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Below is a tale, its ending unwritten, of a Gate Crasher's tentative but persistent first steps toward real political power.

It's motivated by the belief that it is time to stop typing about how bad the Dems are and to do something about it -- to put my life where my sig line is and be the Democrat I want to see.

In the past months I have moved from political voyeur, reading blogs and being horrified by our nation's decline, to (small) money donor, and now to foot soldier in the battle.

But there's the hitch. The party is so dysfunctional that I'm having trouble even enlisting! Read more to hear what getting boots on the ground really takes and why my difficulty may be as inspiring as it is frustrating.

Updated to say: thanks to the commenters, the inspiration far outweighs the frustration. The comments include a collection of great tools for improving and taking over your local party.

Discovering how bad it really is: the bad news.

Part of my move to real involvement started out of curiosity. I had read once that the Republicans beat us in 2000 and 2004 partly because they had a much better machine, and used this new-fangled stuff like computers, e-mail, and the like.

In September, I ran an experiment. Went to the county Dem and GOP websites.

I found a form at the GOP site where I could check off boxes for what my skills were, how I would be willing to help, and enter other data. Within a day I was getting updates by e-mail on action items and meetings, calls for GOP volunteers. (They eventually dropped me. Must have looked up my party registration).

At the Dem site I had to dig a bit more and found an e-mail address. I replied to it. I heard nothing. Weeks and several more e-mails later I was on the Dem's e-mail list. I never heard from a person, but at least I got the occasional update.

Frustration Grows

In January, I resolved to get more heavily involved and had time to do so. So I went through the web info again and sent the following e-mail:

I am replying to the request on the website to volunteer for precinct work.

Here is what the website says:
 If you are not a member of your precinct organization and would like to be active, please contact us with your precinct's name (the school, church, or fire station where you vote), your name, and a contact number or email address.  We'll be pleased to have your precinct chair get in touch with you

Here is the requested info:

Precinct: Bethabara (I live at XXXXXXXXXXXX)
Name: XXXXXXXXXX
e-mail: XXXXXXXXX

I am excited about the party and Dean's efforts to build from the ground up. I have made a small donation to the DNC. I am looking over the various committees to see where I might be of most use, too. If someone knows which committees need the most help, let me know.

I never received a reply to that e-mail. Never. Nothing.

Houston, we have a problem!

I gave it a couple of weeks and was busy. But I persisted. I made my way to the local party HQ. A foot soldier should show up at the enlistment office, right?

My first trip, the office was closed. There had been mixed messages about new hours in an automated e-mail (I was still getting those). Oh well.

Second trip was a great success. I spoke to the one very welcoming woman there who confirmed that the party was in rough shape but she was excited about the training the DNC would do the next weekend for precinct captains and party leaders. She hoped they would attend (did not sound too confident about turnout). I told her I saw the info about that on the website but had to be out of town that weekend.

The woman looked up the name and contact information for my precinct captain and the head of the volunteers committee. I gave her my information and listed my skills (writing, research, debate).

Another week or so went by and I got a call from the 1st Vice Chair. Unfortunately we played phone tag until recently as I was out of town then she was on jury duty.

Meantime, I e-mailed the volunteer chair and the precinct captain:

My name is XXXXXX. I recently visited Dem headquarters in an effort to volunteer to become as active as possible in the local party.
Previous attempts to volunteer by sending e-mail to the suggested addresses on the county Dems website failed to elicit a response.
The woman working at HQ that day, XXXXXXX (forgive me if I am way off on the name) was very welcoming and gave me your e-mail addresses as points of contact.

I have been out of town (I travel many weekends as XXXXXXXX) so missed some of the recent precinct training and other meetings.

But I could attend the upcoming precinct meeting and would also be interested in discussing other ways my skills could be helpful.

Thank you in advance for your replies.

The volunteer chair said I would be welcome at a meeting  Feb. 22. No mention of nor question about how I might be of use. He is also President of Young Democrats of XXXX and they have a website with this on the front page:

The Young Democrats have kicked off their campaign to register Democratic voters for the 2004 election.

It gets worse.

The precinct captain said, Feb. 3, that she would let me know of the meeting time. The mainpage of the county Dem website says meetings are slated for Feb. 9. Six days out, the captain doesn't know??? Here is the info from the website:

The XXXXX County Democratic Party has set Thursday, Feb. 9, as the date for the 2006 Precinct meetings.  The early February date will give precincts an opportunity to hold another meeting before Feb. 21 if they do not have a quorum at the first meeting

Precincts that simply cannot hold a meeting on Feb. 9 may set another meeting date but they must notify party headquarters at XXXXXXX before holding the meeting.  Such precincts must also provide ample public notification such as a notice of the different date in a local newspaper.

At these meetings, precincts are to choose delegates to the county convention, elect interim officers where vacancies have occurred, and collect the $150 precinct dues.

Precincts are supposed to meet at their polling places, but they may meet in another location provided they give party headquarters prior notice and place a notice prominently at the voting site.

Surely I would hear from the captain soon. Guess what? Feb. 8 I sent another e-mail, to her home as she had suggested. No answer. My e-mail to her office tells the rest of the story of Feb. 9:

I tried your home email last night.

Is the Dem precinct meeting today/tonight?

If not, I can relax. If it is, where and when?

I REALLY, REALLY want to participate.

I tried other ways of finding this information, too.

I called party HQ today, no answer, no returned call. Message said open until 1pm.

I rushed down there but found the office closed and locked at 12:45.

Sorry to be a pest, but I hope you can understand how frustrating it is.

I received a reply that night, that I had not missed anything, and that she would get back to me by Saturday about place and time.

Meanwhile, I was closing in on the vice-chair contact. She had jury duty, but could be reached at home in the evening. I called and she said she was busy but would call me the next night, Friday.

So, like a dumbass, I waited by the phone Friday night. Nothing.

So I called the vice chair Saturday morning around 10. She knew me. I knew her. Her husband had a part in hiring me 21 years ago. She knew my job. She asked me can I write. Can I write? She asked me can I research. Can I research? Very strange. Anyhow, she promises she will find something for me to do to help someday. But I have not been so insulted in a long time.

Oh, and did I mentioned that she explained the office was closed Friday because they couldn't get the lock to work? I am not making any of this up.

Meanwhile, it is Saturday, the day the precinct captain will tell me when the meeting is. Or not.

So, Sunday afternoon, 12 hours ago, I asked again, and 8 hours later got this:

I have requested the use of the Demo Headquarters on February 20th, 2006. I expect to hear from them tomorrow (Monday).

Remember this from the website?

The early February date will give precincts an opportunity to hold another meeting before Feb. 21 if they do not have a quorum at the first meeting.

I guess she is super confident we'll have a quorum on the last day meetings are allowed under the rules. Forgive me if I don't share that confidence, but what do I know? I'm just a blogger.

Why I'm Enthused. This is all great news!

When people were writing diaries about quitting and forming third parties if the Dems didn't filibuster Alito I would reply with comments like this:

Jeers to the Democratic Party of the not too distant past that brought us to where we are today.

Cheers to the Democratic Part of today that will bring us to where we need to be in the not too distant future.

Jeers to instant gratification.

Cheers to the persistance of social movements that took decades to see success and those still struggling: anti-slavery, women's suffrage, civil rights, environmentalism, feminism, sexual orientation, and others ya'll can list.

And this:

To those who say, "If the Dems don't filibuster or do X or Y the right way this month, I'll not vote for them or join/start a new party or something.":

Listen, please:

   1. Today's party is not the party of next spring or next year. Being unhappy with what happens this week is being unhappy with what happened to get to this week: yesterday's party.

   2. The party is changing. How could you not have seen kos's posts on this subject, his posts on Dean, his book chapters?

   3. Dean is the chair. Howard Dean. The guy that has cajones and that is mocked by old-schoolers for the scream. The guy that says we're losing in Iraq. He is the CHAIR.

   4. Dean has a plan: training people down to the PRECINCT level. Rebuilding and repopulating the infrastructure of the party with me and you. The offices are already staffed and paid for in your county. All you gave to do is walk in the door.

   5. Today's precinct captain becomes tomorrow's alderman, next year's stathouse rep, etc. The future Senators you want to have the spine for filibustering come from today's new party members.

   6. Dean is raising cash (at record levels and in spite of campaign finance law changes that disadvantaged Dems more than the GOP) at record levels. The party's future cash source (small donor progressives) will be more and more influential because the party will literally not be able to afford to ignore us.

   7. It is much easier to take over the hollow shell of the Democratic party than it is to start a new one. The phone lines are there. Just get yourself on one end of it instead of having to get a new phone line, too.

Item 7 is why I'm psyched up. In the weeks since I wrote that comment I have found that it is more true than I ever knew.

I know how to get things done and I will succeed. I know how to have a functioning door lock, a functioning website, respond to e-mails, generate e-mail lists, return phone calls, and get people working.

I may have had some trouble with the enlistment office, but I can see a quick rise from foot soldier to captain. And I'll have more and more soldiers behind me.

Let's go, folks. The gates are rusty. We may not have to crash the gates, just apply a little WD-40 and open them. Mark Stoller's blurb for Kos's book says this:

"Crashing the Gate is the start of a conversation. It will unleash a torrent of stories about how badly the party has been managed, who's at fault, and why the Democratic Party keeps losing.

He has the tenses all wrong. The conversation is already happening and my story is unleashed before publication. And "keeps losing"??? Kept.

With Dean's spending plan, your help and mine, we will win and keep winning.

Just be the Democrat you want to see.

Cross-posted at Booman Tribune.

Originally posted to demondeac on Mon Feb 13, 2006 at 06:08 AM PST.

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