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Been a long couple days on the campaign trail. And yes, I know this ain't even election year, 'cept for a few off year local elections. But here in Minnesota our Democratic Farmer-Labor Party has a program called "turning on the off year". So a few days back, noting that Mankato Pride was coming, I reminded the rest of the Stonewall DFL board (GLBT caucus) that we'd best organize our presence there. Problem was, the DFL had a few other things going on this weekend- a heavily promoted training session in Minneapolis, a meeting of the Constitution Committee, as well as local campaigns in Minneapolis and St.Paul for the compulsive campaigners... And I'm sure I missed another meeting in their somewhere.

Pretty obvious we were spread kinda thin, and as of friday it was obvious I was going to be pretty much the DFL presence at Mankato Pride. Not much of a presence it would be either- I've got Walz, Franken, and Dayton lawn signs and a few stickers and bits of generic DFL lit. Spent the morning hand addressing letters to delegates from a county that hasn't had a DFL meeting in over a year inviting them to coffee. At the last minute a couple other Stonewallers answered the call, one offering to pick up supplies and bring them to Mankato Pride and another offering to come down and help after the Constitution Committee meeting. But the person in charge of the Pride supplies and tabling (we've got about 8 prides in Minnesota) hasn't answered phones, e-mails, or other known forms of communication in months... Perhaps another burned out volunteer?. My fellow board member checked the garage where the canopy, lit, and other pride supplies were stashed and said canopy was missin' along with just about anything else useful. Our congressional distract after a summer long battle with the DFL got a small grant to buy a canopy and a few other supplies, but I'd been holding out for a sale. But at last minute I heard Congressman Walz would be there, which later turned out to be his campaign staffers there for the Pride Parade. Oh well, at least I had excuse to bring the new bike and sidecar and try it in it's first parade.

So 'bout 8 I began the 110 mile ride to Mankato, decent weather 'til I got there at 11 and the heat index was already in the 90s. Fun parade with a good crowd, but our site for tabling at the Pride festival was lousy... Our treasurer quit a few months back and we didn't know if we had volunteers to do the event, so we paid our fee at the last minute and thus got the lousiest spot. I set up and lasted about an hour in the sun before seeking cover, with the heat and our lousy location we weren't getting much traffic anyway. My fellow board member who'd planned to bring the supplies that were missing anyway got stuck babysitting, and our other board member, a real trooper, got stuck at the constitution committee meeting that dragged on for hours and couldn't get to Mankato 'til the event was just about over.

Thus I had a couple hours to steam in the 90+degree heat and humidity and contemplate the state of the democratic party today. The background is that the Minnesota DFL party has a six figure list of volunteers that will give us a day or three during election season, and a "hard core" group of a thousand or so that run the party, and an even smaller group of "compulsive campaigners" that went out doorknocking after the weekend long training session. The core cities like Minneapolis are full of activists that will sit through a daylong convention, while out here in rural Minnesota our local DFL groups are as much social circles as political groups. We've got a whole array of committees and caucuses that meet monthly, and almost always in "the cities"... I'm a member of two of them and it's usually a 350 mile round trip to each of their monthly meetings. Add to that 40 and 60 mile monthly roundtrips to our local DFL meeting, and a mercifully only quarterly congressional district DFL meetings in our 400 mile long district.

The takeaway? Instead of "Turning on the off year" we may be burning out the volunteers. We have too many meetings that require too much travel and take too long. We've overemphasized the most dreary campaign work, canvassing, and we're burning out volunteers in the off year so the won't be back next year when it really matters. We're a bunch of political junkies and compulsive campaigners who fail to understand that most folks have jobs and lives and precious little time for our next meeting or canvas. and accomplishing anything often requires an extended battle with the DFL bureaucracy like I spent much of the summer fighting... With the funding I fought for coming too late to do much good. We need to campaign smarter, meet less and online, and tear down the layers of bureaucracy that drag the party down.

So another board member quits, one says he's leaving when his term concludes, our event person has gone incommunicado, and whole counties have no DFL party organization. Turning on the off year? No, were burning out the volunteers we'll need come next fall's elections!

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