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BREEDING GROUNDS FOR BULLSHIT
Winning
[02/02/2006] [Randall]

The crown belt has been getting a lot of play in the forums lately. The discussion is about how to reform the qualifications for the belt, and plenty of digital inkís being spilled on the topic even as you read this. Crown certainly isnít the belt most people aspire to earn, but, even so, the attention itís getting is not unusual. Despite being the red-headed stepchild of the peerage, as much has been said over the years about how to earn a crown belt as has been said about any belt. . .maybe even more. Everyone has their own take on this. Some people point out the hard work you have to do while in office. Others talk about the vision and leadership a good candidate should demonstrate. Still others discuss the preparation you must do before you take office, like crown qualifications or thinking about what youíll do.

This is something Iím pretty interested in. Lots of Amtgard bull sessions with the upcoming generation in Dragonspine are about how to be a good officer. Sometimes, the ample example of bad officers is enough Ė just point out their failures and tell people to do the opposite. This has the merit of both shaming the bad behavior and being hilarious. Seeing as how yíall have the misfortune of not being from Dragonspine, Iíll spare you those examples. In fact, Iíll spare you the whole routine because Iíve got more important things to talk about than how to be a good officer. What I have in mind is how to become an officer in the first place Ė win elections. Winning elections is the most basic step to becoming a crown knight. Becoming a successful crown knight is something Iíll let someone more qualified than myself write about. Iím pretty good at winning elections and the results are objective, so Iíll write what I know rather than bloviate about the subjective side of leadership.

Winning elections is easy if you know how. To win, you need more votes than the next guy. Simple! Conveniently, that sentence sums up each aspect of the process except for one, and I wonít mention that part now because itíll be funnier if I just throw it in at the end.

ďTo win. . .Ē

First and foremost, running without wanting to win means you will lose. You must be sure that your desire is victory. Running apathetically is a recipe for failure. I know of at least one person who didnít even pay his own dues before the election. Others made a grand show of voting for someone else. This is not the proper attitude to have. If you have it, then the best thing for your land is if you are utterly defeated in the election. The worst thing is if you somehow win and saddle your unfortunate park with a leader who substitutes whimsy for focus. Make sure you want to win, run to win, and then win.

ď. . .you. . .Ē

This part is harder to control. Your personality and ability could end your quest before it begins. Some people are just incapable of winning elections. In most cases, the last three words of that sentence are unnecessary. If you are incapable. . . well, donít despair. Incapability is a combination of unpopularity and ineptness. These are both learned behaviors and can, to a degree, be unlearned.

Ineptness can be forgotten if you start performing well now. This means embarking on projects and getting them done ahead of time and above expectations. Take notes. Schedule yourself. Make yourself reminders. Ask talented people to help you. Amtgard is so accustomed to work being days late and dollars short (or stolen) that getting things done well and efficiently will go a long way towards getting people to trust your skill. Even a moron can write down reminders to do things on time and then work hard when itís time to do them. Remember that doing the minimum on schedule is not enough to turn around peopleís assumptions. Instead, do the kind of job that would impress you. And if youíre impressed with the minimum, then for the love of God do not run for office.

Popularity is harder to fix, but there are things you can do to fix it enough to get elected. There are two things that make a candidate unpopular. One is personality; the other is ideas. If your ideas are bad, you can change them. Just open your ears and listen Ė making sure to listen to more than just your yes-men friends who are also incapable Ė and figure out what the park wants. Personality is harder, but basic human kindness and generosity help a lot. Be nice to people. Do nice things for people. Smile. Help people. Bring sodas or water to the park. Make loaner swords. Folks will notice these things. They might still think youíre kind of a douche, but theyíll think of you as a nice douche with good ideas.

Of course, you might be so incapable that even this simple advice is beyond you, in which case your only option is to avoid upsetting people. Do a lot of grunt work at feasts, run for office when nobody else does, and hope you pass a confidence vote.

The important thing here is you. You must be a product worth buying. Imagine yourself at your worst day in the past six months. If thatís someone you donít want being monarch, then youíd better get to work fixing it.

ď. . .need more votes. . .Ē

It should be obvious that you need votes to win, but coming on the heels of five paragraphs of advice to the inept among us, Iíll spell it out anyway. If you do not have supporters, then you will not have people voting for you. If your supports are not dues-paid, then you will still not have people voting for you. This means it is incumbent upon anyone seeking to win to have supporters and to ensure that their dues are paid. It is furthermore critical to have enough of these to win. This will take some research.

First, you need to know who has paid their dues. Most parks maintain a list of dues-paid members. Get a copy and start going down the list. Try to guess who might vote for whom. Donít apply wishful thinking; act as though you are your overly optimistic enemy. Assume that any undecided voters will vote against you.

The next thing you need to know is who has not paid their dues. This is harder to know, but you can work backwards from the dues-paid list to figure it out. Guess which ones might vote for you and then encourage them to pay their dues. Focus on people who you think will support you. While nobly encouraging everyone to pay their dues might be good for the landís treasury, it wonít help you win if people pay their dues and then vote for someone else. On the other hand, if youíre confident about how the votes will break down and youíre still a vote or two short of victory, encouraging the undecided voters to pay their dues can only help. This analysis might sound distasteful, but it really isnít Ė as long as you are positively pursuing your objectives, you are being ethical. Encouraging your supporters to pay their dues is good. Itís only when you discourage the other side that you cross the line. Ethics does play an additional role here Ė you should not pay peopleís dues for them. Thatís a technicality shy of buying their vote, behavior that is only tolerated in small shires and the Rising Winds.

After youíve counted the votes and encouraged people to pay their dues, things might look pretty bleak if you are staring down the barrel of a vote deficit. You might need more votes to push yourself over the top, but youíve looked at all the members and youíre sure youíre going to lose. Whatís to be done? You need more votes, but they just arenít available.

In a park of any size, you are almost certainly wrong. You havenít looked at all the members. Votes are available, but you just arenít looking hard enough. Itís not your fault though, because nobody is looking hard enough and you are only doing what youíve seen others do. The problem comes down to the way almost every park is divided. On the one hand, you have the pretty people. These are the folks in power; the ones with nice garb; the elite; the old guard. On the other hand, you have the segment of Amtgard society that people running for office almost always ignore. These are the disaffected, out-of-power, scruffy, sometimes-flurby outcasts. They are invisible, like a caste of Amtgard untouchables. And they are the majority in almost every park. If they werenít, the pretty people would stop being elite and start being normal.

What I am about to say is the most important thing in this entire article.

People tend to treat Amtgard untouchables in two ways: they ignore them or they abuse them. If youíve seen a group of kids hanging out with each other at the park while the pretty people remain at their own tree looking down their noses at them, youíve seen this in action. If youíve seen a knight go purple in the face while going ape-shit on a kid with his sword because the newbie committed the crime of not knowing the rules yet, youíve seen it in action. If youíve seen rules that are waived for the pretty people enforced to the letter against someone that nobody likes, youíve seen this in action. If youíve seen peopleís efforts to help constantly ignored or shot down, youíve seen this in action. Look for these people. Make sure you are not treating them less than you wish to be treated yourself. Ask them what they think and listen to what they have to say. And then ask them to vote for you. Unite this Amtgard majority of disaffected outsiders and you will have a bloc of votes big enough to win any election.

Last but not least, a vote doesnít do you any good if it isnít cast. Make sure folks who wonít be at the park cast proxy votes. Make sure to remind people to show up on time.

ď. . .than the next guy.Ē

Of course, the best-laid plans of mice and men wonít do jack if youíre running against a popular and talented opponent who is a shoe-in. Simply put, pick your battles. In any election, you should look good in contrast to the alternative. Be the one looking good. Do not be the alternative. Thereís always the next election. Just donít forget that opportunity also favors the brave. Running for office knowing that you will lose can be a good way of demonstrating both your intentions and your commitment. It also positions you well if the election goes awry and the more popular candidate drops out. The important thing is to be aware of who your foe is and plan accordingly.

In summary, weíve learned that you need more votes than the next guy to win. Oh, and you need something else, the addition of which seemed a lot funnier fifteen paragraphs back than it does now.

Luck

You can want to win, be likeable enough to be a credible candidate, predict votes, get people to pay their dues, court the outcasts, and run against an inferior candidate but still lose if you arenít lucky. When you each have a dozen votes guaranteed and thereíre three people who could genuinely go either way, youíd better be lucky. If you have everything planned out and then someone doesnít show up to vote, youíd better be damned lucky. Just remember that people who plan ahead and are well-prepared tend to be lucky more often than not. Like Ben Kenobi said to Luke, ďIn my experience, thereís no such thing as luck.Ē Putting together a good campaign and then trusting to luck is a foolís errand. Rather than hope for the best, you should make your own luck. It might seem lucky to everyone else if a voter pulls up in his car five minutes before the end of voting, but whether that happened randomly or because you called the guy on your cell is up to you.

Iíll leave you with the thought that encouraged me to write this article, and the answer to my own success in elections. Be nice to the little people. They donít like bombastic jerks lecturing them at the park. They donít like being sluffed by fighters reacting to their own decline in skill by swinging harder. They donít like being excluded from helping out. They donít like being ignored and they sure donít like being mistreated. You can do all those things if you want, but a word to the wise Ė somebody will eventually get all those mistreated people to vote. And then they will crush you.

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