Organizing Today Blog
- May 25, 2009 at 12:01 pm
The census is coming up!
As the census determines representation in the House of Representatives and the apportionment of federal funding for programs, this is, to say the least, a big deal.
Obama's nominee to head the census bureau, Robert Groves, has ruled out sampling. This was previously used because in urban areas, or areas with a lot of non-English speakers, there was almost always an undercount.
So who has experience successfully contacting large numbers of people in urban or non-English speaking areas? Obama organizers. What group of people is largely out of work right now and desperately wanting to work in the Obama administration? Obama organizers.
It will be interesting to see if the Census Bureau taps into this resource. Of course, Republican Senators have already expressed concerns about partisanship affecting the counts. But really, how could a Census worker in Detroit or Los Angeles disproportionately count Democrats? Their goal is to cover as much turf as possible. Do people really think they would just exclude Republicans? That concern is misplaced.
- May 23, 2009 at 4:03 pm
The other night, I attended a stop on the Organizing for America listening tour.
The purpose of these stops is pretty clear. Many newly placed OFA staff were not in their new state for the general election. Jenn Brown (OFA MN Director) was in Ohio for the general election, not Minnesota. It provides her the opportunity to introduce herself to and engage with activists.
It brings teams together, and gives them an opportunity to organize after the election to support Obama’s agenda.
What surprised me was the large presence of people who had no involvement with the Obama campaign, and were singularly interested in single payer health care.
At the start of the meeting, some of these people questioned its purpose. “What is the purpose of organizing if we don’t determine what we’re organizing for?” Some said they were sent an email by someone telling them to “make their voices heard” at an Obama meeting. They weren’t aware it was less of an issues forum and more of an organizing exercise.
Brown (the person running the meeting) apologized and said that they were mistaken. The purpose was to determine what issues on Obama’s agenda they found important, and then figure out ways they could support them.
This is apparently a nationwide phenomenon. Organizers looking to hit the ground running with area Obama supporters are faced with activists wanting to have a health care debate. It seems like most of the push for this comes from Physicians for a National Health Program (which has talking points specifically for Obama neighborhood meetings) Here is also an email from the Indiana affiliate of the organization, pushing for the same thing.
On June 6, the Obama campaign is sponsoring specific health care kickoff meetings. We will see if this is an ongoing thing that Organizing for America will have to deal with.
- May 6, 2009 at 10:03 pm
Last night, I had the pleasure of interviewing Faye Brown, an organizer for Honor the Earth. She had a lot of interesting (and heart-breaking) things to say about the plight of Native Americans and environmental abuse. Native American reservations are strapped for money, and are often are the places where both nuclear power plants are built and nuclear waste is dumped. Little known fact- a couple miles north from Carleton on I-35, a nuclear plant operates on the Prairie Island reservation.
Aside from the passionate speech she gave on the subject, another thing that struck me was her organization’s organizing philosophy.
My experience in organizing has come mostly in the form of campaigns. The basic structure of a campaign is simple. You have a staff which recruits volunteers. You build a list, which you use to achieve concrete goals. Contact x number of voters. Recruit y number of people for an event. You grant volunteers some freedom to construct their own programs and ideas, but they act to support your goal, namely electing your candidate.
Faye’s organizing philosophy is different. Her role is less as a manager and guider of action. It is more as a resource provider. When Native groups have an idea, they come to her and she uses what is available to her to help. The direction comes from bottom-up, rather than top-down. So when a leader needs assistance in fighting uranium mining on their reservation, they give Faye a call. Faye helps to convene a community meeting, provides research and support.
The difference in philosophy above is due to two factors. One is that native groups do not respond well when outside groups come in their communities, and start issuing directives. These are insulated communities, and there is a stark insider-outsider divide, even when the interests of insiders and outsiders align. Second, there is a generational, cultural divide between someone weaned on 60s issue advocacy and someone whose experience has been 2000s electoral organizing.
I think both sides can learn from the other, and the purpose of this blog is so both sides can do that. You can build good lists, while still empowering people. You can have a top-down program and directives, while still respecting the people you are organizing. But the differences in organizations raise a lot of interesting questions. I’d be curious to know people’s thoughts in the comments. We will be posting video of the interview shortly.
- April 27, 2009 at 2:24 pm
The NRA is a membership organization that offers concrete benefits to its members beyond advocacy. So like the AARP or Sierra Club, members have material incentive to join. Here is what the NRA website promises for its members-
- 24/7 Defense of Your Firearm Freedoms
- NRA's Freedom Times Monthly E-Letter
- Your NRA Membership Card and Decal
- Savings on Hotels, Rental Cars and More
- Invitations to Friends of NRA Dinners and Celebration of American Values Special Events
This is a double-edged sword. While every group wants increased membership, having a loose collection of members who have joined the group for savings on hotels is not a good thing. Still, those material benefits can serve to get people more invested in the cause. A membership may lead to reading more about gun rights, which may lead to attending a conference, which may lead to the development of a real grassroots NRA activist. That, at least, is the hope.
I would personally love to see the volunteer metrics on this incoming probable flood of new members. What kinds of activities do they participate in? Are there increasing levels of participation over time? Will they accept real membership after a year? Only time will tell.
On a sidenote, here is the NRA's latest recruitment video, which features famed action star, Chuck Norris:
- April 23, 2009 at 5:56 pm
For those unfamiliar with EFCA...
The bill in Congress would allow a majority of employees at a company to organize a union by signing cards, a change from current practice that allows employers to mandate secret ballot elections. It also would boost penalties for retaliation against workers seeking to organize and call for arbitration if management and the union cannot agree on a first contract.
The battle over EFCA is on Capitol Hill right now, mostly on the Senate side. All organized labor is throwing its weight behind the bill, pressuring moderate Republicans like Olympia Snowe, Arlen Specter and others to support the bill. Organized business is ramping up its efforts as well.
If EFCA were actually passed (at this point, its fate is unclear), then expect business interests to pursue ballot measures in conservative states in 2010. The consequences of this are ambiguous. Would it boost turnout among labor? Could it swing a couple congressional races? Could EFCA--dare I say-- be the gay marriage of 2004 by mobilizing people to vote who might not have otherwise?
If EFCA does indeed pass, expect the battle to go to the states.
- April 23, 2009 at 1:03 pm
Marc Ambinder is reporting that Moveon, SEIU, the League of Conservation Voters and the Center for American Progress are coordinating together on trying to pass Obama's green jobs proposal.
Ambinder focuses on the ads being produced, which are obviously significant. But what about the organizing? In the coming days, we will try to bring you what this means for those thousands of organizers and volunteers associated with these groups. What sort of activities will they participate in? Will it be earned-media focused? Will it concentrate on list-building? How will they pressure members of Congress?
We will try to bring you the answers.
- April 22, 2009 at 10:40 pm
This blog is not re-inventing the wheel. Organizers, reporters and academics have chronicled grassroots organizing for years. Our purpose here is to profile grassroots organizing methods in 2009, understand the underlying thinking behind them, and place them in a political/historical context. Below is a good start for those that are looking for resources on organizing.
- April 21, 2009 at 6:35 pm
This is the first post! Success!