I've been involved in a few local issues over the years and at this point I've seen it from both sides - the side of the citizen agitator and the side from a few friendly politicos who have shown me how they handle citizen agitators. If you're ever going to protest a rezoning near your house; a road widening; or anything else along these lines, allow me cut through all that high school civics bullshit and share these tips.
1. Do use your city or, if need be, county bureaucrats to find out everything you can about how to protest what's happening (after you've sussed out the basic facts). Is there a panel this will be heard in front of? Is there a formal complaint process you can apply to to slow this project down? What's the review process and how can you use it?
2. Do find out which elected official/s will ultimately oversee this project you want/don't want and focus on them.
3. Don't write every single bureaucrat and elected official you can get an email for to repeatedly complain about your issue. It undermines your credibility. Just focus on the elected officials who have jurisdiction over your issue.
4. Don't take their word that "nothing has been decided yet." They will tell you that until the bitter end and then tell you "it's too far along in the process" to change it now.
5. Do apply steady pressure to the above politicians with emails, letters and phone calls. Politicians hate complaints and they love the status quo, so be sure and gather your friends and and neighbors and apply pressure, pressure, pressure.
6. Do make sure your supporters know your talking points. Help them boil the issue down into talking points, if necessary
7. Speaking of friends and neighbors, gather them! it's easy to ignore one gadfly, much harder if there is a mob of you. And speaking of that, some politicians look up the names and voting registration of those complaining. If they find someone complaining that isn't even registered to vote, they are happy to ignore that complaint. Make sure everyone who is helping you is registered to vote and if they're not, help them register.
8. If you hold a public meeting to marshal your resources and people show up that no one in your group knows, be aware that they may be from "the enemy" to spy on your group and tactics. Be careful what information you share with unknown people.
9. Do find out if your state, county or city has a government in the sunshine provision or some such way for the average citizen to ferret out official documents (which includes, btw, all emails, phone messages, text messages, meeting minutes and appointment calendars of public employees, which includes elected officials). In Florida the magic words for such a request are: "In accordance with Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes, I hearby request a copy of the following: (e.g. All text messages, emails, phone messages, letters and internal memos to and from Commissioner So and So regarding the WalMart expansion . . . )" There will be a charge for this per sheet (to discourage people from doing this), so use GoFundMe to pay for these documents you are entitled to see and have copies of. Then use those docs to see what you're really dealing with. Feel free to share liberally with everyone.
10. Do go to the press (and try to find a good hook to your story). Politicians hate dealing with the press. They would much rather ignore your objections as silently as possible.
11. Don't rely upon a petition. I'm not saying petitions are useless, but they are only better than nothing. Do organize a phone call party so you ensure that people actually call. Do organize an email campaign and ask people to BCC you so you can make sure they email. Do offer to help people write original letters. In fact, it's often handy to write these letters in advance, then proffer them to your supporters. This is not cheating. These people already support you. You are just offering to help supporters who are intimidated by the prospect of writing a letter. The most effective ways of protesting via communication are:
- Actual, individual snail mail letter - no form letters!
- Actual individual emails
- Phone calls and messages
- Form letters and signed petitions are last (petitions and form letters are often counted as one letter for the person who created it); work hard to get the first three
Be prepared to hire an attorney, if everything else goes south. A good attorney can often see things you can't. And again, GoFundMe is your friend in such cases.