While there is still some wrangling to be done on the stimulus package, most especially during the conference report phase of the process next week (Kagro X describes this process better than anyone around), let's take a moment to think about how we could potentially do better in the next major legislative fight. In this case, by "we" I specifically mean myself and the people reading this post, rather than the Democratic and progressive ecosystem in general. What can we, as individual activists, do to help create stronger, better, more progressive legislation during the next big fight?
In the extended entry, I consider several possibilities.
Here are some quick thoughts on the effectiveness of various actions individuals interested in supporting better, more progressive can take:
Phone calls to Congress: It was widely reported that conservatives opposing the stimulus plan made vastly more phone calls to members of Congress than Democrats and progressives in support of the plan. While I don't have specific data to back this claim up, and while the gap probably closed during the last couple days as several progressive organizations sent out emails urging their members to call Congress in favor of the stimulus plan, let's just assume for the moment that we were heavily out-called.
The impact of constituent phone calls and emails on how individual members of Congress vote varies greatly from elected official to elected official. I have heard, for example, more than one member of Congress use a term like "bedwetter" to describe another member of Congress whose vote is actually in doubt after only a couple dozen constituent phone calls contradict that member's original position. A statement like this reveals two things: first, that the impact of constituent phone calls on how a member of Congress votes ranges from "enormously" to "none at all," and, second, that I should have acquired a list of those members of Congress who can be swayed with a bare minimum of constituent phone calls.
Given the wide range of potential effectiveness of constituent phone calls, the best strategy is probably to move from a generalized "call your Senators and Representative today" tactic to something that is far more narrowly targeted. We probably need to be focusing on a small number of members of Congress to call--no more than ten--and to make sure that the ones we choose coincide with other forms pressure. For example, in the stimulus fight, we could have, in coordination with the relevant state blogs, chosen a small number of Senators from among those targeted by Americans United For Change with television advertisements. There is no telling if this would have flipped any votes, but it would have had a better chance of doing so than the more generalized "call your member of Congress today" actions.
Advice for the Obama administration and Democratic leadership: One of the more common activities in political discussion, and not just online, is to hypothesize how our political leaders could have used different tactics to achieve more successful ends. There is nothing really wrong with these discussions, as they can be both informative and enjoyable. However, they rarely actually lead to any change in strategy or tactics from our political leaders.
I can, however, think of at least two examples where grassroots and political junkie discussion of strategy and tactics did, in fact, lead to a change in behavior among our political leadership. One example was when, on July 17, 2007, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid forced Republicans to actually filibuster Senator Jim Webb's bill on American troop redeployment. The second, and much more famous example, is that public, verbal support for the "fifty-state strategy" is now basically mandated for every Democrat in the country. While definitions vary on exactly what is meant by the "fifty-state strategy," the idea itself came from grassroots and political junkie discussions, before trickling upward into the leadership.
The lesson here is, I think, that in order to these suggestions on strategy and tactics to have any impact, they must be specific ("spend DNC resources in all 50 states" or "actually make Republicans filibuster legislation X") rather than generalized ("be tougher on Republicans.") Obviously, it helps if these specific calls for strategic or tactical changes are widespread, and if they have proponents within more established media and political circles. But overall, the most important thing is for any suggested change in strategy or tactics to be very specific. It is actually possible for such suggestions, when given proper visibility, to have an impact.
Stay Active with Organizing for America. This is pretty straightforward--stay active with the Obama campaign through Organizing for America. I still don't think that tonight's House Parties are an effective action to help or improve the stimulus, but they are undoubtedly important for building the organization long-term.
And really, much the same can be said about staying active with MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, Color of Change, et all. Any progressive organization that actually solicits, and takes into consideration, member feedback will always be good to be a part of.
Primary Challenges: It is simple and classic, but it still works. Already, at least two of the House Democrats who voted against the stimulus package are likely to face serious primary challenges in 2010: Alan Boyd (FL-02) and Paul Kanjorski (PA-14). Showing early, and strong, support for their primary challengers will not only have an impact on how Boyd and Kanjorski behave, but will also be likely to put other Democrats who act against the leadership and the administration on notice.
Join Media Matters for America: Again, this one is straightforward, but still important. The media coverage of the Obama administration has clearly become a huge problem, and there just aren't many progressive organizations other than Media Matters working to correct it. If you want to help out, join MMFA now.
And really, support progressive media in general. Click on ads on progressive websites, and make donations to progressive media organizations of all types when they hold fundraisers. If we want a better media, we need to not only put pressure on existing, national media institutions, but to actively support emerging media of all sorts.
I'll stop there, and see what suggestions you have. I haven't written anything particularly earth-shattering here, and what I wrote basically amounts to "keep on keeping on, but with a focus." Still, often times the keys to successful activism are pretty stragithforward.
What ideas do you have? How can we, as individuals, make more of an impact in the next major legislative fight?