Saturday, June 07, 2008

Blue America: The Next Generation

crossposted 7 june 2008 at firedoglake


Now what?

We've spent so much time on the primaries, let's take a step back today and look at the larger picture of building progressive infrastructure.

What kinds of political organizations are we building, what networks can we develop? Who can be brought into the process and at what level? For those of us who are relatively new to political activism, how do we take that next step?

Howie, who is flying around the country today helping to build that next generation of progressive politicians, asked me to step in for him today. I thought it would be cool to look at one of our own pups who has been very involved with local and state politics and see what we can learn from her. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present our dear friend Rayne.

How did you get started within your local party as an activist?

I'm a member of a local party club, a subset of the party itself. Several like-minded folks founded this club in 2005 after a year of trying to work within the party itself; we found that as a more wired and more youthful group that we were scaring the older, more traditional party and losing traction on our objectives. Our club has a bias for action on a year-round basis, where the local party tends to work on a cycle that is geared towards the election cycle. They're both fine, just different perspectives about getting the job done, and I'd rather work year-round.

You'll notice we didn't wait for a blessing from anybody; we just plunged ahead and did it.

But I started this journey back in 2003. I had been blogging for a year and thoroughly pissed off about my stepson getting shipped off to Iraq when I heard about this guy who'd balanced a state budget for eleven years straight and managed to get health care for all children and elderly residents at the same time. I was hooked once I met some of his supporters at a local Meetup -- and from then on I was a Deaniac.

After Howard Dean's exit from the primary, I stayed with the group his campaign spawned, Democracy for America. As a DFA and Dean supporter, I and several dozen fellow Deaniacs from across our state (hello, emptywheel!) met Dean only a few weeks after the November 2004 election to discuss what to do next. The answer was 'take our party back', or no Democrat would stand a chance in 2008. I attended my first local party meeting only 2 weeks later -- and the rest is proverbially history.

What local party work are you doing?

We've just left a long period of fundraising, planning and provisioning as part of this year-round effort. In this next phase, we spend our time during the early portion of an election year on voter identification. We phone bank and call local voters, surveying them based on a small sampling of questions we develop in-house, to determine what are the most important issues to each voter and to determine whether that voter's political affiliation is accurately identified in our party database.

The next phase, beginning in July and in advance of our state's August primaries, will be door knocking with candidates and literature drops; we can ensure candidates have the right literature and the right answers for each voter they contact, based on the updated database.

And in the home stretch, close to election, we work on Getting Out the Vote (GOTV).

We'll use our same phone bank to call those voters we've identified as elderly or physically challenged, and make sure they know how to get absentee ballots. We will drop literature at all voters' homes that we know to be identified as strong or leaning Democrat, independent, or leaning Republican. (We won't waste the time or money on hardcore straight-ticket Republicans, although this year may prove different; we may actually test Dean's 50-State Strategy to its very limit and leave no voter unturned.)

Throughout the entire two-year cycle, from the day after the election to the next deadline before an election, we also try to register new voters, and we encourage and help folks become precinct captains and delegates. We also work to change and improve rules and operations and leadership within the party as well, so that we are ready for the rigors of election year. And we recruit interns from the local colleges, teach them how to do all this on a hands-on basis so that they are ready to work for campaigns or progressive organizations as soon as they leave school.

Right now I'm doing the technical portion of the phone bank work; I've set up a network with donated computers, then installed VoIP phone lines on each computer, training users on how to call from the computers, working with another fellow techie who keeps our software up-to-date and our donated machines running optimally. Another member of the club who is a political science professor at a local university has developed the survey we'll use, and is responsible for training users on how to enter data into a database, as well as managing their access.  Yet others recruit phone bankers and donors, as well as make the calls. And even more of the team help with driving candidates and route walkers for literature drops and door knocking.

Heck, we may have people on the team that do nothing but buy beer, answer phones or bake cookies, and that's just great; every little bit helps. You can surely find something you can do, no matter what your skills are.

It's a beautiful thing, and it's a blast; there is nothing quite like sitting down with these folks after a long day of knocking on doors and having a beer and a laugh together.  It feels so damned good to know you've made a difference, and that you've done it together with some really great people who over time become like family.  One, big, progressive, biased-towards-action family.

Thank you Rayne, there are so many things to think about here. Your dedication and enthusiasm are inspiring. Well pups, what do you think? Each of us can do something to help build our progressive future, let's brainstorm a little and share our ideas. More cookies anyone?

photo by crschmidt

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