Find Out What Political Candidates Think About Sweatshops!
Intro to "Bird-Dogging"
A "bird-dog" is an activist who attends events of candidates running for office and asks them focused questions about their stance on important issues. It is a way to educate the candidate and the public, to learn about the candidates' positions, and to make your position known. It can also be an opportunity to get media attention to your issue since reporters at candidate events are often interested to talk with people who have asked the candidate a question.
This hand-out by SweatFree Communities is for anyone interested to ask candidates for state and local government office as well as candidates for president about sweatshops and sweatfree procurement.
Talking Points: Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium
Human rights abuse in the global apparel industry is the norm. Even some large companies themselves now publicly admit to serious and chronic human rights violations in most of their factory base, including physical and verbal abuse, restricted access to toilets and drinking water, forced overtime, and below minimum wages.
Our state government purchases large quantities of products usually without consideration for the conditions in which they are made. Since human rights abuses in the production chain are so common, this means that our state will spend our tax dollars on products made in unacceptable human rights conditions unless it makes a concerted effort to hold its suppliers accountable to labor laws and decent conditions.
Improving sweatshop working conditions is not a matter of detecting and discarding the occasional "bad apple" in an otherwise sound industry, but helping to change the rules for the industry, for example, by using our state government's influence as a consumer.
Governor John Baldacci of Maine issued a challenge to fellow governors in 2006 to join a collaborative effort to use the power of state government procurement as a catalyst for justice for sweatshop workers. Governor Baldacci's proposal for a Governors' Coalition for Sweatfree Procurement and Worker Rights calls for development of best practices and state procurement policies to end tax-payer support for sweatshop abusers; cost effective and reliable independent monitoring of shared supplier factories; and consolidation of states' purchasing power to support sweatfree factories.
Framing Your Question
Preface your question with a brief statement. This statement can provide information and be educational - and not just to the candidate but to other folks who are listening. It can also tie into something you know about the candidate. For example, if you know that the candidate has opposed the latest free trade agreement, you can thank them for that.
Example statement: "Governor Baldacci has recently issued a challenge to fellow governors to join a collaborative effort to use the power of state government procurement as a catalyst for justice for sweatshop workers."
Then ask your question: "If elected Governor, will you support adopting sweatfree procurement legislation to ensure that products purchased with our tax dollars don't subsidize sweatshop abuses?"
Tips for "Bird-Dogs"
Arrive Early: This is especially important if the candidate is very popular, leading in the polls, or if it is late in the election season. In situations where there is a question and answer period, it will be important for you to be close enough to the candidate so that you are in his or her line of sight.
Have Your Question Ready: Get input from family and friends about the best way to frame a question. Practice asking it to yourself. Make certain your question is brief, fact based, and direct. If you need help with this, contact SweatFree Communities.
Ask Your Question Early: At an event with a question and answer period most people in the audience will not raise their hand immediately. If you indicate early interest, you are more likely to be called on.
Stick Your Hand Out: 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 improve the odds that more than one of your group will get 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. Your friends can also be prepared with a follow-up question in case they are called on next.
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.
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. You can even preface your question with a comment on something the candidate has done well, before proceeding to your question.
Take Notes: The only way to track the responses of candidates is to have a record of what they said. It is also helpful to have notes when you are trying to frame a follow-up question.
Be Prepared to Speak with the Media: Generally speaking, reporters like to speak to folks who have asked the candidate a question. Remember to stay on message by talking about the issue that is important to you. For example, if the reporter asks "what do you think of Governor Firefly?," respond: "I'd like him to make sure that our tax dollars aren't used to buy sweatshop products." 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 well known to the candidate or his/her staff.
Share What You Have Learned: After the event is over, pass on to others what you have learned by using your own email lists, and submitting a report to us.