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Home Action Legislative Action Resources Bird-dogging: A tactic that gets candidates talking
Bird-dogging: A tactic that gets candidates talking PDF Print E-mail

It has nothing to do with animals and everything to do with grassroots power in action! To bird-dog is to “observe, follow, monitor and/or seek out with persistent attention.” It’s a great tactic that SOA Watch activists have used to get politicians to talk publicly about the School of the Americas. Basically, you show up at the candidates’ events, ask them to commit to defund the SOA, and ask them questions they don’t want to answer in order to get them on the record and to educate those present about the SOA and U.S. militarization in the Americas.

The actual logistics of attending a political event and bird-dogging a politician before, during or afterwards, takes a little bit of thought. However, once you practice a bit, it quickly becomes easy.


  • Arrive Early: This is especially important if the candidate is very popular, leading in the polls, or if it is late in the primary season. Make sure you sit close enough and are within the candidate’s line of sight.
  • Have Your Question Ready: Review the information, especially the talking points and ways to respond that are available on the SOAW website. You can use your question to briefly provide information on the issue while making sure the question is brief, fact based and direct. Practice with other people, having them play “devil’s advocate” with the best questions/challenges to your argument. (You'll quickly discover that many questions that you once thought were great can be quickly sidetracked or outright dismissed by a savvy politician.)
  • Ask Your Question Early: At events where there is a question and answer period most people in the audience will not raise their hand immediately. If you ask right away, you are more likely to be called on.
  • Get Ready to Shake Hands: Candidates often walk through the crowd shaking hands and pausing for brief conversations. Be ready for these one-on-one opportunities. Position yourself in the candidate’s path.
  • Work in Teams of Two or More & Disperse: Since bird-dogging can make people nervous, it is good to go in teams of two or more people. One person asks the question while another writes down the candidate’s response. Dispersing at the event will possibly allow everyone in the group to ask a question. Be prepared to ask a follow-up question if you feel like the candidate dodged a question or you want more details. Also, come prepared with more than one question, as someone may ask your question before you get the chance.
  • Know the Candidate’s Positions: Ask a question that shows you know something about the candidate’s position, and that you want to know more. Don’t waste your opportunity by asking a “softball” question, but choose a topic that you want him or her to move on and formulate a question on that topic.
  • Be Calm and Reasonable: Maintaining a respectable tone will bring a more positive response from the candidate, their staff, and the media, if they are present. Getting angry, sarcastic, or emotional will generally result in being ignored or belittled. You can even preface your question with a comment on something the candidate has done well, before proceeding to your question.
  • Take Notes: The only way to track the responses of candidates is to have an accurate record of what they said. It is also helpful to have notes when you are trying to frame a follow-up question. Having a record of their position you can make sure they follow through on promises to close the school if elected. Remember: Making them accountable for their words and actions is an integral part of effective bird-dogging.


    - Subscribe to a candidate's email list. Sometimes a politician will just announce where he/she is going to be.

    - Subscribe to state and party email lists. Both groups frequently promote their favorite candidates.

    - Get in with the local party -- get on their snail mail list and meet some of their leaders. You'll pick up a lot of info this way.

    - Find someone who's been active with the party for a long time who will be willing to pass on information to you. In some cases these individuals would love to bird-dog a candidate but can't because of appearances -- but they CAN pass information onto you so that you can do the "dirty work."

    - Find friendly members of the media to get info from. Some reporters really would like progressive issues to be part of the political debate.

    - Check other media sources such as newspapers and newspaper web sites. In some circumstances, the papers will have calendars announcing when political candidates will appear. This is far less likely in a non-election cycle year.


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