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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Precinct Organizing: The Path to the Promised Land

NOTE: This is crossposted from MyDD and DailyKos. The material here applies to our efforts to rebuild Florida's DECs - precinct by precinct.

The path to a Democratic majority and possibly subsequent realignment will be paved with the work of precinct captains and the volunteers they are so key in bringing into the process. However, this post isn't completely focused the importance of precinct captains and precinct-level organizing. This post is mainly focused on the question I've been asked over and over again: how are precinct-captains recruited and therefore how are precincts organized?

As a prospective precinct captain for precinct 3230 in Marion County, Florida, I have a few ideas.

First, a little background information. Late President Harry Truman once said that being a precinct captain was the most important job he ever had. It's up to a precinct captain to get members of their respective political party (for our uses Democrats) as well as independents to get out and vote for their party's slate of candidates. Put simply, precinct captains often make or brake elections for candidates.

Democrats cannot expect to truly build a strong majority and realign the public toward progressivism until it has precinct captains in as many precincts as possible. We already know what happens when Democratic precinct captains are nonexistent. West Virginia (as discussed in this Hotline article) is a perfect example.

However, building a strong precinct organization is a lot easier said than done. I know in my home county, Marion County, Florida, has 140 precincts. The local county party (what is called a Democratic Executive Committee or DEC here in Florida) has only managed to have at least 1 precinct captain in just roughly 50 of those precincts. Among that group of folks, roughly 30-40 are active and at least come to monthly meetings (though I have to confess, even though I'm friends with all of them, they do little else.) Just organizing a single precinct can be a taxing activity for a local party (if they're even engaged in this important responsibility at all.)

Here's how I believe a precinct should be organized:

1.) Get a list of all the registered Democrats in the targeted precinct (from your local supervisor of elections, or whoever managed elections in your county - in Florida the state party has provided each county party a way to access this information quickly and easily.)

2.) Take the list of registered Democrats, and pull out those Democrats who have voted in 4 out of the last 4 elections (including primaries.) These are committed Democrats.

3.) Get a team together (hopefully a county party's precinct committee or whichever person or institution that should be dealing with this, again if there is such an entity.) Find a central meeting place and prepare for a meetup.

4.) Send out a snail mail invitation (preferably hand-written, sorry, but this is far more likely to get read) to all the "4/4" Democrats to the meetup.

5.) Coordinate a phone bank to call all of these active Democrats to coincide with the arrival of the snail mail and encourage them to attend.

6.) At the meetup, discuss the need to organize the precinct and how it figures into the larger Democratic strategy. Set some dates for a few (3-4) more meetups.

7.) At the subsequent meetups, discuss local issues and ideas on how to solve them, invite candidates to come speak - and always have free food. Hopefully, some leaders might emerge.

8.) At the final county party sponsored meetup, ask the group to elect a captain and turn over control of the small organization to the captain. But don't just walk away! Always have something there for the precinct captain to fall back on and get support from within the county party.

However, I don't think anyone would argue that the best way to organize a precinct is for someone interested to come forward and agree to stop complaining, and start leading.

We in the blogosphere should take note. To all the bloggers who only blog and haven't given a dime to a campaign, or more importantly, your local or state party (or even the DNC), or haven't volunteered, or who aren't a precinct captain: you should change your ways.

We all want to see the Democratic Party succeed in 2006 and beyond. However, there's a difference between those who talk about victory (or complain about existing inefficiencies) and those who work to make victory happen. I hope that we in the blogosphere will take a closer look at what's happening in our communities (though I don't want to diminish the efforts of those in the blogosphere who blog as well as work for change at the local level) and be the change we want to see.

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