Bird-Dog for Free College for All

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What is Bird-Dogging? Bird-dogging is defined as any strategic action that solicits a public response from a powerful person. Successful bird-doggers force a response from the target, good or bad, and record it on film. That way, we can reveal to the general public where the person stands on Free College for All. Getting your question into the media is also an effective way of publicizing the person’s stance while building momentum around the overall campaign.

There are two different types of bird-dogging. The first is town hall style bird-dogging, where you ask your question in a planned session for q&a (the event doesn’t necessarily need to be a town hall). The second type is rope-line bird-dogging, where you ask the person a question while they are shaking hands, moving from one place to another, taking pictures, etc. The main difference is they don’t see the question coming. The town hall tactic usually works better because the person answers the question in a very public way, usually with a microphone.

What Bird-Dogging is not:

  • An attempt to disrupt an event without a clear ask or demand
  • Soliciting a powerful person’s opinion without getting their hardline stance on a specific piece of legislation or a specific issue

How many people do you need to participate in a successful bird-dog? One is enough! As always, however, there is strength in numbers. One person asking a question about Free College for All is awesome. Having several people who ask different questions about Free College for All is even better!

How do we pick events to bird-dog at? We don’t only bird-dog people who will hesitate to stand with us. Bird-dogging is also a good tactic for our allies, as their public support contributes to a narrative that a movement is growing for Free College for All.

As you are researching candidates or other powerful people to bird-dog, look for any events where they will be speaking or in attendance. Major questions to consider when choosing an event to bird-dog at include:

  1. Will the event be accessible to the public? It is important that you will be able to access the event.
  2. Will there be space to ask questions? If so, do you need to do anything to sign up to ask a question beforehand? It is easier to bird-dog if there is structured space to ask a question. You may have to sign up beforehand, but the most likely scenario is that you will need to raise your hand during q&a. If there isn’t q&a time, you can still do a rope-line bird-dog.
  3. What press coverage will the event likely get? The more media attention you get for your question, and the person’s response, the better!

Shaping your question: Your question should be specific and direct. Rather than elicit a broad opinion, or encourage a candidate to revert to their talking points, we want to force them to take a hardline stance — either yes or no — on Free College for All. A couple examples:

A bad question: what is your stance on Free College for All?

A good question: do you support fully funded free college for all that covers tuition, books and basic living expenses for all people, including undocumented and formerly incarcerated people?

A bad question: will you stand strong with students and support the ACCESS bill?

A good question: do you support the ACCESS bill?

If the person avoids answering you directly, follow up.

Do’s and don’ts of an effective bird-dog:

  • Every bird-dog should be recorded on film — no exceptions!! The recording is often the most valuable result of the encounter.
  • Be confident and assertive. Things can get rowdy. You need to hold space for yourself.
  • Stay grounded in what’s at stake.
  • Arrive early to make sure you can enter (and sign up to ask a question if needed).
  • If the event requires you to submit questions in advance, submit a softball version of the question you intend to ask, as this makes your question likelier to be chosen.
  • Don’t give up the microphone. And if you are rope-lining, don’t let go of a handshake if you can get one. It will force the person to stay engaged with you until they answer.