[Editor’s note: This article was originally published by OCR on July 26, 2013.]
When my wife and I started homeschooling in 1986, it was mainly because we knew the condition of the public schools–and the agenda of a socialistic bureaucracy that steered it through the National Education Association and its state affiliates. So imagine our surprise when various homeschooling leaders explained that we were not immune to being co-opted by the pervasive Goals 2000 and Outcome-Based Education models coming out of the Washington D.C. beltway (from both Democrats and Republicans). In response, we started campaigning against OBE in the early nineties. We managed, as new political activists, to have vestiges of OBE removed from budgetary measures, but by then most of the damage had been done.
The shame of it all is, in our experience, when we confronted politicians–of both parties–about the errors of their ways, they frequently denied it. It is nothing short of amazing that such deniability exists. What can be done to subvert it? We can talk policy and legislation until the cows come home, but if the premise that confrontation achieves results is faulty, one can only expect defeat after defeat on the issues.
I suppose most citizens believe that if they could only obtain “access” to elected politicians, this would be enough to convince them to vote the right way on issues. They’re wrong. History has often proven that the lion’s share of elected officials prioritize “fitting in” enough to receive valuable committee assignments and leadership opportunities from the party with which they are registered, which in turn helps them climb the ladder and win reelection. This is what is meant by a “career politician.” Sadly, what H. L. Richardson wrote in Confrontational Politics of a humanist’s brand of morality applies to many officeholders:
“What then is moral. . . ? Achieving the goals of control. What techniques are used? Whatever works! Prevarication (deviating from or perverting the truth) becomes a tactic, rather than a moral violation. If found out, bluff, plead ignorance, de
nounce the accuser, or even dialectically apologize by admitting the mistake, begging for forgiveness, even promising restitution. LYING, THEREFORE, BRINGS NO PANG OF CONSCIENCE. THE ERROR IS IN GETTING CAUGHT.”
Unfortunately, the only way to get some politicians to change their minds on a given issue is how much political pain–i.e., pressure–constituents inflict upon them. With the right strategy, any group of citizens can effectively do this without quickly being condescended to.
Take, for instance, an issue such as Common Core. The Washington D.C. beltway designed a rapid system of infiltration into each state’s department of education and board of education and proliferated quick strategies to push their agendas through with minimal resistance. What had been Outcome-Based Education (OBE) was re-packaged and brought up for adoption. They encouraged governors to use OBE/Common Core as their new education reform package, which is precisely what most governors did, including Ohio’s Governor Kasich. Before a lot of us knew it, most state boards of education had adopted Common Core standards, and state legislatures were picking up the tab in their budgetary discussions.
All that needs to happen for Common Core to last is for citizens to stay ignorant of what’s happening in their state, or at least too timid to put up a fight.
One citizen-lawmaker fighting back is State Representative Andy Thompson (R-95), who will soon introduce a bill to repeal Common Core in Ohio. But the representative’s proposal can hardly gain headway on its own. Once a bill is introduced, constituents must call their House representatives to find out where they stand and, if necessary, re-educate them, asking them to sign on as co-sponsors. If they do not, several calls can be placed to try to “convince” legislators. Or a delegation of ordinary, concerned citizens can visit. Those who have not persuaded their legislators can take the last resort–finding an organization that will run a candidate in the primary against the incumbent.
Yet even here it is possible for citizens to whiff on their chance to influence their legislators. That one or two phone calls makes any of us a “super constituent” is a misconception. Some think that because they have walked into their state legislator’s office, made themselves known over the years, or become a recognized campaign contributor–all more than the average citizen has done–they can be the answer to the whole fight. But unless legislators know beyond doubt that citizens are willing to vote with your feet, their influence remains sparse.
At the end of the day, representative government is about constituents getting what they want from those they elect. It’s not about being left to govern in peace; the job all along has been to listen to constituents’ concerns and act accordingly. Nor is it about get more media publicity than other representatives; the media are biased anyway and, in most cases, won’t cover your issue the way you’d like them to. It’s about representation.
But here is the bottom line: if you don’t “have the juice,” you will get nowhere. You can have the most convincing issue and arguments to go along with it, but if you cannot get citizens all around to rise up and be counted–whether that means testifying in a committee hearing, showing up for a committee or floor vote, make phone calls when directed by organizations taking leads on the issues, showing up at a legislator’s office to speak to him or her, or writing letters to the editor of your newspaper–you will likely experience the defeat we’re all used to.*
Ohio conservatives cannot continue to use the same worn out tactics and strategies and expect to win the day. It’s time to activate our grassroots to the fullest extent possible and run into the fray. Working hard is good–but working smart is vital.
Mark Stevenson is the founding director of the statewide political action committee Ohioans for Educational Freedom and resides in Canton, Ohio.
*The Ohioans for Educational Freedom web site is set up for easy contact and information delivery at various points of the legislative campaign that will be implemented when Rep. Thompson’s bill is introduced.
Michael Hamilton contributed to this article.
[Related on OCR: “Common Core Means Common Failure For States”]
[Related on OCR: “National Education Standards Will Be a Costly Failure”]