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I don't know how many of you noticed the people in red shirts emblazoned with "DNC" on the street around the country this cycle.  I personally saw them in Boston, Philly, San Diego, LA, and Santa Barbara.  I was also one of them.  I had two free months this past summer, and I took a paying job with Grassroots Campaigns, a separate organization that contracted to raise money for the DNC.  I've heard lots of newscasts about how Democratic ground troops were more often paid than GOPers; we had to hire mercenaries, while they had huge swells of people giving of themselves freely.  I can attest that passion and morale among workers was extremely high.  People were scraping by to fight for Kerry; and seriously, even if you were a star fundraiser, you weren't making much more than $8/hour.  That was great, but I had mixed feelings about the work I was doing.  I think part of the problem is actually what is hinted at by those news clichés.  The people at GCI weren't mercenaries, but they had nowhere similar to go within the actual Democratic party, even if they were willing to work for free.

There were lots of specific issues I had with the office and organization that I could discuss, but I don't think that would be very productive in this forum.  I do think, however, that some of the problems I had can be generalized to illuminate some of the things it seems to me should be done.

I, nor anyone else I knew who worked at my office through the start of September, when I left to start a new job I couldn't put off any more, knew the address or phone number of the local Democratic party office.  I don't even know if there was a functioning local Democratic party aside from the campaigns/offices of local Democratic elected officials.  When we took donations, only those people who gave more that $15 had their addresses, phone numbers, and emails entered into the national database.  People were not allowed to simply sign up for the email list, and I had nowhere to send someone who wished to volunteer to work on the campaign.  This only reinforces the point that the DNC saw the email list as a fundraising tool, not an organizing or base energizing one.  

If you've ever tried to raise money on the street, you'll know that giving people the option of simply signing up for an email list will absolutely kill the amount of money you're capable of generating.  But is that the issue?  The organization was aiming to raise $20 million nationally this cycle.  That's a nice shot in the arm for the DNC.  But imagine that if those people on the street doubled as volunteer recruiters and mailing list builders.  Say the organization could then only raise 5$ million, but had still been able to support staffs of 30-200, going out in teams of 2 to 4 in over 100 cities in the country every day for 4 months (this is approximately what happened).   What if those people had had a phone number for a functioning, organized, centrally led local Democrats volunteer hotline?

 This wasn't the job that GCI contracted to do, but my point is the DNC should have been doing that itself.  By contracting out for fundraising only, the DNC simply gave away the awesome opportunity it had in being able to place thousands of people on the street every day wearing bright red shirts with DNC in huge letters on front and back.  To me this is indicative of the national Democratic party's penchant for missing opportunities.  I turned away so many people who wanted to know where to go to buy yard signs, where to go to GOTV near election day, and just generally how to get involved as a citizen who wanted change but couldn't keep giving $100 every time the DNC sent an email or they ran into a fundraiser on the street.  I wasn't even supplied with bumper stickers or buttons to give away.  The only stickers or buttons I got the whole campaign were from the workers for the campaign for a local congresswoman.

America Votes/ACT/MoveOn etc. were incredible, and the cooperation between different organizations in their ground game near the election was, by all press accounts, very impressive.  I don't know if my experience was representative, but if it was, a big percentage of the people coordinating those efforts at the micro level were passionate 22 year olds from out of state with little or no experience in political organizing.  The leaders of my office were all from the northeast, under 24, and spent the first month figuring out that the neighborhoods next to the Marine and Navy bases probably weren't the most Democratic in the city.  Not to denigrate passionate 24 yos.  I'm one of them, but I don't want the election of a sane president entrusted to my peers.  

I think it was kos who asked what we should do now with those 5 million email addresses.  How about the DNC stops abdicating responsibility for GOTV, rips a page from the GOP playbook, and gets 3 or 4 commitments in every precinct in the country to "captain" the next election.  Recruit some state Senator's staffer or something to captain each county, and start training those people next month for the '06 cycle.  Train them on maintaining a local email list.  Send out biweekly newsletters that don't ask for money.  Create incentives for them to recruit as many volunteers under them as possible.  Help them organize door-to-door campaigns where no one leaves their own town.  And in '08, if we have grassroots campaigners out on every street corner, have them doubling as both fundraisers and recruiters for local precinct captains all over their city.  We should have 10 million emails, and they should be getting people out in their own neighborhoods, not just funneling money back to Washington!  Plus, this kind of organization, run properly, could go a LONG way in catching the Democrats up in the message/meme game.  

The only "literature" we were required to know was our sales pitch, adapted with little change from the tested pitches of other groups that GCI has worked for in the past.  Everyone with involvement in the Democratic party apparatus, it seems to me, should be getting the same emails with broadly appealing talking points.  Armed with simple, effective, but linguistically sophisticated talking points, I could have personally spread the message to a couple hundred people.  I was left to my own (I like to think very capable) devices, but my debating the logic of electing Kerry with citizens is never going to adequately combat the mass of Republicans parroting the same lines until everyone believes them.  I'm more than happy to parrot lines until I'm red in the face if I think it's serving a larger, effective vision.

And maybe getting more people involved in the actual Democratic party, instead of with other like-minded organizations, could help us groom some more great candidates for school boards, municipal councils, and state legislatures.  Just a thought!

Originally posted to nokona13 on Mon Nov 15, 2004 at 11:13 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  My first diary (4.00)
    What do people think?

    God damn my liver when it's thirsty, God damn my wallet when it's dry

    by nokona13 on Mon Nov 15, 2004 at 11:09:54 AM PST

  •  great diary (none)
    i am pretty familar with the tactics of GCI and like you pointed out all that the people in the red shirts were there for was to raise money.  it is a very important thing to do, but it isnt the only thing.  that is the problem with contracting out this type of activity.  when you are not completely connected with the main organization you are limited in your ability to do anymore than the basics.

    paid canvassers can be a huge resource and are generally well meaning young people like yourself.  however like you point out that potential was not realized.

    the ACT canvassers were not out there to raise money but rather register voters and do GOTV.  that said, they did not do a very good job of keeping all of the data that they obtained.  it is very time/resource consuming to put all of that info into a database.  for the most part they failed and a lot of incredibly valuable data was lost.

    my attempt to assess the 527s tactics can be found in this dkospedia article.  please add your own experiences to it.

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