It has nothing to do with animals and everything to do with grassroots power in action! To bird-dog is to “observe, follow, monitor and/or seek out with persistent attention.” It’s a great tactic that SOA Watch activists have used to get politicians to talk publicly about the School of the Americas. Basically, you show up at the candidates’ events, ask them to commit to defund the SOA, and ask them questions they don’t want to answer in order to get them on the record and to educate those present about the SOA and U.S. militarization in the Americas.
The actual logistics of attending a
political event and bird-dogging a politician before, during or afterwards, takes a little
bit of thought. However, once you practice a bit, it quickly becomes easy.
TIPS ON HOW TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL
Early: This is especially important if the candidate is very popular, leading in the
polls, or if it is late in the primary season. Make sure you sit close enough and are
within the candidate’s line of sight.
Your Question Ready: Review the information, especially the talking points and ways to
respond that are available on the SOAW website. You can use your question to briefly provide information on the issue while making
sure the question is brief, fact based and direct. Practice with other people, having them
play “devil’s advocate” with the best questions/challenges to your
argument. (You'll quickly discover that many questions that you once thought were great
can be quickly sidetracked or outright dismissed by a savvy politician.)
- Ask Your Question Early: At events where there is a
question and answer period most people in the audience will not raise their hand
immediately. If you ask right away, you are more likely to be called on.
- Get Ready to Shake Hands: Candidates often walk through
the crowd shaking hands and pausing for brief conversations. Be ready for these one-on-one
opportunities. Position yourself in the candidate’s path.
- Work in Teams of Two or More & Disperse: Since
bird-dogging can make people nervous, it is good to go in teams of two or more people. One
person asks the question while another writes down the candidate’s response.
Dispersing at the event will possibly allow everyone in the group to ask a question. Be
prepared to ask a follow-up question if you feel like the candidate dodged a question or
you want more details. Also, come prepared with more than one question, as someone may ask
your question before you get the chance.
- Know the Candidate’s Positions: Ask a question that
shows you know something about the candidate’s position, and that you want to know
more. Don’t waste your opportunity by asking a “softball” question, but
choose a topic that you want him or her to move on and formulate a question on that topic.
- Be Calm and Reasonable: Maintaining a respectable tone
will bring a more positive response from the candidate, their staff, and the media, if
they are present. Getting angry, sarcastic, or emotional will generally result in being
ignored or belittled. You can even preface your question with a comment on something the
candidate has done well, before proceeding to your question.
Notes: The only way to track the responses of candidates is to have an accurate record of
what they said. It is also helpful to have notes when you are trying to frame a follow-up
question. Having a record of their position you can
make sure they follow through on promises to close the school if elected. Remember: Making
them accountable for their words and actions is an integral part of effective
- Be Prepared to Speak with the Media: Generally speaking,
journalists like to speak to folks who have asked the candidate a question. Remember to
stay on message when talking to reporters by talking about the issue that is important to
you. For example, if the reporter asks “what do you think of Senator X?,”
respond “I’d like him to justify keeping open the most notorious foreign
military training school whose graduates have committed some of the most brutal massacres
in history.” Don’t be afraid to approach reporters even if they have not
approached you. Try positioning yourself next to a reporter and striking up a
conversation, again remembering to stay on message.
- Be Creative & Improvise When Necessary: Being a
bird-dog is not just about asking questions. Street theatre, or even a simple picket sign,
can raise public and candidate awareness on key issues. These tactics are especially
helpful at events where you are prevented from entering or if you are a bird-dogger who is
well known to the candidate or his or her staff. But remember the objective is to get a response, either getting information you can use later
or something that the media will pay attention to.
What You Have Learned: After the event is over, pass on to others what you have learned by
using your own email lists, contacting the SOAW office at
and submitting a report to www.birddogger.org.
TIPS ON FINDING OUT WHERE THE
CANDIDATE WILL BE:
- Subscribe to a candidate's email list.
Sometimes a politician will just announce where he/she is going to be.
- Subscribe to state and party email lists.
Both groups frequently promote their favorite candidates.
- Get in with the local party -- get on their
snail mail list and meet some of their leaders. You'll pick up a lot of info this way.
- Find someone who's been active with the
party for a long time who will be willing to pass on information to you. In some cases
these individuals would love to bird-dog a candidate but can't because of appearances --
but they CAN pass information onto you so that you can do the "dirty work."
- Find friendly members of the media to get
info from. Some reporters really would like progressive issues to be part of the political
- Check other media sources such as newspapers
and newspaper web sites. In some circumstances, the papers will have calendars announcing
when political candidates will appear. This is far less likely in a non-election cycle