Checklist for Choosing an Issue
A good issue is one that matches most of
these criteria. The issue should:
1. Result in a Real Improvement in People's Lives
If you can see and feel the improvement, then you can be sure that it has actually been won. Say, for example, that a transit rider organization won a committment for more frequent equipment inspections. Perhaps over a period of years, this led to improved service, but perhaps not. Riders could not tell. On the other hand, when the group asked for and got printed train schedules, there was a tangible victory. By making real improvement an explicit criterion, the organization must seek a broad consensus on what an improvement really is.
2. Give People a Sense of Their Own Power
People should come away from the campaign feeling that the victory was won by them, not by experts or lawyers. This builds both the confidence to take on larger issues and loyalty to the organization.
3. Alter the Relations of Power
Building a strong, ongoing staffed organization creates a new center of power that changes the way the other side makes decisions.
4. Be Worthwhile
Members should feel that they are fighting for something about which they feel good, and which merits the effort.
5. Be Winnable
The problem must not be so large or the solution so remote that the organization is overwhelmed. The members must be able to see from the start that there is good chance of winning, or a that there is a good strategy for winning. Ask who else has won on an issue and how, and then call on people with experience and ask for advice.
It is also necessary to figure out how much money your campaign will cost the other side and how much are they likely to spend to defeat you. Also, what will the non-monetary costs be to the other side which will make them want to hold out against you? This gives you an idea of how hard they will work to defeat you, and how much money they are likely to spend.
6. Be Widely Felt
Many people must feel that this is a real problem an must agree with the solution. It is not enough that a few people feel strongly about it.
7. Be Deeply Felt
People must not agree, but feel strongly enough to do something about it. It is not enough that many people agree about the issue but don't feel strongly.
8. Be Easy to Understand
It is preferable that you don't have to convince people that the problem exists, that your solution is good, and that they want to help solve it. Sometimes this is neccessary, however, particularly with those environmental issues where the source of the problem is not obvious, or the problem can't be seen or smelled. In general, a good issue should not require a lengthy and difficult explanation. "Look at all those dead fish floating in the water. That didn't happen before the nuclear powerplant opened," should suffice.
9. Have Clear Target
The target is the person who can give you what you want. A more difficult campaign usually requires several clear targets. This allows the campaign to have a longer time to build up strength, even if some of the targets refuse your demands in the early months. If you can't figure out who the target is, you may not have a good issue, or you may be addressing a problem, not an issue
10. Have a Clear Time Frame that Works for You
An issue campaign has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You should have an idea of the approximate dates on which those points will fall.
Some time frame factors are internal, that is, set by your organization. Some are external, set by someone else. The timetable for an election campaign is almost totally external.
The timetable for a campaign to win a stop sing in your community is almost totally internal. Does the time of major effort in your campaign fall at a particularly difficult part of the year, such as mid-August or Christmas week? The spring and fall are best for most groups in most places.
Even if you organization does not have specific electoral goals, you want the time frame to fit the electoral calendar. You usually have more power just before an election than just after one. Consider how the issue's timetable can be merged into the electoral timetable.
11. Be Non-Divisive
Avoid issues that divide your present constituency. Don't pit neighbor against young. Black against White. Don't be content to get the traffic or the drug pusher off your block and onto the next block . (This is not just being "Liberal"; both will soon be back on you doorstep.)
Look down the road several years. Who will you eventually need to bring into your organization? Will this issue help or hinder you in reaching them?
12. Build Leadership
The campaign should have many roles that people can play. Issues campaign that meet most of the other criteria also build leadership if they are planned to do so. In a coalition organization, building leadership has a different meaning than in a neighborhood group, because the people who represent organizations in the coalition already are leaders. They don't need or want you to develop them. Often, however, they do need to learn to work with each other, to use direct action, and to merge electoral and issue campaign where appropriate.
13. Set Your Organization Up for the Next Campaign
A campaign requiring employers to provide health insurance leads to new campaigns on other health or employee benefits issues. On the other hand, a campaign to make the city catch stray dogs generally leads only to catching more stray dogs. People who have problems paying for health care are likely to have other related problems in common. People whose link to each other is a dislike of stray dogs may not have a common second issue. In addition to thinking about future issue directions, consider the skills the group will develop in the campaign and the contacts it will make for the next one.
14. Have a Pocketbook Angle
Issues that get people money or save people money are usually widely and deeply felt.
15. Raise Money
This means having some idea of how you will obtain funding sources for your campaign.
16. Be Consistent with Your Values and Vision
The issues we choose to work on must reflect our values and our vision for an improved society.
Organizing for Social Change, Choosing an Issue