A Movement-Building Strategy-Part 2

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sun Dec 02, 2007 at 20:29

In "A Movement-Building Strategy-Part 1", I reintroduced the idea of using a national battleground congressional district poll as an organizing tool for building a progressive coaltion.  As I explained:

Project Summary
My proposal is simple: Use an initial organizing project to establish a national battlegound district* [*with a safe Bush Dog annex] network that combines national and local activists and organizations.  The initial project centers around fielding a poll--much like MyDD did [for those not familiar with it, Mystery Pollster discussed it here and  here]--that can yield us important information that we can use to lobby and pressure Dems in marginal districts, while mobilizing coalitions of local activists and organizations--and that can be used to energize Democratic challenges to Republicans in marginal districts.  If we field a national swing district poll, similar in scope to the recently-released Democracy Corps poll but with our own carefully-crafted question set--again see the MyDD example--we can generate some extremely useful ammo for making our arguments.  What's more, simply by fielding a poll ourselves, we start to alter their perception of us.

Repeated exercises of this same organizing formula-at least once a year, but possibly more often-will provide a solid framework for continued organizing, while a variety of simpler actions can be developed as well.  Establishing lateral networks, so that activists in different battleground districts are in much closer touch with one another, is a key goal of this project, which will allow for a much more continuous flow of organizing activity than a purely centralized effort could effectively mount.  Ideally, these networks will become increasingly active and capable of spontaneous organizing as important issues are being debated in Congress.

Following a suggestion made by mitchipd earlier last week, I'm now following up to add some more detail, specifically addressing an area where some questions were raised, about the potential nature of the on-the-ground coalitions, and who they should or could consist of.

Specifically, Englishlefty asked:

What sort of organisations would this strategy link up with? Since it's done by CD, not many organisations will overlap directly with it. With this in mind, might it be worth trying where possible to target bordering districts, so as to draw in more community organising groups that have been gerrymandered into different CDs?

And I answered::

This Really Isn't A Problem In The Real World

Organizations lobby congressmembers all the time.  Here in the LA area, it's fairly common for organizations to set up a series of meetings with different representatives.  This goes for national organizations that have local chapters, it goes for local organizations that are part of regional, statewide or national coalitions, and it goes for everything in between.

People in different organizations work together all the time, and the sort of organizing that I am proposing is not a radical departure from what they are already doing.  In fact, on some of the issues we would poll on, it would make good sense for them to lobby state representatives as well.  That's not part of the explicit model, but giving the local groups encouragement to shape their own strategies allows for them to do this as well, if it makes sense for them.

In this diary, I'd like to talk more about the nature of the organizations and coalition-building as I see it.  Naturally, there is room for considerable rethinking, but I'd just like to get the ball rolling.

Paul Rosenberg :: A Movement-Building Strategy-Part 2
Most places in America have at least x kinds of organizations that are potential members of the sort of coalition I am describing. These are:

(1) Labor unions.  Locals at the very least, but more often central labor councils.

(2) Liberal and/or mainline churchers with social welfare concerns, and an internal organizational structure to provide service, at the very least. In many cases, there is also an advocacy structure as well.

(3) Social service agencies. (Some overlap with #2 here.)  While government agencies are not normally engaged in advocacy and do not join coalitions, many services are provided through non-profits that can engage in some forms of advocacy.

(4) Democratic clubs.

(5) Local chapters of national organizations--peace, environmental, civil rights, feminist, gay/lesbian, etc.

(6) Local organizations dealing with specific issues.  These include environmental groups with specific local missions, non-profit housing corporations, community-development organizations,  etc.

Many places have a much richer mix, but these basic sorts of organizations tend to exist everywhere, if you just know where to look. Remember, to get this effort off the ground in any congressional district only requires a handful of groups.  Of course it's better to have a coalition of groups representing a combined membership that's over half the population of the district.  But if you're just starting with one union, one homeless shelter, one environmental group, one peace group, one non-profit housing group, one feminist group, and one progressive minister--and that's all you have from an entire congressional distict--then that's enough to hold a press conference for the release of the first poll.  It's great if you can do much more to get started.  But one purpose of using the poll to start organizing is that it will draw attention, and help with outreach to bring more groups together.

The important thing to keep in mind is that you should not limit your thinking to groups that already have a primary focus on national issues.  Quite the opposite.  The greatest potential often lies with groups that are intensely focused on getting things done on a local level.  They may do very little, even nothing on a national level, because they may not feel that it is an effective use of their time and resources.  But that doesn't mean they are indifferent.  Create a framework that allows for them to be heard without detracting from their primary mission, and you can gain significant credibility by your association with them.  What's more, people in such groups often belong to other groups as well.

Effective organizing always depends on learning about how things already are working.  You don't want to ask 100 people to come to 10 more meetings.  You want to learn where those 100 people are already going to be, and get someone they all respect to put you on the agenda for a meeting they're already going to attend anyway.

I know this will seem ridiculously obvious to some.  But it's amazing how often it seems to be overlooked.

Above I listed different kinds of organizations that could be involved.  But I don't mean to imply that our organizing should consist of knocking on hundreds of individual doors.  Often coalitions already exist to work on issues that concern multiple constituencies.  It's only natural to look to such coalitions as natural starting places.  If there have been recent progressive ballot initiatives, this can be an excellent place to start in compiling lists of people and organizations to contact.

There are lots of people out there who have years, heck, decades of experienec doing this sort of coalition-building work.  Don't try to reinvent the wheel.  Find someone who's an expert to do it, and apprentice yourself to learn from them.

Okay, more questions?

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A "potential project" page (4.00 / 1)
Can this discussion continue on a dedicated "potential project" page? I think its worth it, and suspect others do as well.
As a small example of the value of this, I'm on vacation with little online time for the rest of this week.  So by the time I get to think seriously about this it will have probably faded pretty far from the front page.  And though I personally may not have all that much of value to contribute to the discussion, I suspect there are others who would like more time to continue discussing this, with the prospect of turning a "potential" project into an active one.
Does anyone agree?

Sounds like an interesting idea.. (0.00 / 0)

sez the guy, me, who doesn't have to do any work to make it happen. One thing to think about is this. Jerome a Paris's 'Energise America' relied on Diaries to call for ideas and help with structure and took same in using the comments. All very obvious so far; I do think the individual diary is the way to go for the following reasons:

First, the 'leaders' can ask for specific help or information when it's needed.

Second, This variability in topic will help maintain interest.

Third, you can limit the length of the threads. That may seem trivial but if this thing caught fire believe me it would quickly become an issue.

Interesting post at dKos today about the WRAG action and how that's playing out. I sent the following to my e-list:

As reasonable as that prediction was, it has not proven true. In fact, it is generally considered that the opposite is true. NPR recently reported on a study finding that 63% of people support the writers as compared with 4% supporting the studios. While the WGA strike is unusual in many ways, the public relations victories of these striking workers bear thinking about.

Reporting on the subject emphasizes the writers' use of the internet in providing information and eliciting support, and rightly so. Starting before the strike, writers set up the framework they continue to use to get their message out. In doing this, they got the help of Dante Atkins, known at Daily Kos as hekebolos. Dante explains that, as an online outreach advisor, he helped organize:

  four separate subcommittees that reported directly to the communications committee: 1) rapid response; 2) messaging; 3) video; and 4) blog.

  Basically, I applied lessons learned from campaign media trainings, because the objective is similar--it's just that instead of looking for votes, you're looking for popular support and media coverage that will help apply pressure to your opponent in the labor dispute to further your chance of long-term success.

They worked to develop memorable talking points, make sure that involved people, especially rapid responders, were completely familiar with those, and then disseminate them. Without that effective and disciplined messaging, all the dissemination in the world wouldn't help, but a great message doesn't help if only a few people hear it.

I have a feeling that what Paul is proposing is about to break out in a rash all over the blogosphere bigtime.

Has a name: Emergence.

I really believe if we can learn to understand this process and manipulate it we will have gained a powerful tool.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

[ Parent ]
every poll costs $20K (0.00 / 0)
Where's the $$ going to come from?

Raising 20K Online Is A Snap, If It's Got A Clear Benefit And Purpose (0.00 / 0)
I think that the organizing side is a bigger challenge than the fundraising side.

Before online fundraising, this might not have been the case.  But nowadays, if Open Left and a dozen other blogs started a fundraising push for it, it would only take a couple of weeks at most, provided the underlying idea was worked out, and we had actually done some organizing work to start building in-district coatlitions, so people knew for certain it was real.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Test case (0.00 / 0)
It's probably worthwhile making it as cheap as possible, however. It might be worth initially picking an entire state or section of one to survey, for a greater initial impact. After all, people are more likely to identify by state than by congressional district and if a fairly homogenous one is picked then variation by district can be reduced. Especially since the districts in themselves aren't the important bit - many will be gone or completely redrawn by 2012.

Obviously more working through of the overall strategy is required before it can be put in place, but a decent test case might be Indiana - probably socially conservative and historically Republican but with a fondness for populism and a lot of Bush Dogs. Polling showing an entire state is not as conservative as once thought would be more noticeable on a national level and possibly therefore inspire enthusiasm for funding such polling in other areas.

There are drawbacks, of course, such as the potential for fewer links with the people on the ground. But I feel the idean is worth throwing out there to be discussed and/or torn apart.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
Correction (0.00 / 0)
I hadn't checked on the comments in the first thread when I posted the above comment. I now realise that you're suggesting a poll of all battleground districts.

Let's leave aside the specifics of what a battleground district is. My question would be how many of them there are. Because if there are too many it's too easy for Bush Dogs to dismiss along lines such as these:

"This poll only sampled X amount of voters from my district. I know my district, I represent my district and these outsiders have got this poll wrong."

Obviously that kind of pushback is inevitable if this strategy looks likely to succeed, but defence against that attack needs to be worked out.

We need to balance cheapness (most of the blogosphere donates to election campaigns rather than long-term strategies) against solidity.

Again, please do tell me what I've misconstrued or misunderstood.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
Trade-Offs--Is It Really A Bad Thing??? (4.00 / 1)
Sure, it would be great to have the resources to poll each district separately, and somewhere down the line I'm sure we'd want to do that.

But we have to ask if the supposed downside of facing such a response really has to be a downside at all. I realize that this sort of response is inevitable, but it's pretty lame, and actually an opportunity for prolonging the story.

Think about it.  We've got polling data from a national aggregate of similarly "moderate" districts.  Sure they vary in many ways, but they have a great deal in common, too.  A congressmember responds, saying, "I know my district, it's not true here."

Well, that's interesting.  Because we've got this coalition of local groups that says this makes a lot of sense to them.  So why doesn't the congressmemeber shows us his numbers???  We'd be really interested to see what they say.  We'd even be willing to have a joint press conference with him.

The point is, it can actually be better for us if we have this sort of dispute.  Heck, it could motivate someone else to do a followup poll--and even use some of our questions.  It could become an ongoing story, and draw lots of other people in as well.

I think they call that "success."

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I made some comments about this in the first thread... (0.00 / 0)
...please check over there. Redundant to repeat.

Matt is right, generally speaking, pegging costs at about $20K. Several factors come into play with that, though. One, it is a figure Beltway firms might bill because they don't need to generate more than minimal profit on a per-project basis. The reason that is so is because they do so many projects and campaigns. It's a volume thing. And a 'captive' audience thing (most campaigns go to the Beltway consultants for fundraising and credibility reasons.) Beltway firms know they have a captive audience, that's one reason why we get the mediocre to pitiful consulting we get on campaigns.

Second, Beltway firms make their *real* dough on corporate clients, not campaigns. (That's why they advise and run campaigns in their corporate clients' interests, not real-world political or progressive interests.) They'll bill out corporate surveys/research in the stratosphere because they can get it. They get corporate clients because they work on lots of campaigns, which gives them influence with lots of legislators. Thus, they watch over corporate interests in the political sphere. Nice feedback loop they've got going there: cheap campaigns=big corporate dough=more cheap campaigns=more big corporate dough. See Mark Penn as Exhibit A.

Third, a $20K figure assumes a simple project design. Easy sampling, easy data collection, simple, standard analysis (ur basic crosstabs and a memo on findings). This is what the vast majority of Beltway firms do: simple, cheap. A Bush Dog survey would be more complicated if for no other reason than dozens of districts to purchase sample for, then sample, weight and balance the data, etc.

As Paul notes, trade-offs are critical decision points in research. And are most often budget-based. So the bottom line, I suggest, would be to design the project as tightly, efficiently and effectively as possible (don't lose sight of the strategic goals to accomplish), cost that out and then go raise the dough. This is eminently doable and, if fact, we've done it before.

On local organizing and interests, I agree totally with the above discussion. Here's an example. In AZ-05, Dem Harry Mitchell knocked off JD Hayworth last year. You can be damned sure there is a *lot* of interest in blue AZ in keeping Harry there after next year. That would be a major point of discussion getting us in to build bridges with local interests: SEIU, groups and clubs, etc. While Harry and national/local poohbahs would claim responsibility for a victory, just like last year we'd have a claim ourselves if we injected our efforts into that race. People would notice, for sure.

Like I said, Harry's district is simply an example. But it's an example directly along the lines Paul talks about in his comments. He's right, IMHO.

[ Parent ]
I am a baseball fan (0.00 / 0)
When Bill James began writing his books, one thing he hungered for were things like pitchcount data - which didn't really exist.  So he organized a group that committed to scoring each pitch.

This group ultimately became Stats inc.

I am surprised no one has floated the idea of an activist lead polling group.  Modern technology could allow this group to be distributed and enter the results of surveys into a database.  Cell phones could be used to minimize costs.

The roper polling archive has plenty of examples on how to constuct the surveys.  The only real expense would be acquiring the list to build the sample from.

It really wouldn't be that hard - and the activist organization could contribute essential data, particularly to prospective candidates.

[ Parent ]
Trade-Offs, Part 2 (0.00 / 0)
On one level I am all for this, 100%.  An excellent example of this that I'm aware of is Retro Poll.  The problem is, no one but me has ever heard of Retro Poll.  And considering how ground-breaking their work is, that's a dirty low-down shame.

But it's understandable, in a way, since it stretches the distributed model so far, which leaves it very open to questions about how reliable it is.  I don't personally buy into those doubts.  I'm just saying that I understand their source and their power.  If the people involved at the most basic level are activists, then it will naturally raise these doubts, and we really don't need that.  We need to be using the "appearance of" standard here.

That said, it does seem to me that we could do something along these same lines, but it would have to be carefully done, and it ought to be done in conjunction with standard professional polling, so that we would have statistical cross-checks in place.

What I'm thinking of is using students to do the actually polling work, for which they would get course credit.  Activists could be involved in doing outreach to identify teachers who would be interested in participating, and they could help facilitate in various ways, but the actual execution would have to be totally insulated.

This could be a way of doing district-level polling for a relatively minimal cost, and if we did it simultaneous with a national battleground district poll, we could cross-correlate our findings to ensure that there weren't any results that were wildly off in some way.  This could allow us to tailor polls for different districts, so long as we had a common core that could be compared.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I think the answer (0.00 / 0)
to the initial doubts would be to conduct a high profile poll in some race: and show that it was accurate.

When I was at UVM I participated in a couple of  faculty led polls.  And it led to me to be suspicious of the a little.

One cross check would be to only allow disinterested activists to partipipate.  No Florida residents, for example, could take part in a poll of Florida 13.

I really think this is an example where activists can help lower campaign costs. 

[ Parent ]
Well.... (0.00 / 0)
deep pocket liberal donors...hah!

George Soros...double hah!

Sheesh, ya got me Matt.



Big money enviromentalist orgs?

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

A short note of caution (0.00 / 0)
Again, recall points from your previous diary:

(3) To bring into focus underlying shifts and forgotten long-term trends in public opinion that support a fresh, progressive approach to problem-solving and governing.
(4) To highlight new and emerging progressive issues, narratives, and policy proposals.
(5) To bring to the fore salient facts that are otherwise routinely buried by existing political discourse.

Moving far too fast to develop the above.  The heavy emphasis on coalition would at best replicate the elements that constitute the Democratic Party as it is, minus the corporate overlords.  This cast of characters is in the aggregate incapable of leadership.

I say it over and over again, for 2008 the die is cast, at least to the extent that progressives are going to make a big difference.  This keeps us on the treadmill.

2010.  That's where our eyes have to be.

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...

I Have To Disagree (0.00 / 0)
I think I understand your concerns--though it may take a little back-and-forth to convince you of this--but I think they are misplaced.

In my experience there is a significant difference between issue activists and party activists.  The later--even many progressives--are significantly more tightly wedded to the political short-term and existing frameworks.  The later are significantly less so in their overall work, though of course this varies significantly from group to group.  The main constraint on them as a whole with respect to developing new ideas tends to be lack of resources, and prioritization of what they have identified that they can do something about.  In short, there is generally much more willingness to engage in new thinking than there is capacity to do so effectively.

Naturally, we want to ensure that people who join the coalition are committed to what we envision.  But I think that will be much less problematic than you imagine.  Of course there are going to be some organizations that won't participate.  And there will be struggles.  Coalitions always have them.  If they don't, then the coalition is almost certainly too narrow to accomplish its goals.

Finally, I disagree that we can do nothing major about 2008.  What's more, the only way to be effective in 2010 is to start flexing our muscles now.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
But what do "we" envision? (0.00 / 0)
OpenLeft does not have a consensus vision.  Many people have similar visions, but that's a different matter.  "We" can be part of a coalition, but the "we" is still undefined.  Once "we" are defined, then we can form a coalition, we can conduct a poll, we can form a PAC, we can form a 527, we can do all sorts of things.  But I think you underestimate the difficulty in defining the "we."  I think the "only way to be effective in 2010" is to start defining the "we" now.  (I twitch at the too-facile use of "only," yours and mine.)

If we move too quickly, it guarantees that we bring along too much conventional wisdom to create anything new.  I see that just from reading the other comments.

An alternative might be that YOU form an organization of one, lay out its principles and tactical perspective, and see who joins you.  I'm not being facetious or sarcastic at all, if that were seen as the beginning of an extended process.  You have been providing leadership, but one of my main fears is that a prematurely coalitional approach would lead to a premature consensus that negates leadership.

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...

[ Parent ]
Maybe I missed something, but (0.00 / 0)
I don't get the impression that the issue is about leadership, per se, rather its more about enabling local and regional groups (presumably with leaders in place) by providing them with information (polling data) that has been collected and analyzed from a perspective that these goups can more easily (and, hopefully, more effectively) utilize in their own ways. 

The "movement" does not need to be "created" or lead, as much as it needs to be facilitated and enabled. 

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Assuming a Lot in Battleground Districts (0.00 / 0)
I am very supportive of the overall idea, but I'm not sure that local progressive coalitions will be as easy to find in these battleground districts as you say.

I used to live in CA-14 Represented by Democrat Anna Eshoo. When Eshoo voted for NAFTA, she was criticized by a broad range of organizations and it was relatively easy to get media coverage of the protests. But this is a wealthy liberal district with dozens of liberal churches, labor unions, and feminist, environmental, and peace groups. It hosts two moderate/liberal newspapers.

I now live in Cleveland and the battleground districts that I have some (limited) knowledge of are OH-5 with a special election next week that might be won by economic populist Robin Weirauch, OH-14 represented by moderate Republican Steve LaTourette, and OH-6 represented by Bush Dog Zack Space. All of these are large, sprawling, relatively poor rural districts (except for the rich, conservative suburbs of Cleveland in LaTourette's district). As far as I can tell, they have few progressive organizations and those organizations are pretty feeble. The local media outlets either do not cover political issues at all or they are conservative (and likely to either ignore or ridicule us).

In these districts, organizing a coalition of progressive organizations is likely to be difficult. I would guess that most of the initial money and energy would have to come from outside the district, though a handful of local progressives could ensure that the effort was suited to the district and could provide the core of an on-going effort. The progressive organizations in Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, Toledo, and Columbus could provide some help, but these cities are pretty far from these districts and the progressive groups there are not real strong.

Also, these districts are pretty conservative on abortion, guns, and gays. So the progressive effort would need to be focused on the particular issues in which the people in the district actually agree with us -- probably Iraq, FISA, healthcare, global warming, and corruption, and perhaps minimum wage and social services.

To me, the value of this effort would be in focusing a lot of national attention, money, and energy onto these districts. This outside effort criticizing the Congressmember from a progressive perspective would then make it easier (and safer) for local progressives to mount and sustain a challenge. It would pressure the local media to cover issues and to do so in a more balanced way. It would also make it possible for people in the district who thought they were the only ones who disagreed with their Congresmember to speak out and join with others. This would then prepare the ground for a progressive Congressional challenge.

If we can win a few challenges and/or mount the campaign on a large enough scale, then the national media will be forced to take us more seriously and focus attention on these districts too.

You Have To Look At My Initial Project Model (4.00 / 1)
I know the difference between different districts, which is why I took the trouble to enumerate the sorts of organizations that can be found everywhere. I did not mean to suggest that they are all strong, just that they are there.  And if enough of them are there, then you can plausibly pull enough of them together to pull off the initial project, which doesn't require more than simply putting on a press conference--althogh scheduling a meeting with the congresscritter would also be advised, and shouldn't be that difficult to do.

The harder suff, like putting together town meetings where people actually attend, is another matter.  Here it really will depend on greater organization strength that may take quite some time to build.  But that's not necessary for getting started.

The whole point of this approach is that it provides benefits every step of the way, but has a low entry cost, so it can get started very broadly, while accelerating rapidly where the opportunity presents itself.

I do realize that media environments can be hostile.  But compared to the national media, even a conservative paper that has a dedicated professional staff is going to be a better shot than we'd get most of the time from the Beltway Boyz.  Plus, there are community radio stations, blogs, email lists, etc.  Over time, persistent pressure and coverage in these non-traditional media will pay off.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I Agree (0.00 / 0)
I agree that it is possible to do it, and I support doing it. I like that this project can start relatively small and can piggyback on whatever progressive infrastructure exists. Also that we can leverage local, state, and national efforts (money, media, blogs, email lists, etc.) to focus attention on the district and support and build the infrastructure.

[ Parent ]
Value at each step of the way (0.00 / 0)
Paul said:
"The whole point of this approach is that it provides benefits every step of the way, but has a low entry cost, so it can get started very broadly, while accelerating rapidly where the opportunity presents itself."

I think this is key.  The battleground district poll itself is likely to have substantial value/payback, and would provide valuable raw material that could be leveraged along the various lines Paul and others suggest. 

I'm sure the local response would vary from district to district, but it could represent a step forward in each district, and open up possibilities for lateral communication, collaboration and learning across districts.

I also like the idea of exploring distributed polling and finding academics who can use student for-credit labor, which is what I did years ago as a grad student.  But I also agree that it might be best to start with a more traditional and controlled approach, and then consider supplementing it with additional locally-focused polls from these "non-traditional" sources.  In general, leveraging distributed personnel is one of the netroots' strengths, and  polling seems like a potentially high-value arena for doing so--though one that we'd want to approach carefully.

I think the balance between "leadership" and "facilitator" roles raised in some comments is a significant one, though my guess is that this balance might emerge organically as things move forward.

[ Parent ]

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