How a last-minute get-out-the-vote idea that died got revived by one determined mountain biker

Rhett Williams Bell-Built
This is the story of what Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC)/IMBA member Rhett Williams did to rally the troops last week for the Bell Built mountain bike trail-building grants competition. (See my earlier blog post Vote Midwest in the Bell Built mountain bike trail building grants competition for more details on the contest.)

A couple weeks ago, it occurred to me that organizing get-out-the-vote parties might be another way to inspire Midwest mountain bikers to get their non-mountain biking friends and family to vote. The idea was to replicate what get-out-the-vote organizers do when D-Day approaches and the hard/tedious work of stuffing envelopes, making phone calls, and sending emails has to be done: 1) They get the volunteers together in one room and make it a fun and social event; and 2) They urge the volunteers to make one-to-one contact with potential voters.

I pitched the idea privately to some local mountain bike leaders and advocates and got encouragement to go for it.  I put together this video/screencast that explained the idea and with the help of IMBA Midwest Regional Director Hansi Johnson, emailed a link to it to IMBA club/chapter leaders in the Midwest:

I got a small team of people to volunteer to help me but when everyone got so busy with their other duties, I had to concede that the idea was too much and too late. MORC board member Jay Thompson asked me to create a how-to-vote video (YouTube link here) but basically, I gave up.

But then last Monday I saw this comment by Rhett Williams in the MORC forum message thread about the Bell Built competition. Rhett wrote:

Copper Harbor Trails is hosting a voting party…. Griff they found out your idea

Lori Hauswirth 2013-04-10_18-51-52_452-1000w 10111_10151442970258533_127315950_n
Sure enough, Lori Hauswirth and friends from the Copper Harbor Trails Club hosted a get-out-the-vote party in Houghton, MI on Wednesday night.

When I posted a couple of photos from the event in the MORC forum, Rhett wrote:

Rhett WilliamsI recognize some of those people… people will come when you have half a barrel of beer lol Hopefully this helps the midwest!!! On facebook it said 40+ people were going.

The only places i can think of up here that would be good meeting places are, bike shops, the legion, bars in anoka or an ice arena meeting room… but the ice arena costs money

Although i work at the coon rapids ice arena and we have a few rooms we could use. I work tomorrow and can call today and ask if i could get a deal or just use the rooms if people will come.

Chance Glasford
MORC board member Chance Glasford chimed in:

well ask a bike shop or a coffee shop or the legion and make it happen Rhett! time is a ticking!

RHETT:

If i can, my arena has wifi and coffee, get a room, i need to know that people will come. I can have tables chairs wifi coffee. If MORC reserves the room (if i cant get it with a deal) will be either $25 or $40 if you want both party rooms. It would be ideal to have at least 5 people to show up, and i will stop by and help when im on my break. I need to know asap if we are going to use this venue. I dont know of a big enough place with wifi around here.

ME:

Rhett, probably the best thing to do is what Copper Harbor did: create a Facebook event on the Elm Creek Facebook page with the time/date/venue info and then start alerting everyone to that event so that they can indicate ‘going – maybe – no.’ (You have to be an admin of the page to do that.)  Then the admins who run the MORC and other Twin Cities’ area MTB pages can promo the event on their FB walls.  I think a coffeehouse or pub would be best because then there’s a stronger socializing element, whereas ‘come to the conference room at the arena’ isn’t quite as compelling. But at this late date, whatever works!

RHETT:

Im just trying to think of places where theres wifi and that are social… we dont have much up her like this… look at maple grove for somewhere to meet. If no one finds anywhere let me know. Should i make a facebook event and make you guys admins so we can change times and places…. mike loerzel said if we get a room he could bring subway to help make it a party

CHANCE:

do what you have to do! Griff can you help Rhett out at all with this?

RHETT:

Thanks chance, any help will help, im at school til 830 tonight. I will set things up online, if we dont have a place by 7-8 tonight i think i can still set up a room… we arent that busy tomorrow i think so we will have room and time to do all this

CHANCE:

see if they will donate the room since it is for a non-profit organization and if it is not being used it should be a big deal. definitely put it on blast whatever you are doing…. time place and all that f/b group would be good

RHETT:

Yea i think i can get the room and i can provide some drinks (non alcohol) and if people bring some food or snacks i also can do popcorn…. bring laptops and ill get it set up if we get a good amount of people… i know of 3 so far

CHANCE:

make the facebook page and get it out there i will put it up on all the pages I manage

RHETT:

Alright i will at 4 once my class is done, then post it on everything and make guys admins. I got a room no charge… i need times now

ME:

Rhett, I just spoke with Jay Thompson who’s the admin of the Elm Creek Facebook page. He’s going to make me an admin so I’ll create the event page for this.  Can you phone/text me asap at 507-319-5541?

[and then an hour later:] Okay, after a flurry of text and Facebook messages with Rhett Williams and Jay Thompson, we’re set: Dunn Bros Provision Bakery Cafe in Anoka tomorrow night, 6-9 pm/ Let us know if you can come via the event page.

And on Friday night, we gathered. See the large slideshow of a dozen photos (recommended) or SLOW CLICK this small slideshow:

I’ve also uploaded these photos to an album on the Elm Creek Singletrack Facebook page where I’ve tagged faces and added some descriptive text.

Did the effort help? Earlier in the evening, we were behind Colorado’s Bear River Bike Park in the voting by 1%. By the end, we were tied at 39% each. We like to think we made a difference but of course, there’s no way to know.

Are there lessons to be learned? Maybe.

  • In this age of social media, photos of bike advocates in action do matter. The photos of the Copper Harbor crew’s party were definitely an inspiration.
  • Leadership doesn’t come only from leaders. 18-year old Rhett Williams saw a need and took charge.
  • Online networks can facilitate organizing in ways that are otherwise difficult to do. This would not have happened without the MORC forum and Facebook.
  • The hard work of advocacy can be both satisfying and fun. If Elm Creek Bike Park doesn’t win next week, we can still savor the week’s experience.  And if it does win, I have a hunch that another party will be in the works.

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