Notes from an Awake IL/Moms for Liberty school board training

We’ve shared a lot over the past year about how individuals with Awake IL and Moms for Liberty have been organizing to ban books about LGBTQ+ students, ditch the teaching of Black history, and much more. When those groups made it public they were having some school board trainings around Illinois, a curious parent decided to sign up and shared their notes with us afterwards.

The parent didn’t know who was doing the actual training when they arrived and found it was a group called the Leadership Institute (LI). They didn’t know who that was, but we researched it later. The Leadership Institute is the primary institution training conservatives to run for public office in the US (and beyond); many prominent US ultra-conservative political figures were trained by LI, including Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed and Mitch McConnell.

Key mantra shared at the training: “A bad Republican is always better than a good Democrat.”

These are their notes:

The presenters were Charlie O’Neill (Leadership Institute) and Jim Reavis (active in Republican politics and fundraising). Jim has five platform priorities. Candidates he supports have to agree with him on at least three of the five; one of those priorities is anti-abortion, and another is Support for Police. 

The trainers were pretty friendly and boasted that they had trained many famous alumni such as Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, Jim Jordan, and Mayra Flores. Much of what was presented was general tactics applicable to any local race.  

Who was in the room? 

A few Awake/M4L leaders: they were active participants, mostly in the back of the room but didn’t do the actual training. 

About 30 parents/citizens: Various concerns, some around content kids were exposed to and socio-emotional learning in schools. One in a 1776/2nd Amendment sweatshirt.

They did not endorse candidates but they did endorse campaigns Charlie says LI does not support or oppose any legislation. They offer training in communications, campaign strategy, grassroots activism, fundraising, organization development. [We looked afterward on their website, and they have 46 types of training, but they are focusing heavily on school board races this year.]  

Your local office is the site of most importance; this is how you make change. LI provided lots of training in Florida for the Red Wave there.

They have also supported various types of leadership on college campuses. ( This organization provides an opportunity to expose what is going on on college campuses. For example, no one is talking about how Ben Shapiro was protested.

Reavis connected county committees in Oklahoma to Arkansas candidates. Oklahoma is solidly Republican, they don’t need to spend money on races there. Arkansas, however, needed the financial support, so they moved unneeded money from Oklahoma races to Arkansas races. That’s how they moved Arkansas from blue to purple/red, e.g. Tom Cotton, who is currently spending more time in New Hampshire than Arkansas.

LI said that on the local level, people do care about good schools, roads, etc. People want to give the best to their children, so they are willing to pay more in taxes for things that benefit them directly.

Another motto shared: “Motivate, don’t educate”.

Messaging and media info:

They said any media is good media. 

“My kid shouldn’t have to wear a mask.” Re: CRT, battle of CRT is being won by the Right. That’s because they are forcing the Left to explain. If you have to explain, you are losing.

Average person spends only seven minutes/week thinking about politics. You have to meet voters where they are, not where you want them to be. Voters aren’t stupid, but they are selfish.

Campaign strategy: combination of political art and science to achieve a campaign goal.

Need: relatable message, volunteers, fundraising, budget, get attention, turn voters out. Maybe you can make an issue: get rid of pornography in the library, stop teaching CRT

Strategic research: you always want to be on the offensive. Jim Reavis likes the idea of running a positive campaign; Charlie O’Neill says that doesn’t work, says you have to draw contrasts between yourself and your opponent. 

Before you run, clean up your social media. Do you have any bad posts? A candidate they worked with recently ran into problems because he didn’t scrub his social media. “Social Scrubber” is a good tool. Less is more wrt social media. Re: problems in your past, “Mike Lindell turned his life around, now runs a great company.”

Good idea to know everyone’s dirty laundry. You won’t necessarily use it. You should have someone – not you – do a vulnerability study for you. They advocate connecting unrelated facts when talking about your opponent’s record. “Read between the lines.”

Study your opponent (implication: to look for dirt): timeline of life, legal, financial, any comments they have made, associations, personal voting history, public statements, personal conduct. Find out who they gave money to. If new person just joined a school board and doesn’t have long record of votes to criticize and you want their seat, see if there is a way to tie them to the previous board – their “hand-picked successor.”

N.B. People who vote in every election are turned off by someone who doesn’t vote.

What is a swing voter? Someone who is persuadable.

You need volunteers for your campaign. Maximize every voter interaction. Three sides to the triangle: time, cost, volunteers.

They presented the Leesburg Grid as a tool.

Leesburg Grid

Our message about Us

Our message about Them

Their message about Us

Their message about Themselves

We worked through this example as a class using Trump. 

Liberty Institute asked why are you here with Moms for Liberty? Answer: The other side is extreme, closing schools. We just want parental rights.

They referred to  a text called “Answers for Radicals”. “The other side twists language and puts themselves on the moral high ground. DON’T ACCEPT THEIR PREMISE.”

Referred to “sticky messages” Made To Stick. 

They showed Joni Ernst’s political ad as a good example. Good messages are: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional.

Get endorsements. Best way: get endorsed by President Trump! 

Some people in the room referenced Tom DeVore’s suit: the state had no authority to impose masks. Between 2/4 and 2/28 – when masks came off – there were a lot of angry parents.

Next campaign? Expel SEL!

Many are opposed to social-emotional learning in shcools. Woman in the back said that SEL initiatives started in 2013. They have seen a downward trend in academic performance since then. They said SEL is intentionally pulling students’ performance down.

Showed a video of a British man talking in a BBC interview, how he kept referring back to his simple message. Originally people had made fun of him for being such a one-trick pony, but this group thinks this was very effective messaging.

Keys to Communications:

Earned media: free coverage in any medium (newspapers, local/national tv, social media, radio). “The protest outside gave us earned media”

Paid media: messages – offense vs. defense, message penetration, need to hear something 6-8 times to internalize it

Establish timeline: know what/when/where did s/he say it, know what reporters are missing when they cover an event

Determine the objective facts. You have to be objective in this assessment. Sometimes we think we are being objective when we are being subjective

Agree on a strategy, Execute the strategy

Immediately correct false information (AP, Reuters, AFP)

Press releases should be written in AP style to answer who, what, when, where. Sometimes reporters will just lift the text of your press release and publish it if you write it correctly. 

Showed example of a good press release. Charlie O’Neill was involved in the press release for alternate electors in Pennsylvania. You can have a background section on a press release to provide more information.

Engage on your terms.

Dan Proft enters the convo at the training

 Dan Proft has created a PAC. “I would love it if he would give money to school board candidates.” 1776 Project PAC. This is an independent PAC, they will do the marketing for you.

Awake IL may be trying to start a PAC in Barrington to run school-board candidates.

Even if you can’t form a PAC, try to work together with similarly aligned candidates so you don’t reinvent the wheel.

Finance Plans & Fundraising:

How many votes are in your district? Jim Reavis doesn’t do postcards any more. Social media is where it’s at. At one fundraiser he ran he asked attendees to fill out a questionnaire. Found out valuable information about identity/issues people cared about.

Use photo of protester as a fundraiser. Protesters are playing to their donor base. Would your voters like to see you protesting? No.

Why do people donate:

  • want change
  • shared vision
  • personally know the candidate

Jim Reavis holds fundraisers in AK for candidates in CO, because there is a $250 limit on donations in CO. 

As school board members, you have an obligation to the rest of our country. When you do fundraising for a school board campaign, do it during the school year, not during summer. Make your ask go out at the same time as property tax is due. Put in 10% buffer amount.

Jim sent “missionaries” out to counties. Made sure they looked nice, acted normal.  

Warm market: if Jim R asked for money from this group, that would be an example of a warm market. You have a duty to know your audience. Everyone can give $20. Don’t ask Alice Walton for $1500. Rich people don’t vote, but they will write you a check. Most important: reciprocity. JR is donor source for RNC.

“Safe Suburbs” group. We don’t want crime in our neighborhood.

BEACON method for Volunteers:

Build lists
Engage contacts
Activate volunteers
Organize data
Nurture relationships

One suggestion: deck your supporters out in swag, show up at an event your community cares about like a high school football game. “Football tends to have conservative parents because they see that it is a true meritocracy.”

There is data to suggest that negative campaigning works.

Vote Goals: GOTV is like building a house.

How many votes do we need to win? Aim for 53% of the electorate.

  1. Establish voter turnout (look at last three similar elections)
  2. # of registered voters in district
  3. # of candidates in race
  4. Majority or plurality to win

Base voters – always support conservative candidates. Jim asked how many in the room had always voted for conservative candidates. Many hands went up. 

High propensity voters – vote in every election 

Vote deficit: difference between vote goal and base vote 

Undervote: difference between # who voted and the # who voted in a particular race. (Some voters do not fill out the entire ballot.)

Do exit interviews with volunteers, employees, everyone

Show your opponent in photos with crazy people.

Data Drives Voter Contact

-I360 is the best program

Door to door: 1 vote per 14 contacts, high impact

Radio ads: raises citywide turnout by .8%

Direct mail: 1 additional vote per 133 contacts

Literature drop: 1 vote per 66 contacts

TV ads: raises zip code turnout by .5% (only use TV ads for statewide races or Congress)

Social media – make sure there is a video. Unlimited benefit

Phone calls: 1 vote per 38

Robocalls: 1 vote per 500 contacts

Wrap up: a little mingling at the end. End of long day.

Note to everyone who got this far: GET ORGANIZED AND RUN FOR SCHOOL BOARD!

Here’s some resources we've put together to start with

Candidate petitions are due December 19, 2022 for the April 4 2023 election.

Get connected ASAP with people who are pro-equity, pro-equality, and pro-inclusivity! Here's our primer on working towards more racially-just public schools with tips on where to start.