On the Record Project
Table of Contents
What is the On the Record Project?
This is a project of SSDP that seeks to get politicians on the record about their stances on drug policy.
With support for legalizing marijuana higher than ever before, and a majority of Americans ready to end the War on Drugs broadly, the time is ripe for students to speak truth to power and get politicians on film answering tough questions.
Why Getting Politicians On the Record Is Important:
- It facilitates student participation in the political process
- Holding politicians accountable helps push for sensible policies
- Engaging with politicians allows students to fight back against harmful policies
- Student questions will influence voter decisions in elections
How to Find the Politicians
There is no shortage of candidates running for office on any given election year. Throughout local, county, state, and federal races, there are folks running for positions in both legislative and executive roles. Students should focus on the candidates that they have the most access to. You don’t have to be asking these questions to presidential candidates (although if you can, please do!). The important part is that student voices and questions are heard at all levels of government in order to increase student participation in the political process.
There are some events which work better for the On the Record program than others. Here are some factors that you can use to identify a good event:
- Can you ask direct questions?
Events like town halls, Q&A sessions, or other places where there is an explicit time set aside for audience participation. This is key, since you want to ensure that you can ask your questions.
- Is the event easily accessible to students?
One of the best ways to get politicians to answer your question is to have a higher percentage of the crowd waiting to ask similar questions. Ideally, you should try to bring as many students as possible to an event, so a good target event is one that is either free or low cost, is close to your school, and doesn’t require special status to attend.
- Will you have direct access to the politician?
In some instances, you can get a handshake, autograph, or picture with the politician. These sorts of interactions make it easier to ask them your question, since they may have a harder time ignoring you when you’re right in front of their face.
- What kind of media will be at the event?
SSDP will publicize your work and make it easily accessible to the public. The more we can spread the news, the better. When evaluating events, be sure to consider how much media coverage will be available there.
Find their schedules and locations
In order to get to the events, you’ll need to know where and when they are happening. Luckily, there are a few resources you can use online to find political events near you. If you can’t find something in your area or for a politician that you are interested in interviewing, try contacting their offices directly to find out about upcoming events.
Reserve your space, make appointments, get to events
As with any official event, it always behooves you to confirm your attendance. Double-check a week or so in advance of the event that you can, in fact, participate and confirm any registrations that need to be done ahead of time.
And of course, make sure you coordinate transportation! Carpooling can be effective. Depending on your access to public transportation, maybe consider chartering buses to get discount rates to take a larger group of students.
Bring the politicians to you
One of the unique strengths that students possess in this process is access to performance and meeting spaces. Many candidates target schools as potential event spaces anyway. If you can get politicians to come to you, all the better. This should give you much higher level of access to the politician, allow you to get even more students to the event, and if you collaborate with student groups like the College Republicans and Democrats, you might not even have to do any of the heavy lifting for setting the event up.
In some of these campus event examples, you may need to submit questions ahead of time. If that is the case, make sure that you have enough student volunteers to get your questions submitted and accepted. This might be a good place to practice with different wordings of your questions, in case some are more appealing to event organizers than others.
How to Get Called On
It is true that when it comes to political events, the more you blend in with the politicians, the more likely they are to engage with you in good faith. Dress nicely, dress professionally. Try to make the candidate think of you as their child or grandchild, you want them to empathize with you and connect personally.
Be quick with your hand. Everyone is going to have burning questions about important issues. Be on your toes, ready to shoot your hand up and get your question in there.
Spread yourselves out. Go to the event with a group of people working together. If you can spread throughout the space, you have a higher likelihood of getting called on.
Try to blend in with the crowd. Again, these politicians are trained to make connections with people. Even if you personally don’t agree with the crowd or political platform of your target, if you take a few moments to get to know the other people around you and get excited about the event, you will blend in more cohesively with the crowd, and increase your chances of getting called on.
How to Ask Good Questions
There are two criteria that make questions particularly effective:
1) Good questions are short
You only have a short window of time to get your question asked and adequately heard. The more you can trim down your wording, the more effective you can be. Less is more here.
2) Good questions target the politician and audience
Framing your question and doing some serious wordsmithing here is important. Do some research on your target beforehand and identify the core values they espouse. If you can work some of those buzzwords into your question, you may have a better chance of getting a response
In a similar vein, be careful which drug policy buzzwords you use and when. If you start the question by saying “war on drugs”, you give the target a longer time to prepare a dodge than if you wait to use that phrase at the end (or better yet, avoid buzzwords altogether and still get the information you want)
Write your questions down on a notecard and bring them with you! Writing them down will help you revise and edit, and having them in front of you will ensure that you don’t stumble over your words. Don’t give the politician an excuse to pretend they misheard you/didn’t hear you.
Practice Out Loud
Practice is very important. Use your chapter meeting before the event to do a mock runthrough. Have one of your chapter members play the role of politician and practice asking the questions out loud.
Dodge, dip, duck, dive, and dodge
Even if you ask the best, most fully wordsmithed question, politicians are trained in the art of dodging questions. Do not be discouraged if they dodge your question. Here are some resources that may help you craft questions that are harder to dodge:
How to Record the Answers
In an ideal situation, you would be able to record your full interaction on an HD camera (handheld, phone, or otherwise). If possible, it’s always wise to get another person to help film the question asker(s) so that they can focus on interacting with the candidate. If possible, get an extra filmer for back-up, just in case. Designating one or two people to be responsible for filming will allow the rest of the students involved to get the politicians actually on the record.
Having students participate in the political process is part of our mission at SSDP. Attending campaign events and pressing politicians to answer questions is one part of that process. When students pressure politicians to take stances and have answers about drug policy, it demonstrates the importance of student constituents and elevates drug policy reform as a key issue to winning the student vote.
Can We Tape? – Resource for state laws regarding video and other types of recording.
From January 4-10, 2012, about forty SSDP chapter members followed presidential candidates all over New Hampshire right before the state primary. Students put candidates on the spot, asking them questions about their positions on drug policy issues. Within less than a week, they were able to capture videos of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul. The videos were instantaneously posted on Youtube, which led to several big media hits. The “On the Record” Project will bring drug policy reform onto the national political agenda.
With the help of New Hampshire medical marijuana patients and armed with a cheap video camera, they put presidential candidates like Barack Obama, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Hilary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani on the spot about medical marijuana, demanding that they let the voters know whether or not they would use federal resources to to circumvent state law and prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers. The campaign was called Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, and it was responsible for Sen. Barack Obama’s promise to end the federal raids in states with medical marijuana laws.
To become involved in the “On the Record” Project, please contact your outreach coordinator for tips and support!