Elements of a Good Question
When you are called upon, spend at max 1 minute total speaking.
Speak slowly and clearly
Tell your PERSONAL story
Use 30 seconds for this part. Do not go off on the for-profit healthcare system, rattle off data points, etc - tell your legislator how healthcare policies affect YOU.
Ask your 5-second question
“If elected, will you cosponsor (H.R. 676)?” Do NOT ask something vague like "do you support single payer?"
If they're running against a single payer supporter, add that as well. After the question is asked, fellow birddoggers: applaud wildly!
Mind the Evasion!
If the candidate responds without answering your question, politely redirect them back.
For the Cameraperson: Recording Tips
- Come charged and make sure you have enough storage on your device to record video
- Decide beforehand how you will record.
- The easiest way is to record to your device and then upload to social media/send to the Campaign later.
- The more complicated way is to Facebook live. You should already be comfortable with live before you record. A run through the day before to clear any kinks (necessary updates, permissions, etc.) might be useful. Another thing to note about recording via FB live is that the platform will now only allow you to film VERTICALLY.
- Hold the phone horizontally BEFORE YOU PRESS RECORD. You can’t change the orientation mid-record.
- Don’t cover the mic with your finger and try to direct the mic to the action.
- Don’t do too much panning. Basically you should have the candidate and the person asking the question in the frame.
- Don’t cheer – it will be really loud on the audio!
- Tips to hold the phone steady include holding the phone closer to your body or holding your wrist steady with your other hand
Step 3: Submit your Entry to our Birddogging Compilation!
- Publish Your Video. You have a few options:
- The easy option: WeTransfer, a service that sends media up to 2GB for free. On your phone, click the Android link or the iphone link to download the app. Follow the instructions for uploading the video and send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The more complicated option(s): Post the video on YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, or any other public platform. Make sure the video is set to "public" so anyone with the link can see it.
- Twitter is not a good way to submit because you may need to trim the video to meet the platform’s length requirements. However, if you have a Twitter account you should still upload, after submitting through WeTransfer or Facebook.
- Submit your video: Fill out the Video Submission Form so we can post it on our birddogging page and share with our networks.
Step 4: Amplify the Video
- Forward the link to local press. Email and Twitter are good tools for reaching out to journalists
- Forward the link to local single payer or progressive organizations that might be able to amplify it on their platforms
- Post on social media - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
- Use the video as a hook for an op-ed for your local paper, attaching the video links with your submission