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Congressional Recess Tactic:

Birddogging

What is Birddogging? 

Birddogging is a tactic used by grassroots activists to get leaders on the record about important issues. Like protesting at in-district offices, only use birddogging for lawmakers who are against abortion rights.

It’s easiest to explain birddogging by sharing a prime example of it: Imagine a person like you at a lawmaker’s event, publicly asking the lawmaker to commit to a position on policy, and sharing a recording of your interaction on social media. That’s birddogging — a very helpful way to spread the word about where our elected officials stand on abortion rights.

Here’s the TL;DR of birddogging:

  • Show up at a public event that your local member of Congress might attend.
  • Ask questions about abortion rights; access to contraception; or the plan from anti-abortion rights policymakers for a federal, nationwide abortion ban.
  • Expose their unpopular position or make it clear they’re deflecting reasonable questions from constituents.
  • Record it on video and get that video posted everywhere you can — from social media to local print, radio, and TV news.

Birddogging Step-by-Step

Recruit a Squad and Train Them:

Birddogging is best done with a group of people who can take on a variety of necessary roles. At the very least, you need two people to pull off a successful birddog — one person to take action and one person to record it. 

An ideal crew has at least one person for each of the following roles.

  • Question askers: These are the members of your group who are bold and assertive — who ALWAYS speak up and don’t give up asking until they’re satisfied with the answer. 
  • Recorders: These folks are diligent, good on their feet, and great at taking video.
  • Social media manager(s): Choose someone who knows how to get your video seen.
  • Trackers/researchers: These people know how to scour the web, social media platforms, local news sites, and city/town public events — and have all the best Google alerts set up — to track down where our leaders will be speaking publicly.

Find Opportunities to Birddog:

Your tracking and research team can search leaders’ websites, sign up for their newsletters, or call their local congressional or campaign office to ask about upcoming public events. Sometimes events are posted only a few days — or even hours — in advance.

Work with your trackers to create a rapid response birddog team that can mobilize quickly.

Research Your Elected Official:

There’s no shortage of questions to ask your elected official  but it’s always best to tailor them to each lawmaker.

Visit Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Congressional scorecard to find out if your elected officials have made statements on abortion or contraception, and use those statements in your approach. 

Attend the Event and Get Them On the Record:

Be Calm and Reasonable: Remember, the goal is to expose anti-abortion politicians as the minority. Be direct and calm — we’re the reasonable ones, after all. If they deflect or try to change the subject, ask the question again.

Arrive Early: You want to be as close to where they’ll be speaking as possible, so arrive as early as you can to figure out the right place to stand at the event.

Ask Your Question Right Away: Be prepared to ask as early as possible — there’s no telling if you’ll get a second opportunity.

Take Up Space: Elected officials love walking through crowds, shaking hands, and having short conversations. Be ready for these one-on-one opportunities with your question and a cell phone to capture video. Put yourself directly in their path and make it hard for them to pass you.

Disperse Throughout the Venue: Whenever possible, more than one person in your group should be prepared to ask a question and get it on video. Take every opportunity you can to get our leaders on the record about their anti-abortion positions.

Record a Video: If there isn’t a video, it didn’t happen — it’s really that simple. Get as close as you can for a higher quality shot and good audio from the exchange.

Post Footage on Social Media and Share It With the Press:

Explain where you were, what you asked, and what the candidate’s response was. Use #NoAbortionBans so others within the movement can amplify you at the national level.

In your social media posts, try to get news coverage by tagging your local and regional news stations.

Check your news station’s website video submission instructions and send it to them.

Debrief and Brainstorm Other Ways to Use the Footage:

Once you’ve completed the birddogging, debrief with your group.

  • How did it go?
  • What would you have done differently?
  • Is there another local opportunity to try again?

Then, decide on additional tactics (letters to the editor! Op-eds! A targeted media event!) that could make the most of what you captured on video.

For More Information:

See sample questions for birdogging at officials' town halls and other public appearances.

Return to the Congressional Recess Guide's homepage

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