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Monday, June 18, 2007

Party Building Basics: Part 2

Thanks to all of you for your patience...

With the essential elements described in Party Building Basics: Part I, the big question remains: now what do we do? This post, like all posts here at Reform Florida’s DECs are full of broad overviews, big ideas, with some specifics thrown in for good measure. However, every county in Florida is different. Each county has its own constituencies, its own unique issues, and its own colorful personalities and institutions. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” model for Florida’s DECs to effectively build themselves up to be effective political institutions. The following ideas I present in this post are meant to serve as an outline – not an exact blueprint for success.

Go Grassroots: In my opinion, the best way to ensure electoral success is through grassroots organizing. In an ideal and perfect world, every DEC would have precinct captains in every precinct, with block captains working with them. That is far from the truth today in most (but not all) DECs here in Florida and around the country. This should be the goal of all DEC organizing efforts. It may take the most work – but it will pay your DEC and your community HUGE dividends years and years to come.

Remember to Target: Chances are, your DEC doesn’t have the resources to launch organizing efforts into every single precinct in the county. Just like in any decision, the DEC needs to prioritize. My suggestion is to go to the areas which need the most help, that is Democratic precincts who vote heavily for Democrats, but have piss poor turnout.

Set Up A Calling Program: If your DEC is anything like mine, you know that most of your activists aren’t necessarily canvassing types of people. However, most make decent callers. Work with FDP and come up with a good organizing script. The script should ask questions to gauge the level of support an individual has for the Democratic Party and what issues motivate them. Don’t forget to try and collect email addresses – the cheapest and easiest way to stay in touch and disseminate information! Give out lists of 100 to each caller to take home for a couple of weeks – it’s a lot more effective than trying to pull people into a phone bank for one night and only talk to 10-20% of the people on your list.

Again, Remember to Target: It’s probably a bit of a waste of time to have callers call every single registered Democrat in your targeted precincts. Then again, if there’s only a few hundred – go for it. If you have a couple thousand – its time to target again. My suggestion is talk to the Democrats who vote often, particularly the ones the vote in primaries.

Think Younger People: If you’re using FDP’s VAN system, you’ll probably notice that once you pull a list of active Democrats, particularly ones that vote regularly in primaries, that the average age is pretty high. In Marion, it’s around 73. No offense to the Greatest Generation, but even if you do find a good number of interested people, how much use can they be? They’ll make good callers for sure, but what about canvassing and being able to use a computer? The older the volunteer the less likely they’ll be able to deal with such important tasks. This is a big problem with DECs today: there are not enough people below 60 to get major tasks accomplished. So make sure that in your targeted lists that you’re throwing in a number of people below the age of 60 – you might be surprised about the number of potentially interested people.

Listen for Activists: This is the main point of all of this effort. Each wave of calling should turn up a handful of potential new activists and volunteers to start building the up the network. If a caller finds someone who seems interested about the party, has concerns about issues, is angry at the way things are, and/or are interested in our candidates – this is probably someone who needs to be talked to again.

Plug People In Immediately:
Once lists are handed in, obviously data needs to be entered into VAN. In addition, all people listed as being potential volunteers should be handed over to the volunteer coordinator for immediate follow up.

Tommorrow will be final installment of party building basics: part three. That post will focus on the next level of party building: ideas for training and organizing new people as well as keeping up the momentum.


Eddie said...

Good Points, Ray. I'll make sure to mention to them to people here in Brevard.

Either later tonight or tomorrow (crossed fingers) I'll have a post about mobilizing young voters up on Grassroots Brevard, which should complement your piece nicely (especially counteracting that average age of 73 thing!)

Ray Seaman said...

Eddie, I'm planning a post on organizing young voters later this week. I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

neurodem said...

I agree with what you say about the need to recruit younger members, Ray, especially the part about using a computer. When I mention VAN and the internet to some of our older DEC members, their eyes glaze over. But don't totally discount people 60 and over (I HAVE to say that as someone rapidly approaching 60!) - some of our best canvassers are in their 70s. And let's face it, they're the people who have the most time to spare.

In our DEC we have had good success recruiting volunteers and new DEC members by: (1) tabling at community festivals and encouraging stoppers-by to sign up for our mailing list; and (2) sending "welcome" letters to newly registered Democrats and NPAs which, depending on the timing, may include an invitation to a DEC meeting, one of our DEC office Open Houses, etc.

Ray Seaman said...

I'll be talking some more about events in Part III as a way to keep up momentum. Events are, in my opinion, invaluable in terms of party building!

Susan S said...

Sorry I haven't been in touch. I started working on something for you, but haven't finished yet.

Let me add something to these suggestions. I find that when I call people, I get the best response if I very quickly identify myself as their local rep (precinct committeeperson, district leader, etc. with the Democratic party), they are more likely to talk to me. I then tell them that I'm calling to answer any questions they might have about early voting, absenting voting, amendments, or whatever the goal of the call may be. Only after I've established those two things do I make an ask.

Also, I heard this once from an experienced organizer: If you want their time, ask them for their money; if you want their money, ask for their time. They are more apt to negotiate and give you want you're really looking for.

the kick said...

Ray - I would call folks attention once again to the "Applebee's America" theme. The book makes clear the need for building relationships with folks, a very different approach from looking for warm bodies who will do what you want. When you can smell an activist-in-waiting on the othe rend of the phone, the temptation to immediately connect an IV and begin sucking their potential is probably unwise. Folks who have worked with volunteers realize the need to change the focus from 'what you want' toward 'what they want.' This is especially true of Boomers who are the newly retiring folks among us who tend to have cash and time if they can BUILD A RELATIONSHIP with the organization and feel they are doing something important.
If grassroots outreach is the strategy, a very careful and intentional approach to recruiting new activists is needed, too.