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How to win elections

MAY 23, 1975                                                              HARPER’S WEEKLY

 How to Win an Election and Influence People: Buy a Printing Press

In the nation’s interest

 In 1969 People’s Lobby was a handful of long-haired idealists fighting pollution and its politics. By 1972 they had become the first grass roots organization to get a proposition on California’s ballot. They qualified the Clean Environment Initiative after spending $9,000 for’ publicity. Although the prestigious and well-funded ad agency of Whitaker and Baxter eventually shattered their hopes of passing a law that would lower the lead content of gas, ban nuclear power plant construction and elimi­nate conflicts of interest from reg­ulatory boards, People’s Lobby has reason to be proud of its ac­complishments thus far.

Winning for the common good against a corroding system comes only after much hard work from sac­rificing people. Today, however, when the stakes are great and the other side has the money, it takes much more than just good people to win. It takes the nuts and bolts of machinery and a pyramid of technology that good people can work from. As Joyce Koupal, former People’s Lobby Director and pre­sent Director of Stamp Out Smog, points out:

We learned from studying suc­cessful revolutionary, groups that the basis of the group has always bee,: a printing press. Citizen action groups must learn and are learning that les­son. The printed word is the basis of success. You must get your message out, convince people to support you or you lose …. If you can get the initial $1,000 and another $500 to get it off the ground, a printing press will pay for itself in the next three mailers.

 The lobby got its start in printing in 1970 when a discarded-as-broken mimeograph machine, from Los Angeles mayoral candidate Thomas Bradley’s losing campaign, was given to them. Cleaned up it ran for four years, and brought profes­sionalism and victories and heavier responsibilities to the Lobby

In 1972 the Lobby purchased a1250 Multigraph press for $900. In the first month of the Clean Environment Act campaign, the press  paid for itself in just what was saved from not going to commercial printers. Ensuing months of savings and doing cut-rate commercial work for groups, politicians and businesses allowed the Lobby to buy a World War II vintage Harris press for the 100,000 copy runs and a 1450 Mul­tigraph for smaller jobs. The com­bined cost was less than $2,000.

By 1974 the Political Reform Initiative, nurtured by People’s Lobby in the wake of their 1972 defeat, became the toughest campaign law in the nation, winning with a record 70 per cent of the California vote.  In a rematch with the giant advertising industry and vested interests, a grassroots organization employing sophisticated printing techniques, joined by gubernatorial candidate Brown and Common Cause. won big.

A grassroots organization that thinks beyond the next election would do well to invest in a printing printing press.. It saves money and provides the technical capability from which fast professional campaigns must be run. In addition to a printing press, an efficient group needs a dark room, enlarger, burn plate, verityper, typepositor, lay-out and paste-up boards, collator, book bin­der, stamper, Addressograph, TMX machine, switchboard that handles multi-party calls on one line and a dozen phones.

Unfortunately, in most campaigns votes are won by slickness. But campaigns do come where.voters will be ready to listen. If, in those campaigns, a group can move fast and look professional in what it says and shows, it becomes a winner, and power and respect flow more easily for future political skirmishes. Print­ing technology allows that. To quote Joyce Koupal again:

We can do really fancy things in color that other groups can’t afford to do because we have our own presses. We do better stuff and our material is read because it really looks nice. That’s the key to everything-to have stuff people will read Our message gets across and we reach more people than other groups with the same amount of money invested.

 In specifics that means a  professional-looking newsletter sent to the Lobby’s 20,000 members costs $300 compared to commercial costs of $600-$1000. It also means that the Lobby can publish its own books and get them in the right hands to bring recognition and money to the Lobby. Other public interest groups have learned from  the Lobby’s success. Don Ross, sometimes called Nader’s alter ego, afer vis:ting the Lobby, returned to purchase presses for his New York Public Interest Research Group.  Nader is talking of doing the same in Washington.
Too much to undertake? Yes, for most. But if you have a band of enthusiastic activists, you don’t need much more. Mick, the Lobby’s printer, was a chemistry major who knew nothing about printing. He .” poked around and found an old press, met a friendly printer, picked      his brains, worked long, hard hours         and sought advice when he got stuck. Today he’s a journeyman
moving with the best in his craft.
For you activists following in the tradition of that great American lover and activist, Ben Franklin, the suggestion is get a… printing press,  not a bed …

Dwayne Hunn . San Francisco, Calif.