Ground Rules & Tips for Challenging the Right
What Can I Do?
Recognize the Assault
The Right's many groups organize on a wide variety of specific issues, from education, the
environment, civil and human rights, immigration, and criminal justice to developing new constituencies
such as fathers and conservative people of color. Often they will link one issue with
another under a broad umbrella campaign, such as "traditional family values," "fiscal responsibility"
or "compassionate conservatism." Look for connections across their issues, and observe
patterns and trends in how specific topics are addressed. For instance, projects in one state are
often duplicated in others such as attempts to roll back gay rights or bilingual education. Find
out as much as you can about the right-wing groups and spokespeople that work nationally and
in your area and what influences them. Realize that the Right has influenced the "center" of U.S.
politics to be more conservative. Learn to recognize that moderate public statements often mask
deep conservatism, especially in areas where race plays a big part, such as criminal justice and
Defend the Basics
Defending democracy means reclaiming as progressive ideals the basic values and practices of
the democratic process such as fair elections, a vibrant free press, liberty, human rights for all
people, social and economic justice and the chance for everyone to lead dignified lives. Counter
to these values, the Right seeks to attract the allegiance of some by limiting the rights of others
and by sanctioning benefits for its supporters. At the same time it claims to do this in the name
of freedom and democracy. Recognize and expose this hypocrisy and contradiction, such as the
claim that a tax cut for the rich will benefit everyone. Work to extend basic rights and seek
social and economic justice for all people. This work will pose a significant challenge to the
conservative vision of the United States.
If activism is new to you, channel your insight and motivation into action. Notice the issues that
strike a chord for you and seek out like-minded individuals and groups interested in the same
things. Recognize that working for an issue that defends basic democratic values can be as valuable as working with a group that specifically organizes against the Right. Consider your circumstances,
your comfort level, and your skills, and do what's comfortable for you. There are as
many ways to participate as there are issues and perspectives, and activism includes much more
than electoral politics.
If you have been involved and focused on a single issue, be open to its possible connections to
other topics. Sometimes single issue organizing can miss opportunities for bringing on more supporters.
Consider acting on those connections. The Right successfully makes such connections
across issues all the time, and they have used this strategy successfully to build their influence.
A good place to start is Political Research Associates' website, http://www.publiceye.org. Look
under "Building Equality" for a list of organizations on a range of issues. If you have experience
with political groups, reflect how your understanding of the Right can help inform their goals
and planning. Share these insights with others, and keep informed about new developments.
Progress towards reclaiming democracy depends upon sustained effort. Luckily there are many
ways of participating in the democratic process. Support those who organize such tactics as
voting campaigns, educational projects, demonstrations, boycotts, letter writing, phone chains,
lobbying and internet activity. Continue to participate yourself, including with financial assistance
if you are able. Finally, recognize that understanding and challenging the Right takes time.
Be determined, outraged, committed, but also patient.
Do Your Homework
Recognize that the Right is a complex movement.
No one organization "controls" the Right. No single funder is "behind" the Right. Some large
organizations are important, but many others appear to be more influential than they really
are. Recognize that there are multiple networks of organizations and funders with differing
and sometimes competing agendas. Find out as much as you can about the groups you see.
Incorporate this information in your educational work. It is helpful in organizing to know a
great deal about your opponents. Be alert to evidence of the Right's "new racism." The Right
has replaced simple racist rhetoric with a more complex, "colorblind" political agenda which
actually attacks the rights of people of color. See the Resources sections of this kit for some
assistance in your research.
Decode the Right's agenda on your issue.
The Right often attempts to pass laws that take rights away from groups or individuals. Under
the guise of addressing some compelling societal need, they often frame the issue by appealing to
prejudice, myth, irrational belief, inaccurate information, pseudo-science, or sometimes even by
using outright lies. Further, right-wing organizers often appropriate the rhetoric of the civil rights
and civil liberties movement to portray themselves as victims of discrimination. Actually, they
most often are seeking to undermine the existing protection of individual rights, increase their
freedom to accumulate profit, and undermine the wall of separation between church and state.
Be careful to respect people's right to hold opinions and religious beliefs that you may
Everyone has an absolute right to seek redress of their grievances. This is equally true when those
grievances are based on religious beliefs. In an open and democratic society, it is important to listen
to the grievances of all members of society and take them seriously, even when we might be
vehemently opposed to them. They do not, however, have a right to impose those beliefs on others.
Distinguish between leaders and followers in right-wing organizations.
Leaders are often "professional" right-wingers. They've made a career of promoting a rightist
agenda and attacking progressives and progressive issues. Followers, on the other hand, may not
be well-informed. They are often mobilized by fears about family and future based on information
that, if true, would indeed be frightening. This so-called "education" is often skillful, deceitful,
and convincing. These followers may take positions that are more extreme than those of the
leaders, but on the other hand, they may not know exactly what they are supporting by attending
a certain organization's rally or conference. To critique and expose the leaders of right-wing
organizations is the work of a good progressive organizer, writer or activist. In the case of the
followers, however, it is important to reserve judgment and listen to their grievances. Do not
assume that they are all sophisticated political agents or have access to a variety of information
Rebut, Rebuke, Reaffirm.
It's important to remember that while the tactics of the Right may be obvious to you, they are
not necessarily obvious to others, even though they might be part of the political process. The
ways in which the Right distorts and misleads the public must be carefully explained. Use a 3-step
process. Rebut false and inaccurate claims. Rebuke those who use scapegoating or demagoguery.
Reaffirm what a progressive goal or agenda would accomplish for the betterment of society.
Stay Cool in Public
Use the opportunity of public forums to present your position.
Approach any public event as a chance to state your case. Come fully prepared to explain why
you are right. Although your audience may be unfriendly, remember that you are often an invited
guest at such events. Audience members are expecting you to represent your group, even though
they may not expect to agree with you. Your task is to convince these listeners, not the representatives
of the Right who may be your debating opponents or fellow panelists. Do so using short,
clear sentences, not long, abstract paragraphs. Many audience members are your potential supporters,
available to join your ranks. Provide them with reasons and ways to do so.
Common tactics of the Right include distorting the truth and manipulating facts and figures in
order to deceive the public. You can often expose false charges and baseless claims by demanding
that their sources be cited. The leadership of an organization can and must be held fully
responsible for every spoken or written word that comes from him or her or the organization
they represent. If you are thoroughly prepared, you will know the weaknesses of these sources
and be able to refute them publicly. At the same time be prepared to document your sources in
order to maintain your credibility.
Address the issues, not just the actors.
Try to avoid personalizing the debate or focusing entirely on the presentation by the Right's
representative. Take time to clarify what the real issues are, what tactics are being used, why
these issues are important to the Right and what the implications of the debate might be.
Criticize the outcomes, not the intent, of the Right's agenda.
If you focus only on exposing the purpose of a particular campaign, you may find yourself
locked in a circular argument about who knows better what the Right seeks to accomplish. It
may be more productive to look at the implications of the issues at hand and to explain that the
logical outcome of adopting your opponent's position will be a serious threat to the goals of
Avoid slogans, namecalling, and demonizing members of the Right.
Slogans and sound bites have their place, but they are not sufficient as an organizing strategy.
Simple anti-Right slogans do not help people understand why the Right sounds convincing but
is wrong. And responding in kind to being called names weakens your position with some of the
listeners you are trying to convince. Phrases like "religious political extremists" are labels, not
arguments, and often will backfire on the neighborhood and community level.
Expose who benefits from right-wing campaigns.
One of the most common ways the Right advances its policies is to argue that they will benefit
the "average" person, though that most often is not the case. It helps in exposing this deception
to point out who actually stands to benefit and who stands to lose from the policy being proposed.
Exploring whose self-interest is served can help organizers as they seek a clearer picture
of the forces behind a particular campaign. Sometimes, the greatest beneficiaries of a right-wing
campaign are the organizations conducting it. Campaigns are recruitment tools. So if potential
new members can be reached by a certain position, that is sometimes in and of itself the reason
the campaign is mounted.
Keep your supporters informed.
Signing up supporters is a good start, but your job includes keeping your supporters well
informed. Often the Right will switch tactics or redirect its energy. If you are in the middle of an
attack, these changes may be puzzling. Keep in mind that the deep agenda of the Right remains
unchanged despite these apparent shifts. Persist in explaining this to your colleagues.
Involve clergy and other respected community members in your organizing.
Since so much of the Right's rhetoric has been influenced by the Religious Right, progressive,
faith-based organizations and their representatives have great potential for increasing your
chances for successful organizing. Sympathetic religious leaders can present an alternative interpretation
of scripture and often have access to large congregations who may be interested in
Change takes time. Your organizing today is laying the groundwork for tomorrow's successes.
Patience, optimism and a sense of humor are key ingredients in opposing the Right.