Political change for the collector type?
December 3, 2017 11:51 PM   Subscribe

I dislike protests - less in their value and more in the actually attending them. On the other hand, I love scouring for things of value. Are there any useful political activities which rely on somebody picking up on otherwise obscure laws/rules/exceptions?

I am not a lawyer, and this seems like a pretty lawyer focused question; but obsessing about tiny details seems to be in my nature (hence I ask this). Hence I'd restrict the scope to not needing any particularly arduous professional qualifications (something short could work) but the amount of effort involved otherwise isn't particularly restricted.
posted by solarion to Law & Government (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The first thing that comes to mind is opposition research, the polite term for digging up dirt on the other guys. Things said long ago can be embarrassing. There is a current story about Joy Reid of MSNBC which is an example. Also, for elected officials, votes from long ago can come back to haunt therm, e.g. HRC's vote in the Iraq War resolution.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:20 AM on December 4, 2017

Yep, opposition research for political races. For example, say the other team's candidate used to be a lawyer -- then you go to the courthouse and read every. single. case. he or she ever argued, looking for anything that looks bad. I guess it has the potential to feel a little sleazy. But you also have the potential to bring to light actual morally unacceptable stuff the person has done and thus prevent them from holding office and using that power to do more unacceptable stuff, which I'd argue has definite societal value.
posted by cnidaria at 9:22 AM on December 4, 2017

You also read every news article that's ever mentioned them, their high school newspaper editorials, whatever. It's a lot of detail-oriented reading, research, and sleuthing, which sounds right up your alley.
posted by cnidaria at 9:24 AM on December 4, 2017

I used to run small, local campaigns. I don't think there is even a remote possibility I would ever let a volunteer do opposition research. The work is just so sensitive and unsavory you need to have complete confidence on the person doing it if you are to use it. That said, we ask volunteers to write op-eds or cards to their voting neighbors. That kind of work requires good attention to detail. That could be a good starting point in gaining the confidence required for something like opposition research.

Another good task might be universe building and micro targeting. If a campaign is going to canvass, they don't want to talk to everyone. They want to talk to likely voters and they want to talk to enough of them to win. Building a model of how many people are expected to vote, and who those voters are is complex work you would be well suited for. But, this is also not work for an off the street volunteer. Start doing crumby campaign work and eventually become the person people go to for this sort of information.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:13 AM on December 4, 2017

This is a lot of what power-mapping is for grassroots activist groups and it is easily one of the most important things available in the toolbox.

As far as recommendations for getting involved goes, it'll take time to figure out which group you want to invest time in. I'd start by hitting up the social media feeds of groups like Black Lives Matter / Jobs With Justice / Movement for Black Lives that are represented in your local area. Here in Atlanta, a lot of really great coordination and work goes through Southerners on New Ground, Not1MoreDeportation, and SnapCo but you might not even know that these groups exist were it not for other folks working in coalition and regularly promoting their events since media coverage is usually and unfortunately absent.

That's my general advice if you want to stay away from establishment politics and want to aim for a more intentionally intersectional space. Figure out some good people at the helm of these things (generally not self-promoters, generally advocating for issues beyond just what they're explicitly organizing for, and very very very likely to be openly queer) and go out to their events (so long as it's not an intentionally PoC/black space and you're not PoC/black which will usually be noted by the event page).
posted by runt at 10:30 AM on December 4, 2017

Besides the suggestions here, you should know that most of the work involved in political change is not protest. Even if you can't find something that meets the criteria here, there are definitely groups in your area that need people to do things other than hold signs and yell things. For instance, groups I'm involved in are currently looking for volunteers to help people get voter ID, plan teach-ins, cut turf for canvasses, generate policy proposals for the county board, manage our social media, write a short monthly radio spot, research potential candidates for local races, manage a texting campaign to drive turnout to our events, make photocopies for meetings, figure out how to manage information we have about our volunteers, and more. There's really something for everyone who wants to help out. Take runt's advice and start by sampling a few organizations you align with, and see who you click with.
posted by juliapangolin at 5:49 PM on December 4, 2017

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