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America, the Owner's Manual

America, the Owner's Manual
You Can Fight City Hall—and Win

New Edition

September 2016 | 328 pages | CQ Press
In 2016, Americans fed up with the political process vented that frustration with their votes. Republicans nominated for president a wealthy businessman and former reality show host best known on the campaign trail for his sharp rhetoric against immigration and foreign trade. Democrats nearly selected a self-described socialist who ran on a populist platform against the influence of big money in politics.

While it is not surprising that Americans would channel their frustrations into votes for contenders who pledge to end business as usual, the truth is that we don’t have to pin our hopes for greater participation on any one candidate. All of us have a say—if we learn, master and practice the skills of effective citizenship.

One of the biggest roadblocks to participation in democracy is the perception that privileged citizens and special interests command the levers of power and that everyday Americans can’t fight City Hall. That perception is undoubtedly why a 2015 Pew Charitable Trusts survey found that 74 percent of those Americans surveyed believed that most elected officials didn't care what people like them thought.

Graham and Hand intend to change that conventional wisdom by showing citizens how to flex their citizenship muscles. They describe effective citizenship skills and provide tips from civic experts. Even more importantly, they offer numerous examples of everyday Americans who have used their skills to make democracy respond. The reader will see themselves in these examples of citizens who chose to be victorious participants rather than tranquil spectators in the arena of democracy. By the end of the book, you will have new confidence that citizen participation is the lifeblood of America -- and will be ready to make governments work for you, not the other way around.
Prologue: Green Tea
An 800-Pound Gorilla

The Odd Couple

The Right Level at the Right Time

Framing the Problem and the Solution

A Legislative Champion

The Bright Future

Introduction: In the Arena
Chapter 1: What's Your Problem? Defining the Challenge That Active Citizenship Can Solve
Case in Point: A Road through the Mountains

How to Define the Problem

1. Look with a Telescope, Not a Microscope

2. Focus the Telescope if Necessary

3. Begin with the End in Mind

Tips from the Pros: Anticipate the Decision Maker’s Needs

4. Suggest Solutions as You Define the Problem

5. Define the Problem in Public Terms

6. Be Prepared to Refine the Problem

7. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Checklist for Action

Chapter 2: Just the Facts, Ma'am: Gathering Information to Sway Decision Makers
Case in Point: A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned

The Information-Gathering Process

Why Conduct Research?

Inform Every Citizenship Skill

Enhance Credibility

Learn from the Past

Locate Precedent

Out-Prepare Your Opponents

Another Case in Point: Stormy Weather

Effective Research: A Step-by-Step Guide

1. Above All, Be Credible

2. Stay on Target

3. Use All Your Tools

Tips from the Pros: Data Engagement Leads to Innovative Solutions

Tips from the Pros: Finding Public Records

Tips from the Pros: Make the Most of University Researchers

4. Harness the Power of Real People

Knowledge Can Be Power - If You Use It

Checklist for Action

Chapter 3: The Buck Stops Where? Identifying Who in Government Can Fix Your Problem
Case in Point: Putting the "Be" in South Beach

You Know the Problem - Who Has the Solution?

Aiming at the Right Target

1. Determine Which Level of Government Is Involved

Tips from the Pros: Contacting Local Governments

Tips from the Pros: Success in Your State Capital

2. Pinpoint Your Specific Targets within the Proper Level of Government

3. Use Representative Democracy to Your Advantage

Tips from the Pros: Maximizing Customer Service

Tips from the Pros: I’m Your Elected Representative— and Also Your Neighbor

Checklist for Action

Appendix: Constitutional Sources of State and Federal Authority

Chapter 4: Testing the Waters: Gauging and Building Public Support for Your Cause
Case in Point: Reversal of Fortune in Steamboat Springs

Why Does Public Opinion Matter?

1. Determine the Level of Support

2. Identify the Arguments Most Likely to Resonate with the Public

3. Anticipate and Rebut the Opposition’s Arguments

4. “Microtarget” Specific Groups of Persuadable Officials or Citizens

Tips from the Pros: Microtargeting 101

Tips from the Pros: Targeting (aka Microtargeting)

5. Get the Most Bang for Your Buck

How Do I Determine What Public Opinion Is?


Tips from the Pros: The Dos and Don’ts of Public Opinion Surveys

Other Methods of Measuring Public Opinion

Different Types of Survey Research

Tips from the Pros: Leadership Polling

Focus Groups

Tips from the Pros: The Dos and Don’ts of Focus Groups

Cost-Effective Public Opinion Research

Tips from the Pros: Affordable Public Opinion Research

Conclusion: Putting Public Opinion Data to Good Use

Checklist for Action

Appendix: Steamboat Springs Schools Survey

Chapter 5: Winning Friends and Influencing People: How to Persuade the Decision Maker
Case in Point: Getting MADD at Drunk Drivers

Influencing and Persuading the Decision Maker

1. Educate Decision Makers before They Become Decision Makers

2. Define the Relationship with the Decision Maker before You Create It

3. Follow the Chain of Command

Tips from the Pros: Back to School

4. Respect Professional Staff

5. Know the Decision Maker before You Advocate

6. Determine Who Influences the Decision Maker—and Influence Them

7. Understand Internal Politics and Dynamics

8. Do Your Homework—Always Be Credible

9. All Politics is Local

Tips from the Pros: Ridesharing Gets a Lyft in Portland

10. Maximize Your Face-to-Face Opportunities with the Decision Maker

Tips from the Pros: Getting in the Door

Tips from the Pros: Make a Lasting Impression on a Decision Maker

11. Don’t Assume that the Final Decision Maker Is the Right Target

12. Don’t Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good

Checklist for Action

Chapter 6: Timing is Everything: Using the Calendar to Achieve Your Goals
Case in Point: A Watershed Moment in Sports Activism

Manage the Clock

1. Be Aware of Fixed Deadlines— and Start Long in Advance

2. Know the Official Time

3. Study the Budget

4. Think in Terms of “Best Time” to Achieve Your Goal

5. Play the Long Game

Tips from the Pros: Time after Time

Take Advantage of Trends and Cycles



Checklist for Action

Chapter 7: All for One, and One for All: Coalitions for Citizen Success
Case in Point: Equality Means Business

Building Your Own Coalition: A Step-by-Step Guide to Forging an Effective Alliance

1. Define the Problem to Attract the Widest Possible Coalition

Tips from the Pros: Ingenuity and Innovation Are Keys to Effective Coalitions

2. Build the Coalition around a Solution

Tips from the Pros: Home Defense in San Francisco

3. Tailor the Coalition to the Decision Maker

4. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

5. Draft for Talent and Need

6. Turn Opponents into Allies

7. Pick a Strong Champion to Celebrate Your Cause

Another Case in Point: The Trail of Dreams

8. Have a Simple, Direct Message—and Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

9. Be Vigilant in Keeping the Coalition Together

Checklist for Action

Chapter 8: All Your News Is Fit to Print: Engaging the Media
Case in Point: The Street Doctor

Planning for Media Success

Getting to Know the Media

Traditional Media

Tips from the Pros: Citizen Advocacy on Camera

Tips from the Pros: Cut Through the Static— How to Stand Out on Radio

Tips from the Pros: Talk to Me. Quickly

Multicultural Media

The New Media

Tips from the Pros: Engaging the New Media

Tips from the Pros: Social Messaging Strategies

Tips from the Pros: Social Media Success Is All about Personality

Tips from the Pros: Podcasting for Citizen Success

Designing and Implementing Your Media Plan

1. Know Your Goals, Message, and Media Audience

Tips from the Pros: The Right Message

2. Distribute Your Own Message

Tips from the Pros: To Win Digital, Be Flexible, Mobile, Versatile—and Real

3. Do Your Homework

4. Walk a Mile in the Media’s Shoes

5. Make Contact

6. Take Multiple Bites at the Apple

7. Stay Credible at All Costs

Tips from the Pros: The Dos and Don’ts of Advocacy Storytelling

Checklist for Action

Chapter 9: The Prices of Progress: Finding the Resources to Support Your Initiative
Case in Point: Nothing But Nets

The Most Popular Labor-Saving Device

Paying for Your Advocacy Effort: A User's Guide to Successful Financing

1. Determine How Much Money You Need

2. Develop a Fundraising Plan

Tips from the Pros: Digital Fundraising Success

Another Case In Point: Following the Crowd in Jersey City

3. Establish a Finance Infrastructure

Tips from the Pros: The One B and Five Cs of Financial Management

4. Be Creative

Another Case In Point: Comic Relief

5. Demonstrate Financial Credibility to Decision Makers

Tips from the Pros: Mastering Local Budgets

Tips from the Pros: Thinking Outside the Fiscal Box

Another Case In Point: Soccer Advocates Net Goals in Newburyport

Checklist for Action

Chapter 10: You've Won! You've Lost: Preserving Victory and Learning from Defeat
Case in Point: A Victory Born in East L.A.

If You Have Won: Capitalizing on Victories

1. Look over Your Shoulder

2. Run through the Tape

3. Say Thank You

4. Chronicle the Campaign

5. Turn Opponents into Friend

6. Close the Doors Correctly

7. Keep Your Momentum

If You Have Lost: Recovering from Defeat

1. Try to Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

2. If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again

3. Be Gracious

4. Finish Strong

5. Diagnose the Problem and Fix It

Checklist for Action

Final Thoughts: The Journey Continues


"When it comes to the state of American democracy, are you a doer or a complainer? In America, The Owner's Manual, Bob Graham and Chris Hand don't just urge more Americans to be better citizens. They provide the instructions.” 

Chuck Todd
NBC Meet the Press moderator

“Americans need to be reminded of the importance of their role in our democracy.  We are the only ones who can change the direction of our country. America, the Owner's Manual provides just the roadmap to achieve those changes."  

Christine Todd Whitman
Former EPA Administrator and New Jersey Governor

“Bob Graham and Chris Hand's book, America, the Owner’s Manual: You Can Fight City Hall–and Win, is an exciting, energizing and hope-giving guide to effective citizenship.”

Donna Brazile
Democratic strategist

 "Bob Graham belongs to that now practically endangered breed of public servant that put country above politics. Sen. Graham and Chris Hand provide an important read to those of us who want to see citizens restore those governing values in American democracy."

Ana Navarro
CNN and ABC political commentator

“In America, the Owner's Manual, Senator Bob Graham and Chris Hand honor the ideal of a government of, by, and for the people by preparing citizens with the skills they need to hold public officials accountable."

Joe Lieberman
former Vice Presidential nominee and U.S. Senator

"Combining expert advice with relevant and timely examples, America, the Owner's Manual is a straightforward and accessible ‘how to’ guide to working for change in any political system. “

Annise Parker
former Houston Mayor

"Senator Bob Graham and Chris Hand have provided a how-to manual complete with clear examples, simple rules of the political road and smart strategies for Americans ready to get off the couch and get results from their government."

Rick Wilson
Republican media consultant

“Senator Bob Graham and Chris Hand have produced an invaluable primer on how American citizens can be involved in politics and affect policy change."

Russell J. Dalton
University of California, Irvine

America, the Owner's Manual is the only book that comprehensively explains how to be effective in American politics and civic life, and it does so brilliantly. It’s consistently practical, realistic, accessible, and inspiring."

Peter Levine
Tufts University

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1

For instructors

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ISBN: 9781506350585