If there's one thing I've learned since I my political awakening in 2000, it's that the shift from institutional to individual fund-raising represents a fundamental change on the same order as the open-source software revolution. I'm composing this post using an open-source browser (Firefox) which isn't just better than the purely commercial alternatives -- it has actually caused the entire ecosystem to improve through competition.
While some vestiges of the top-down fundraising paradigm will survive in recognizable form, such as bundling and PACs to organize donation campaigns, I strongly believe that the dominant force in political fundraising is now the individual donor.
However, I think there's an aspect of the people-powered fundraising paradigm that's still under-developed and overlooked despite its importance: recurring donations. Sure, it's fun to get caught up in the energy and excitement of a last-minute push, but it sure does make things hard during the off months.
Today, I got off my ass and made good on something I'd been intending to get around to for, oh, about two years now. I signed up to make a monthly donation to the ACLU -- EACH and EVERY month, not just in response to a particularly urgent or resonant plea for funding.
I can't imagine how hard it is to sustain progressive social/political organizations between elections. Fortunately, I don't have to -- I have talked to people who work for some of them. Cashflow is a constant challenge. Election-season donors reasonably expect that funds raised will go to the causes they're concerned about. Perennial (year-round) donors are much harder to find, and unsurprisingly, tend to be monied foundations (see: conservative movement) or corporations.
It's time to change that.
Think about the self-inflicted financial pain most of us have put ourselves through this election season. $20 here and $50 there adds up pretty fast if you don't have a lot of discretionary income to start with -- and with the staggering rise in cost-of-living expenses across the US, that's a much thinner margin than it was a year ago.
Now think about how much less painful and how much more effective it would have been to spread those same donations out over a year. For most of us, $300 sounds like a lot to donate at once, but it's easy to get there when you set it up as a $25 automatic monthly debit.
With the rise of people-powered politics and Internet-powered fundraising, it is easier than ever to change the world. In this election cycle, we saw the fully-realized result of Dr. Dean's vision for a different, better way to get people engaged in the democratic process. Now it's time to take it to the next level, beyond the bursty, lopsided donation patterns of election-driven donations. It's time to get more individuals to take year-round responsibility for supporting the organizations and causes that represent their interests
In my particular case, it was motivated by my deep disappointment and frustration at the apparent passage of CA Prop 8. I'm a happily married straigh male with three offspring. I know several married gay couples, one of which has a child about the same age as my youngest. We've been to each other's kiddie birthday parties, traded baby-sitting services, and done volunteer work together. With all that exposure to homosexual neutrino radiation (or whatever explains fears of married same-gender couples) you'd think my marriage would be crumbling by now. I am reliably informed by a knowledgeable source (my wife) that it is not. Therefore, I am moving to lend my ongoing support the organization I think most consistently opposes discrimination and infringement on the rights of the individual in American society, the ACLU.
This particular moment in history, and this particular issue, were enough to get me motivated to do what I knew, deep down, that I should have been doing all along.
Have YOU taken the step from election-season gadfly to reliable supporter? If not, what will it take?
PS: It's been quite a long time since my last Diary or comment. Welcome back, me.