How Do You Influence Your Local Bundestag Rep?

A group of liberal former Congressional staff members calling themselves 'Indivisible' got together after Trump's election and have released a guide for grass-roots organizing to oppose Trump. Their model for effective opposition is the conservative Tea Party movement, which successfully pressured members of Congress (MoCs) to oppose Obama's agenda from day one.

The basic message of the guide is that MoCs are focused on only one thing: re-election. They want positive press coverage and photo opportunities from local media inside their district, burnishing their image with their own constituents. The Tea Party was effective because they applied constant pressure to their own representatives locally, making it clear that any cooperation with Obama's agenda would result in immediate negative feedback. 

Here are a few graphs from the document:


Here's a guide for influencing your MoC at a town hall meeting, an informal gathering where politicians answer local residents' questions:

At the Town Hall

 1. Get there early, meet up, and get organized. Meet outside or in the parking lot for a quick huddle before the event. Distribute the handout of questions, and encourage members to ask the questions on the sheet or something similar.

2. Get seated and spread out. Head into the venue a bit early to grab seats at the front half of the room, but do not sit all together. Sit by yourself or in groups of 2, and spread out throughout the room. This will help reinforce the impression of broad consensus.

3. Make your voices heard by asking good questions. When the MoC opens the floor or questions, everyone in the group should put your hands up and keep them there. Look friendly or neutral so that staffers will call on you. When you’re asking a question, remember the following guidelines:

  1. Stick with the prepared list of questions. Don’t be afraid to read it straight from the printout if you need to. 
  1. Be polite but persistent, and demand real answers. MoCs are very good at deflecting or dodging question they don’t want to answer. If the MoC dodges, ask a follow up. If they aren’t giving you real answers, then call them out for it. Other group members around the room should amplify by either booing the Congressman or applauding you. 
  1. Don’t give up the mic until you’re satisfied with the answer. If you’ve asked a hostile question, a staffer will often try to limit your ability to follow up by taking the microphone back immediately after you finish speaking. They can’t do that if you keep a firm hold on the mike. No staffer in their right mind wants to look like they’re physically intimidating a constituent, so they will back off. If they object, then say, politely but loudly: “I’m not finished. The Congressman/woman is dodging my question. Why are you trying to stop me from following up?” 
  1. Keep the pressure on. After one member of the group finishes, everyone should raise their hands again. The next member of the group to be called on should move down the list of questions and ask the next one. 

4. Support the group and reinforce the message. After one member of your group asks a question, everyone should applaud to show that the feeling is shared throughout the audience.  Whenever someone from your group gets the mike, they should note that they’re building on the previous questions – amplifying the fact that you’re part of a broad group. 

5. Record everything! Assign someone in the group to use their smart phones or video camera to record other advocates asking questions and the MoC’s response. While written transcripts are nice, unfavorable exchanges caught on video can be devastating for MoCs. These clips can be shared through social media and picked up by local and national media.

You get the picture. My questions is: would any of these tactics work in Germany?

My initial temptation is to answer no. German politics is much more party-based than US politics. Most local representatives are part of a strong party organization that tells them how to vote on most issues. When they return to their districts, their role is not so much to listen to constituents but to explain to them (the notorious German verb 'vermitteln') what the party is doing and why that's a good idea. They do of course listen to constituents, but the purpose of listening is not so much to think about whether to change their own vote (which is often impossible) but to report back to party headquarters on the 'mood' in their districts (i.e. 'They're pissed off about immigration, we need to change our messaging.').

This means that politics is much less responsive in one way. However, Germany's split-ticket voting system makes it responsive in other ways: If you don't like your current Bundestag member, you can vote for one from another party, or you can cast your vote for a different party. Thus, even if you can't change who represents you, your vote can still strengthen a party who opposes their agenda. This is basically impossible in America's two-party system.

Do I have this about right, or am I missing something?

6 thoughts on “How Do You Influence Your Local Bundestag Rep?

  1. This isn’t simple, but it is effective: You persuade a business leader in that representative’s community to take the cause up with the MdB. Most MdBs are inordinately sensitive to the concerns of the employers who operate in their communities. Having one person who employs 1,000 of their constituents speak with the MdB is more effective than 100 handwritten letters from those constituents. This works with the CDU, SPD and the FDP. Get prominent employers behind the cause and it is remarkable how fast you will find yourself in the corridors of German power. Venal, but that’s how it goes. Second tactic – run a candidate (or run as one) in a fringe party and use whatever microphone you get in local press to advance the positon. If there is any groundswell to the position, it gets picked up by more mainstream candidates and figures of interest and becomes a general din. German politicians won’t usually take iconoclastic, unusual positions unless someone else already has. Once that voice is out there, it can be repeated. No-one ever criticized someone from the Green Party for supporting an unusual position that happened to be shared by the ÖDP, as long as the ÖDP put the position out there first.


  2. As I watched events in Berlin unfold yesterday , I wondered if this incident might in itself have any influence on one or more Bundestag representative, as it did hit close to home. Well, place of residence.

    So I listened to the radio this morning to see how the state media would spin the Juggernaut run into a festive crowd yesterday into an unrelated incident by a confused loner.

    Let me translate:

    “There were terribles pictures we had to witness yesterday. Oh, so terrible (the pictures, not the deed; no reporting, no pictures).

    The police now admit (the police are under scrutiny here) that it could have been a terrorist attack (we’ll know in a couple of years, when the court case is over and done with – no conclusions til then, news fakers!); we will now have to find out (our duty) why the alleged driver, who came into this country as a refugee from Pakistan (poor guy, and never mind he’s no Syrian), and was known to the police, although we don’t know his true identity (confused, single, loner) did it, and how the dead polish co-driver (another nationality and religion was involved) fits into this.”

    Every little bit helps.

    I shall now , for purely linguistic reasons, attempt to de – spin it:

    “It was a terrible deed we had to witness yesterday, when a man ran a polish semitrailer truck into a celebrating crowd on a Christmas market in the capital of this country.

    There are up to twelve dead as of now; many more are seriously injured.

    As far as we know by now, it was perpetrated by a young man who came into this country under false identity as a refugee when the borders were opened.

    A polish man, possibly connected in some way to the truck, was found dead on the seat beside him

    Did I make anything up? Which sounds more fake?


  3. “how the dead polish co-driver”

    Did they really say that? Un-fucking-believable. According to Polish media the “co-driver” had signs of being beaten and knife wounds and was almost certainly dead when the member of the Merkeljugend drove into the crowd. That is, the attacker hijacked the truck and killed the driver.

    I think it’s pretty certain now that none of the Merkeljugend will be accepted in Poland under any circumstances.


  4. der tote polnische Beifahrer“(g)
    “the dead Polish co-driver”.

    That’s standard German, yes, but you can say it differently in German as well, with less bias.

    “Co-driver” implies complicity to anyone listening with half an ear, while driving or working, esp. since first reports said that the driver was dead as well (shot by the police). Now it’s unclear what really happened. Fake state news. Not to serve and protect; but to distract and confuse.

    – read polish as Polish throughout.


  5. Dude, Beifahrer just means that someone is sitting on the seat next to the driver, not a complice. Don’t you think your cynical linguistic petitesse and cheap ‘media critique’ is a bit, well, disgusting in this context?


  6. No. Not if he’s dead.

    And therefore no, and my compliments to you – or do you wish to contemplate the stages of death a murder victim goes through in detail? Perhaps he wasn’t quite dead yet, and had to witness his murderer create even more mayhem? Well, in that case you would be right. It’s always nice to see thoughtful, ghoulish, minute bone picking that distracts from the issue. Up to now, and not until the court procedure is over, in months or years, we cannot know.

    To that I will agree.


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