Lessons from our Vote NO on the Coyotes Arena campaign
We learned so many things in our David vs. Goliath battle with Blue Bird Development against their proposed hockey and entertainment district and we thought it would be interesting to ask those intensely involved with the fight what their three takeaways were—what they learned and what we can use moving forward.
- Listening to the community and reaching out to community members on issues should always be a top priority.
- Never give up on what you believe is the right thing.
- People coming together in grassroots efforts makes significant change.
- When large amounts of money are involved the people involved will be clever with words, but the truth is the truth.
- There are thoughtful and well-educated people in Tempe, who can read, listen and think for themselves. It was pleasant to work with the ‘no’ vote team. Strength in unity.
- I learned, or perhaps realized anew, that Cities exist for the benefit of current and future citizens, living, visiting or working within the borders, not investors and speculators. We can be open-minded without giving away our future.
- I learned — to let go and truly collaborate with so many different people, all focused on the same goal
- — to have faith that my fellow residents would see through the smoke and mirrors of the opposition
- — that defeating something (by nature, a negative action) can be a wonderfully positive experience
- A grassroots campaign prevailed against big money and traditional local political power
- Volunteers at the neighborhood level were passionate and effective at involving others
- The coalition of organizations spread the campaign across broad demographics
- The power of young activists was incredible. Articles and research are suggesting that younger voters will have a growing influence on the upcoming 2024 elections — not only for their votes but their willingness to engage in get-out-the-vote canvassing.
- The joy of working alongside others with whom one shares a common vision.
- The lengths to which big money will go to add to its treasury.
- The importance of local media (NextDoor, neighborhood newsletters) alongside large media (Facebook, etc.)
- Starting early to build up grassroots support
- Having a message sufficiently strong for people to identify with but still relatively neutral enough not to put off middle-of-the-road folks.
- Residents are very concerned about their neighborhoods and crave factual information about any changes that the city is planning.
- Once energized and educated, residents are willing to work for the good of our community and Talking Points are very helpful.
- Developers do NOT have the best interests of our city at heart and will stop at nothing to get their way but organizing with grassroots organizations is what can stop them.
- Voters respond to visual messages that pluck an emotional cord like “protecting” what they have. That’s why an online ad featuring a child’s photo worked best.
- There’s no substitute for direct contact with voters like canvassing door-to-door, meetings and events. They are effective tools to convey messages and get grassroots feedback on what they are thinking.
- With voting by mail, most elections are effectively over long before the “Election Day” when votes are actually counted.
- When faced with a better funded opponent be “David” striking at “Goliath.” Aim at the weakness within the strength of the opponent. We turned the “Billionaire” into a liability.
- The best opening tactic was creating and deploying simple yard signs that communicated a neighbors support for the “No” campaign position.
- Don’t think you can’t win even when it feels like you’re David against Goliath.
- Seize the initiative and aggressively litigate your case — organize and strategize like you’re running a political campaign for office.
- Control the narrative through grass roots communication and outreach.
Ron Tapscott, published August 5, 2023:
- After years/decades of undue developer influence on Tempe City politics … The City Council became an appendage of the Coyote/Meruelo organization.
- They allowed Meruelo, through their attorney, Nick Wood, to write their own RFP .. only Coyotes could respond
- They allowed former Mayor, Hugh Hallman, to not only write the Development Agreement but to sit in Executive Sessions representing both the City and the Meruelo organization at the same time .. City had to issue a Waiver for Conflict of Interest.
- City Council members actively campaigned for the proposal … on the Meruelo YES Campaign web site.
- Joel Navarro, during a scheduled debate, sat alongside Xavier Guterriez, representing the Coyotes.
- The City’s ruling clique/elite consolidated in their public support for the Meruelo/Coyote proposal and actively/personally attacked the Tempe1st individuals and efforts.
- The City Council forced the City Clerk to push through and abbreviate the election process to place the matter on the May ballot … normally would have been on the August ballot.
- Despite the assumption the elected leaders will protect their constituents …. they:
- Offered no challenge to the Mereulo attorney, Nick Wood, who threatened a lawsuit against three Tempe 1st activists.
- The City Council issued a contract to an outside vendor to investigate Tempe 1st … we are awaiting details through a public records request.
- An underfunded but well-organized grassroots organization can beat a Los Vegas billionaire and a corrupted City Council … by:
- Trusting the experience and neighborhood knowledge of Tempe activists from decades of community work
- Reaching out broadly and expansively to individuals, groups, and organizations that were meeting, often, for the first time.
- Understanding that differences of opinions and views were part of the process… willingness to address and “repair” those differences.
- Creating tactical flexibility allowing partners to craft their message within the overall strategic approach
Gail Graves, published August 17, 2023:
- Volunteers were the reason behind our success.
- It takes a one-on-one discussion with citizens to educate them on the issues.
- The city of Tempe continues to act on the desires of the developers over what’s best for it’s citizens.
Marie Provine, published August 17, 2023:
- I learned that your allies don’t necessarily have to share exactly the same vision you do, as long as they seek the same the end.
- Our signage taught me the importance of a good color scheme and a good motto. A motto must state an obvious truth, but not over claim. That was the lesson learned.
- I learned the press can be very lazy, and uninterested in an important conflict, until the very end.
Jacob Marson, published August 17, 2023:
- Learned that we have to utilize every effort we can. No business is too small, no person too old to help out.
- Our digital outreach was effective
- Endorsements from elected officials AND community members