5 Lessons Worth Learning at RightOnline


Iron sharpens iron, so the saying goes. When it comes to developing your skills as an online activist, the iron can be found at RightOnline, an annual conference put on by Americans for Prosperity where advocates of liberty gather to network and learn from the greats. This year’s conference kicks off in Orlando at the end of the week. From the website:

The RightOnline Conference brings top new media, technology, and messaging experts together with hundreds of committed citizen activists to provide important leadership and grassroots training, offering tools and inspiration to more effectively impact public policy in favor of limited government and free enterprise. The agenda provides a solid program of workshops and training seminars on new media strategies and tools that can be used to mobilize and advance free market policies.

Since its first conference, RightOnline has been expanded into a broader initiative that includes state-based and local grassroots training seminars aimed at promoting and increasing citizen participation in the public policy process through the use of online tools.

Among a handful of activists sponsored by AFP to represent Minnesota at the conference, I look forward to two days of intense training and encouragement from some of the most accomplished names in alternative media. Conferences like RightOnline offer a buffet of knowledge for those willing to lap it up.

The hardest part of attending such an event is choosing which tracks to follow in the breakout sessions. Previous experience has taught me that following the track of greatest interest may not lead to as much learning as sitting in on something less familiar. So assessing which sessions will yield the highest return requires an introspective analysis of strengths and weaknesses.

With that in mind, here are 5 lessons worth learning at RightOnline. Be sure to let us know which sessions you’ll be attending in the comments section below.


1. Talking Shop on Workplace Freedom

Friday morning will offer policy breakouts briefing activists on a handful of specific issues. I’ll be attending the session on workplace freedom, also known as employee freedom or right-to-work.

The poorest of the poor lose out on real opportunity due to the sly arrangements and coercive activities of labor unions. Inflated wages and other barriers to entry keep teens and unskilled workers from joining the workforce.

Back when Republicans controlled the state legislature in Minnesota, an effort to make ours a right-to-work state ran into bipartisan resistance. Democrats feared the loss of union contributions coerced from workers who may or may not support their agenda (it’s much harder to convince people to donate to your campaign than to force them to as a condition of employment). Republicans feared the proposal would trigger an influx of out-of-state spending which could lose them control of the legislature, then passed a ballot initiative banning gay marriage which triggered an influx of out-of-state spending which lost them control of the legislature.

The most effective argument offered against right-to-work was that “free riders” would abuse the unions by benefiting from their representation without joining the union and paying dues. Unfortunately, too few advocates of right-to-work countered that argument with the fact that unions only have to represent “free riders” under contracts which specify the union as the sole arbiter of labor agreements. In other words, the unions choose to represent “free riders” and can just as easily choose not to. They just have to adjust their contracts to allow for competition, one of the inconveniences of a free market.

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2. From Story to Experience: Messaging that Moves

Conservatives argue like nerds. Don’t laugh at that if you call yourself a libertarian, Tea Partier, or Objectivist, because you do too. The Right can’t figure out how to craft an argument that doesn’t sound like an argument.

Consider Congressman Paul Ryan. In 2011, he came out with a plan for Medicare reform that relied upon an antiquated concept known as math. He went so far as to put together a fancy YouTube video complete with charts and graphs explaining both the need for reform and how his plan would move the country in the right direction. The video capped off at just under five minutes, a good duration for social media and its inherent attention deficit.

Enter the Agenda Project and their minute and twenty second rebuttal showing a Paul Ryan look-alike tossing a wheelchair-bound grandmother off a cliff. The tagline asks, “Is America still beautiful without Medicare?’”

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We on the Right tend to value facts, reason, and the truth. An influential activist from Minnesota frequently reminds me that truth doesn’t matter. “If truth mattered, Barack Obama would not have been re-elected.” In politics, sentiment matters, transient feelings, the emotional gravity of a particular moment. Those of us on the Right need to do a better job of translating our arguments into the language of emotion. I hope for tips in that regard during this breakout.

3. Clicktivism: Fighting the Battle Online

The Right actually has a very decent presence on Twitter. So much of the Left’s messaging depends upon their controlling the environment in which it gets dispensed. But Twitter cannot be controlled. Time and again, memes or hashtags which the Obama White House or some leftist organ intent for ill get hijacked by a digital army of happy warriors who twist the message to good use.

Remember #IlikeObamaCare because? The Blaze reported at the time:

On Friday, Barack Obama’s official Twitter account said, “If you’re proud of Obamacare and tired of the other side using it as a dirty word, complete this sentence: #ILikeObamacare because…”

#Gen44: Conservatives Usurp Obamas Twitter Hashtag...Again

Conservative responses included:

@JamesNolan: #IlikeObamaCare because I’m tired of making my own healthcare decisions…

@anthropocon: #ILikeObamaCare because I want unelected bureaucrats making as many personal decisions for me as possible.

@yidwithlid: #ILikeObamacare as much as I like My father-in-law’s wife

@SaintObama: #ILikeObamacare, Because I think if you work, then I should benefit.

@iowahawkblog: #IlikeObamacare because the best things in life are free. Give or take $2 trillion.

Of course, there’s more to online activism than snarky tweets. That will be convered in the “clicktivism” breakout.


4. Building Your Clout: Upping Your Social Media Impact

I hope for more in this breakout than a beginner’s course on how to tweet and post to Facebook. It’s a fair bet that anyone attending RightOnline has the basics down. If not, there are plenty of local venues for learning the basics. I’m looking for tips and tricks to graduate my social media presence to the next level, to maximize distribution of my messaging and tailor it for a desired effect.

This breakout session might clarify the best way to segregate personal, political, and professional networks. I see it handled in different ways by different activists. Some have entirely different accounts for different purposes. Some use Facebook pages to promote their professional work while limiting their personal pages to family and personal acquaintances. I, on the other hand, will accept just about any friend request and sort people into categories to ensure personal posts are directed to an intended audience. Which of these approaches proves most effective for building a robust social media presence?


5. Mining for Treasure: Finding Interesting Data

As a philosophy guy, studies and statistics fall outside my wheelhouse. I find the lobbing of citations tedious and unconvincing. Studies are like photographs, showing what they were aimed at. Often, the consideration of statistics lies outside any moral consideration of individual rights. Such and such study says this and that, therefore we get to take your property, enact mandates and bans, or otherwise encroach upon your life. So go too many of the Left’s policy prescriptions.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that data influence opinion. I look forward to attending this breakout, hosted in part by my friend and contributor to Conservative Daily News Erin Haust. While no amount of data can change the fundamental moral arguments for individual rights, it can certainly lend support to the case.

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6. Pass the Gatekeeper: How to Get Published

Every writer thinks they have a book in them. As a freelance contributor to PJ Media, I like to think I could transition to the long form with minimal difficulty. However, there likely exists as much difference between blogging and authoring a book as exists between creating a great Vine video and producing a full-blown movie. Different mediums, even when sharing a fundamental nature, require different skills to be effective.

I’m not sure if this breakout will focus on getting a book published, getting freelance work, or a little of both. Either way, the underlying theme emerges as self-promotion and effective networking with those who can advance your message and career. While there are certainly fewer “gatekeepers” in the age of self-publishing and the internet, established brands retain value and getting published by one of them remains worthwhile.

Activism on the Right often feels like a lonely endeavor. So much more infrastructure exists on the Left — nearly all of the mainstream media, the vast majority of non-profits, and the government itself. Those of us plugging away on the Right tend to feel like David confronting Goliath. A conference like RightOnline reinvigorates its attendees with the knowledge that they are not alone. There are many Davids, and we come to Orlando to fill our slings with the means to bring the giant down. See you there.