Monday, July 27, 2015

South Hampton Roads for Bernie, Meeting Minutes, 7/27/2015

South Hampton Roads for Bernie held its second meeting on June 27, 2015. This group is a grassroots group and not funded by the official campaign. We are rolling up our sleeves and doing what we can to help Bernie succeed in the state of Virginia while we wait for the official campaign to reach us. We also network with similar groups, mainly Northern Virginia for Bernie Sanders and  the Virginians for Bernie 2016 volunteer hub.

Twelve people attended, a huge increase from our first meeting (two people). The first vice chairman of the Chesapeake Democratic Party, Ken Ehrenthal, attended. He encouraged us to advocate for Bernie through his group's monthly meetings and to post our activities on its Facebook page. We met at the Cutting Edge Café and were thrilled when Melanie Hayes, one of its owners, finished her shift and joined our discussion. I gave her-- as well as most of the others who attended-- a pro-Bernie button to wear.

We began by sharing a little about ourselves, explaining why we like Bernie (or what we most want to know about him), and announcing any previous experience with political campaigns and/or skills that our group might find useful. We  are an interesting group with a diverse range of skills who mostly "feel the Bern," as social media put it. Some members were students, another a teacher, some were retirees, and others business owners or managers. Attendees also had a wide range of useful skills or experiences: organizing events, social media, political campaigning, writing, graphic design (and possibly video editing), sales skills, and more.

Reasons for supporting Bernie also varied widely: health care for all, protecting our environment, disgust with political corruption and the influence of Wall Street, or gratitude for how he has protected our veterans and wounded warriors. He takes a firm and unwavering stand on issues, he refuses to take money from big corporations or super PACS, and he plans to put money toward much-needed infrastructure and public services. Public funding of political campaigns, which Bernie supports, would even the playing field between the populace and the super-rich. More specifically, a few of us were upset by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and would like to see a reintroduction of some type of Glass-Steagall Act. Bernie supports overturning the former and bringing back the latter.

We then reviewed the basics. Most of us are already registered voters in Virginia, but a couple of us need to update our registration. I mentioned that it is often easy to register online. Ken advocates for registering at the Chesapeake Registrar's Office rather than the DMV. We made sure everyone knew to register, too, as a volunteer on Bernie's official campaign website,, if they hadn't already done so. We also reminded everyone that the national house-party/video conference by Bernie on Wednesday (7/29) is important to the campaign, and that they can use this site to sign up for or host an event near them.

We mentioned some simple and inexpensive ways that all of us can help Bernie's campaign: wear pro-Bernie t-shirts and buttons, put up a yard sign, and dedicate time and space for Bernie through whatever social media we use. For buttons and bumper stickers, some of us prefer to shop through Bernie's official campaign website, The advantage is that all the official merchandise is union-made in the United States, and any money paid goes directly to Bernie's campaign. The disadvantage is that right now it takes a very long time for the orders to arrive. Others of us may search online on sites like to see what is available. The only advantage is that it might arrive a little faster.

In our area, Bernie lacks name recognition, and that needs to change. Yard signs, buttons, t-shirts, and bumper stickers can help with name recognition. Keep conversations positive and not pushy. Bernie doesn't run a negative campaign, and neither should we, but we should be prepared to share the facts and an accurate representation of Bernie's positions and character.

Our most urgent need is to get Bernie on the ballot for the primary in Virginia. The state-wide goal is to get 400 petition signatures on petitions from registered voters in each district in Virginia. While 200 valid signatures are needed per district, we anticipate some of the signatures will be challenged or thrown out, so we will collect double that amount. Our initial deadline is October 1. Contact- and collection-points are being established in each district; I am the contact person for District 4. We reviewed a slide presentation on how to go about doing this. The forms must be filled out carefully and the circulator or witness must have his or her own signature notarized at the bottom of the back page. A circulator cannot sign his or her own petition except at the bottom notary portion, which must not be signed until the notary public is available and tells us to.

Each volunteer petition-circulator is in charge of getting his or her own paperwork notarized before turning it in. As an example, I collected signatures from every available registered voter there. We had separate sheets for District 4/Chesapeake and District 2/Virginia Beach. A separate sheet must be made for each district and each city or county within the district. The last four numbers of the signer's social security number is not required, but it's recommended to help with quick and accurate validation of signatures by the Board of Elections. I collected the forms after they were signed and will get them notarized at my earliest convenience. Additional suggestions for collecting signatures is on this Google Doc. Several volunteers took petitions to begin collecting signatures.

Ken and I both pointed out that we should work on getting signatures first, then work on promoting Bernie if the signers seem open to it. A signature does not mean a vote for Bernie. It just means that the signer thinks Bernie's name should be on the ballot in the primary. It's a matter of ballot access for a serious candidate. The petition signatures are very important, because without them, Bernie can't appear on the ballot in March. I mentioned that if we are petitioning in a public place, like in front of a business, and the management asks us to move along, we should be pleasant and do so. But Ken also told us that anyone actually interfering with petitioning (like taking the petitions or getting violent or tearing them up) is breaking federal law. In a situation like that, call 911. Hopefully we won't need to do that, but it's good to know.

Two members, Stephen and Erica, both from Virginia Beach, promised to become notary publics to help notarize campaign petitions as they come in. They also promised to collect and seal petitions for District 2 and to send them to me (Mary Lou Burke, District 4). I will collect for the statewide group,and, thus, Bernie Sanders' campaign, as they come in. December 10, 2015, is the final deadline for Sanders' candidacy to present the sealed petitions in Richmond, but we intend to supply all the signatures we can well before then; hopefully by October 1. Several attendees took blank petitions to circulate.

Presidential Primary Election Day in Virginia will be on March 1, 2016. Please mark your calendars accordingly. The turnout for primary elections in Virginia is historically low. Ken estimated that Bernie could win Virginia primary with as few as three hundred votes per district in the state. How exciting! Encourage Bernie supporters to register to vote and to vote in the primary.

I wanted to show two movies at our meeting but didn't get the chance. I'll mention them here, anyway, in case others want to watch. One was his official campaign video, "Progress." Another was a grassroots video on how to help Bernie by Melanie Fisher.

Our next meeting will be on a Monday evening in August. I will figure out the details and publicize them through the South Hampton Roads for Bernie Facebook Page. Melanie graciously offered our group the use of the Cutting Edge Café after hours to hold the event. In the meantime, I have extra blank petitions to circulate. If anyone needs forms, they can run them off of the state elections website or contact me and I will provide some.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

News Release Suggestions for Bernie 2016

I am in no way affiliated with or paid by the official candidacy of Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont who is running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. President. I started a Facebook group called South Hampton Roads for Bernie and network with other grass-roots groups, primarily Northern Virginians for Bernie Sanders 2016 and Bernie Sanders for President--Virginia. This week I appeared twice in our regional paper, the Virginian Pilot, with positive words for Bernie, so a member of another group asked  me to write up a few  suggestions for getting positive words about Bernie in traditional media. I am hardly an expert, but I promised to write up a few thoughts for the good of the cause.

My experience is that the easiest way to get published in local media is through a well-written and timely letter to the editor. Many newspapers also publish these letters online as well. The smaller the newspaper, the easier it is to get a letter published, but the narrower the readership will be. The instructions for writing letters to the editor are printed in the opinion section of the newspaper and can often be found online. For example, the instructions for the Pilot are available here.

Read these instructions carefully. For example, letter-writers to the Pilot are only allowed to be published once a month, so writers should make the most of the opportunity to write. Keep track of when the letter appeared in order to have a better idea of when you are eligible to be published again; there's no point in wasting time submitting something that has no chance of publication. Members of the group might want to space out their submissions to keep Bernie's name in the publication. One writer might focus on Bernie's record on the environment, another on family values, etc., and submit them in successive weeks. But any letter-writing is better than none, as long as it is positive for Bernie, interesting, well-written, and well informed.

If you are new to writing for publication, have a trusted friend help you proofread, and remember to use grammar- and spell-check. My experience is that letters that are short (150 words our less), timely, and related to something written recently in the newspaper are most likely to get attention. Be sure to follow any instructions on putting your contact information with your letter. Newspapers will often contact letter-writers for confirmation before actually publishing the letter, and they may want to follow up for stories, so accurate and thorough contact information is a must.

Click here for my letter the Pilot published if you need a sample letter. Notice I finished the letter with something interested readers could do: the name of our group they could join on Facebook to connect with other Bernie supporters in our region. Other letters might end with an upcoming Bernie event (online or otherwise) or other ways readers can find out more about Bernie or otherwise support him.

Don't assume reporters will contact you using the information you left with the newspaper, however. Bill Bartel's article, featured in Sunday's Pilot, came half as a surprise to me. He actually contacted me through Facebook, and I was lucky to spot his message in my "Others" folder, which we all need to remember to check regularly. Reporters often work under the heavy pressure of deadlines, so be sure to return calls or messages in a timely manner. If you feel someone else in your group would be better-equipped or informed to handle the media or this particular reporter, give the reporter that person's contact information or have the appropriate person from your group promptly contact the reporter. But don't ignore or delay the reporter, at least not for long.

When talking to reporters, keep in mind that they are people, too. I am unfailingly polite to them, and I try to be energetic and well-informed enough to answer questions to their satisfaction. But if I don't know something, I say so. I will direct them to other sources or resources if I can. I am also *extremely careful* about what I say. Watch some of Bernie Sanders' own interaction with the media to see how this is done. When a hook is baited with an opportunity to talk negative about an opponent, for example, he won't do it. He sticks to the issues and talks about them convincingly and energetically. Please be aware that there are a few bad-egg reporters who have an axe to grind or are careless and who will misinterpret or misuse what you have to say, but my experience is that these are rare. Nevertheless, it behooves you when speaking to them to remember that anything you say can wind up in the media, and to choose your words carefully. Give him or her a story. Have a list of talking points to lean on as needed. Think about how he or she might want to slant it for the publication's readership and give information that is useful. Be willing to invite them to upcoming meetings or events if interested.

If the reporter reports about Bernie well, be sure to follow up with a few quick words of thanks. An email will suffice. The contact information is usually easily found online through the newspaper. Believe me, reporters hear constant complaints if they even get the most minute details of a story wrong. Appreciation is much more rare, and they will remember it, and you, if you give it. If they make an important or egregious error, politely let them know and ask for a correction, but I generally don't sweat the small stuff (like if they misspell my name).

My experience from working on other efforts is that television coverage is harder to get. When a call comes from a television reporter, it often follows from interest that arose through a newspaper article. The same caveats and suggestions apply with television reporters. Remember their deadlines are even tighter. If you are going to be on television, think carefully about what to wear.

The easiest way to invite the media to an event is through a news release. They are simple to write. Again, brevity and clarity are important. Click here for instructions and a sample news release. Please realize that the media get flooded with these; it doesn't matter (at least as far as I can tell) whether you deliver them by email, by FAX, or in person. The bigger the news media, the more of a flood of these they get. If you already have a relationship established with a reporter at the media you are targeting, it might help to send it to his or her attention and ask that they forward it to the appropriate person, or to ask them for a name to send it to. I would only send a news release for the most news-worthy items that I or my group can come up with. Less important events, like monthly meetings, I might consider submitting for free through any available local or regional events calendars such as this one for Hampton Roads.

Keep a list of your media contacts, where they work, and how to contact them. Keep the list updated (I must admit I'm terrible about this). About two to three weeks' lead time is about right to send your news item. Any earlier, and it will be sure to get lost. If you send it too last-minute, it will be less likely that a reporter will have time to cover it. I find this mostly luck of the draw, but it doesn't take a lot of time to send out a news release, and they sometimes work, especially on a slow news day. If I take the trouble to write a news release, I send it to all the local and regional media I can think of. If one outlet doesn't take interest, maybe another one will. Again, instructions on how to submit to each outlet can be found online. Organize these contacts so they will be easier to find next time you need them.

Don't be offended if a reporter shows interest and then drops your story or event, especially if it's for television. The reporter may have the best of intentions, but a more news-worthy (to them) event came up last minute, like a shooting in a neighboring town. Stay polite and keep the reporter who showed interest informed, and he or she may find time to include you next time.

When you get positive media coverage, be sure to share it as best you can on social media. This draws even more members to your group and generates even more excitement for Bernie. If there is a comments section, have members of your group leave positive comments for Bernie with the letter or news item. I have seen people scan newspaper articles and then post that online, but I suspect that's a potential violation of copyright law. I would look for the article online and post a link directly to that. Give it a day or two if you can't find it online right away. An amazing amount of content gets published, although not all. If you are having trouble finding it, email the reporter who wrote it for help. Sometimes they can help you, sometimes not. Remember to be polite and not a pest about anything you need. Again, the reporter will remember next time.

I hope these ideas help. Comments or further ideas or experiences are welcome.