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Seven Steps to Effective Bird-Dogging

Most bird-dogging happens at free and open town-hall forums where you can ask pointed questions on trade.  The media will likely be there to record and publish the responses, turning them into the candidate’s public positions.  Here’s how to do it:

  1. Decide who to bird-dog and research their prior positions on trade.  (We’ve likely done this already for you—check out our guide to the 25 hottest mid-Atlantic races.)  The more you know about where the candidate stands, the more specific your question can be.

  2. Find 1-3 people to bird-dog with you.  Bring in allies from labor unions, churches, universities, community groups, etc.  Tell them it will be fun and effective.  (It will be.) 

  3. Find out when the targeted candidate is having events in your area.  Check their campaign website and call their campaign staff. 

  4. Choose your questions beforehand.  Here are our three recommended questions.  Feel free to use them in their current form if applicable, or adapt them to better fit your candidate. 

    1. “Under free trade agreements like NAFTA, our district has lost hundreds of jobs to countries known for exploiting workers.  Now Congress is considering a NAFTA-style agreement with Colombia, which leads the world in assassinations of unionists.  If elected, how would you vote on the US-Colombia free trade agreement, and why?”

    2. “You have spoken out for tougher restrictions against illegal immigration.  However, you also voted for CAFTA, a NAFTA-style trade deal expected to exacerbate migration from Central America.  Under NAFTA, 2 million Mexican farmers have lost their jobs and immigration from Mexico has nearly doubled.  How do you reconcile your pro-free-trade position with your anti-illegal-immigration position?”  

    3. “Under free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, offshoring has eliminated hundreds of decent jobs in our district.  Meanwhile, the agreements have also eliminated millions of farming jobs in Mexico and Central America by facilitating agricultural dumping.  Clearly, these agreements have failed working people here and abroad.  If elected, what steps would you take to renegotiate NAFTA and CAFTA?”

    If you’re going to formulate your own questions, here are some tips:
    • Make questions clear and specific to increase chances of a clear and specific answer.  Avoid questions that allow for “yes” or “no” answers.  
    • Feel free to include your own opinion and supporting facts to preface the question (but make it short—no speeches).  
    • If you know the candidate’s prior positions or votes on trade, include that information. 

  5. Go to the event and ask your questions.  More tips:
    • The 2-4 of you who go to the event should arrive separately and seat yourselves spread apart to maximize your chances of being called on.  
    • Each of you should bring different questions.  As soon as questions are called for, all of you should raise your hands.  First, fast, and high is the motto on hand-raising.  
    • Keep it cordial. You are likely to get more of a response from candidates, and make a positive impression on the media, if you are calm and respectful in your demeanor.
    • Record the responses to your questions.  While the media will probably also do this, it’s best to record as well to ensure that the response can be publicized later.   If possible, bring a video recorder and assign someone from your group to tape the response.  If not possible, assign someone to write down the response. 

  6. Report back to us so that we can publicize any positions taken.  Send a quick email with what happened and what the candidate said to Ben Beachy at  We’ll be sure to publicize any statements made so that others know how to vote and so that we can hold accountable those that have embraced fair trade positions. 

  7. Check to see the results of your bird-dogging posted publicly, as well as those of voters across the Mid-Atlantic. 


Trade/Immigration Petition:  A Bird-Dogging Supplement

To show your candidates that you are not alone in urging them to embrace fair trade, you can use the same town hall meetings to deliver a petition signed by others in your district.  Witness for Peace is collecting signatures for a petition that urges Presidential and Congressional candidates to “take a more comprehensive approach to immigration, by rejecting the failed NAFTA model which leads to impoverishment and thus forces people to leave their homes in search of economic opportunity.” Click here to see and sign the full petition.  

This petition will have the most impact if hand-delivered to candidates by someone in their district, someone who will already be at their town hall meeting, someone like…you.  Before delivery, the petition will of course need to bear the signatures of others in your district.  To obtain signatures from others:

  1. Click here to print out a copy of the petition.  To gather signatures, circulate the petition among churches, university groups, unions, and community organizations in your district.  Call for signatures at meetings and events and have others do the same.
  2. Email Ben Beachy at to get a list of others in your district who have already signed the petition (online or elsewhere).  Add their names to the list before delivering it.  Also, let Ben know the names you gathered so that they can be similarly passed on.  

After garnering a significant supply of signatures, the petition can augment your bird-dogging efforts, showing your candidates that, in calling for trade justice, you speak not just for yourself, but for many of your neighbors as well.