Bird-Dogging to Stop NAFTA Expansion

Democracy Means Accountability

blue bird with dog's snoutOne of the most effective things that you can do to promote fair trade policy is to "bird-dog" candidates about their stances. Bird-dogging is the tactic of getting candidates to publicly address your concerns "on the record."

While the TRADE Act – which reforms our trade policy and provides for renegotiation of past NAFTA-type deals - gathers momentum in Congress and nears 160 cosponsors in the House and Senate, the Obama administration is nevertheless moving toward "resolving outstanding issues" and enacting more NAFTA-type pacts with auto competitor South Korea, tax haven Panama, and unionist-murder capital Colombia.

We have the right to know where the candidates stand on key trade issues.

It's Time to Bird-Dog

Bird-dogging is an underutilized tactic, but one of the best. It's easy, exciting and highly effective. Asking the right question can make a huge difference, so it's best to check in with Organizers at Global Trade Watch to select or craft the strongest question for your member of Congress. Read on for questions, or contact Global Trade Watch organizers and get bird-dogging 101. You can also download some extra tips to turn heads for fair trade (PDF).

Sample Questions for House and Senate Candidates

  • All-Purpose: Apparently, President Obama is planning to take up the NAFTA-type trade deals left over from President Bush. This is the same president who campaigned on a platform to renegotiate – not expand – NAFTA. Obama says he’ll resolve outstanding "issues," starting with the Korea FTA, but hasn’t specified if he’ll follow through on his campaign commitments to dump the NAFTA template and create a whole new fair trade model. Will you oppose the Korea FTA unless it's renegotiated in line with candidate Obama’s campaign commitments? What about the Colombia and Panama trade deals?
  • Jobs and the Economy: Even though NAFTA and the continued expansion of NAFTA have led to the loss of over 5 million good American manufacturing jobs and the virtual disappearance of the middle class, President Obama wants to move forward with another NAFTA deal with South Korea. With 10% unemployment, isn’t it time we say “No” to more NAFTAs? If elected, will you oppose Bush’s NAFTA expansion to Korea?
  • The TRADE Act: Over 150 Members of Congress are supporting comprehensive trade reform legislation known as the TRADE Act (H.R. 3012/S. 2821), introduced by Rep. Mike Michaud (ME) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH). The Trade Reform Accountability Development and Employment (TRADE) Act sets a high standard for future trade policy that makes sure good jobs, workers' rights, environmental protections, agricultural sustainability, consumer safety and democracy are the basis of a bold, forward-looking American trade policy for the 21st century. Are you currently a cosponsor of - or, if elected, will you commit to cosponsoring - the TRADE Act?
  • Immigration: This is a big issue right now, but no one really ever talks about why people are immigrating in the first place. I’ve heard that agricultural rules in NAFTA have led to over a million small farmers in Mexico losing their jobs, and this caused a huge increase in immigration to the U.S. Now the president is considering more NAFTAs with Colombia, Panama and Korea – with these very same rules. This will run hundreds of thousands more off their farms. I believe it’s hypocritical to talk about the immigration problem," but then to vote for trade deals that will be bad news for American workers and force people from other countries to try to come here. Will you oppose Bush’s NAFTA expansions to Korea, Colombia and Panama?
  • Climate & Environment: President Bush negotiated NAFTA expansions with Korea, Colombia and Panama which contain rules that would give oil, mining and logging companies the power to sue to challenge the stronger environmental laws that are desperately needed to save the Amazon rainforest and stop climate change. Despite this, the Obama administration is considering more NAFTA deals that leave these damaging rules in place. NAFTA expansion is a bad deal for American workers anyways, so I think these leftover FTAs sound doubly bad. Will you oppose Bush’s NAFTA expansions to Korea, Colombia and Panama?

Create Your Own Questions

Contact the GTW team for help tailoring a strategic question that fits your interest and experience.

Download a printable copy of these questions (PDF).

Bird-dogging 101: A Step-By-Step Guide

Download a printable copy of this guide (PDF).

  1. 1. Find an event and be sure you can get in. Many events require you to get tickets in advance. For others, like expensive fundraisers, you can volunteer or go as a member of the media, but both of these require registering in advance with the campaigns. You can do this through candidate and party websites, newspapers, or political calendars published by ABC, NBC etc. Find out who your representative is.
  2. 2. Get a posse of a few friends to come with you. Candidates often will duck a question the first time it is asked, and with a group we can back each other up and ask multiple questions, and better work the handshake line.
  3. 3. Get there early for good seats. It’s critical to get as close as possible to the stage so that you get called on, or are heard if you shout out. Depending on the “celebrity”-level of the candidate, and how close you are to election/primary day, you may need to arrive anywhere from 30 minutes early (for a happy hour in a bar with a lesser-known candidate) to 2-3 hours early (for a big rally with a front-runner candidate). To be on the safe side, an hour early is good.
  4. 4. Sit separately so that you don’t appear as a posse if you plan to ask a question. Candidates will only call on one person per region of the room. But - If you’re planning to chant our shout out - it’s better to sit together.
  5. 5. First, fast and high – the rule for hand-raising. At events where there is a Q&A period, most audience members will not raise their hand right away. If you are first, fast and high, you will almost definitely get called on.
  6. 6. Jot it down! It’s crucial to write down the answer to the question, or the response to the handshake, as soon as it happens. Otherwise we oftentimes forget important details of what the candidate says.
  7. 7. Stick your hand out for a handshake as the candidate walks by. You can push your way to the front together, then grab the candidate’s hand and don’t let go until you get an answer. The handshake line is a good place to try for more depth than the open forum. Your group can take turns getting autographs and posing for pictures while pressing the candidate for a commitment. Candidates are used to this!
  8. 8. Talk to the media and spread the word so the commitments the candidate makes (or doesn’t make) become part of the public record of the event. Approach the media and stick to the issue of fair trade policies. Share the answer you get with Global Trade Watch or the local Citizen’s Trade Campaign who will be working to hold the candidate accountable.

Other Helpful Tips:

  • Plan, prep and practice. Write down what you’re to say. Most people think they can get by without it, but we all get nervous, and its crucial we get our point across
  • Be creative. You’re not limited to asking questions. Holding up signs, chanting, street theater, shouting out or other ideas are also ways to make your message heard.

This video is a great example of effective bird-dogging. While the person in the clip is an expert on trade issues and asks a detailed question, you don't have to be an expert to ask questions of your elected representatives.

Turn Heads for the Cause

There's more to bird-dogging than asking questions. For example, not every event will be open to the public. In these cases, making signs and standing outside the event location can be very effective. Making noise with some fun chants can be a great way to draw attention and get covered in the media.

Signs: Make sure they are large and clear so that everyone can read the message.

Here are some sign ideas:

“No to Bush’s NAFTA with Korea!”
“Bush is Gone. But not his NAFTAs?”
"New Deal or No Deal – No NAFTA with Korea!"
"More NAFTA = Less Democracy"
"Colombia FTA: More Narcotics, Less Rainforest"
"TRADE Act: The Fair Way Forward"
"Don't trade away our future!"
"Dare to say NO to More NAFTAs!"

Chants: Great for getting media attention and drawing a crowd

Here are some chant ideas:

"Hey hey! Ho ho! Bush's NAFTAs have got to go!"
"One, two, three, four, we won't take NAFTAs anymore!"
"What do we want? Fair trade! When do we want it? Now!"

Want to give it a go, but need help?

Use the form below to email James Ploeser at Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, and he can give you ideas and connect you with other "bird-doggers" in your area. It's democracy in action!

December 18, 2018

I want to bird-dog to stop the Korea FTA

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