Op-Ed: Rules for Successful Conservative Activists

Op-Ed: Rules for Successful Conservative Activists

Coming off TEA party wins in the 2012 and 2014 Texas primary elections and last week’s conservative grassroots success in killing “The Texas Amnesty Solution” at the state GOP convention, a moment of reflection is in order. We spend quite a bit of time talking about why TEA party activists do what they do, but we neglect to revisit what we learned in battle simply because we’re quickly off to the next one.

In twenty-two years of this thing called conservative activism, I’ve learned a thing or three – sometimes the hard way. Inquiring minds frequently ask how to do it right. Because I believe in steering fellow activists away from landmines, here are my Top 10 Undeniable Rules for Successful Conservative Activists:

  • “They” will not like you. Get over it. If name-calling and confrontation make you want to throw up or cry, don’t sign up for the front lines. If your heart beats faster when a politician walks into the room, and faster still when they know your name, and if you live to be loved and approved of by politicians, you are a political groupie. Get. Out. Now.
  • You must earn the right to lead. Self-anointment and self-appointment don’t make you fit to lead anybody. Recommended reading – a short, but powerful blueprint for servant leadership – John Maxwell’s “The Right to Lead: A Study in Character and Courage.” 
  • Stay out of sandbox fights. If Activist A has a personal beef with Activist B, let them duke it out. Do not get pulled into personal skirmishes. Do not share, forward, or air dirty laundry and personal beefs via social media. It makes you look small, petty, and like you never left grade school.
  • Be a team player when the team has the right goal, but do not lose your own identity and credibility to go along with the crowd. Truth never depends on consensus. If 100 people do something foolish, it’s still foolish.
  • Participate in conservative coalitions, but remember your focus must always stay tight on the fight to save Texas and our country from Big Government corruption and to advance the cause of liberty. Remaining unwaveringly true to that mission means you must always be willing to be the skunk at the party, the hard-liner at the compromise table, and the toughest person in the room. Be ever aware of snares that lurk in privilege, special recognition, and being accepted into certain coalitions. If you can stay true to the mission while working in a coalition, do it.  After all, you are in the persuasion business.
  • Do not bear false witness against a neighbor, candidate, or officeholder. Do not spread rumors, which are unsubstantiated claims. If there’s not enough evidence to prove the case in court, then it’s hearsay. Discard it. Big Government candidates and officeholders have plenty on the public record to oppose. Don’t exaggerate or tell half-truths. To do so is to lie, which will destroy your credibility.
  • Work hard to persuade those you can, but don’t waste any more time on the perennial ostriches with their heads stuck in the sand. They like it that way because it’s safe or popular. Shake the dust off your feet and move on.
  • Strive to do what is right, at the right time, for the right reason. Wisdom dictates that you don’t always speak just because you can. Too much speaking for the sake of doing so will blend you into the wallpaper and reduce you to background noise.  Be judicious in strategic planning and execution. 
  • Fire only when ready. Follow Davey Crockett’s advice: “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Never pretend to be an authority on something you know just enough about to be dangerous. For meetings with public officials, speaking engagements, and media interviews, be prepared. Do your homework and know your topic before you open your mouth. Knowing your topic includes some listening.
  • Never forget to say “thank you” to the folks who have your back – the team. Successful activism happens when a group of very committed, principled people with varying gifts and talents work together on a wise course to achieve a goal. Some are made to be on the frontlines. Others are best suited for behind-the-scenes work, logistics, strategy, and resource gathering. Frankly, some of the most valuable people in the world to me are those who say, “I’m praying for you” and really mean it. 

Speaking of saying thanks, it was recently Father’s Day weekend. So, Daddy, thanks for being a stable, dependable, loving father who taught us the value of hard work. Thanks for teaching us to see our Creator in His handiworks of nature and for teaching us there is much to learn from history. Thanks for your wise advice. I can still hear you say, “Whatever you do, be an original. Never be a copy.” 

This column’s for you, Daddy, with love.

JoAnn Fleming is the Executive Director of Grassroots America – We the People, and a two-term Chairman, Advisory Committee to the TEA Party Caucus of the TX Legislature.