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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Speakers Bureaus

One of the many problems I've noticed in clubs is the poor meeting structure. Club meetings have a social time at the beginning with refreshments, then everyone sits down to hear a speaker, which if you're in a Marion club revolves around Social Security or Medicare with the occasional candidate thrown in. Any actual action or organizing is left to "The Board", some distant body of hand chosen people. This reflects the ancient mentality that all the hard work and big decisions are made at the top, and then given down to the peons for implementation. It doesn't reflect that grassroots "from the bottom up" theme that Howard Dean and many progressive activists have been articulating for some time now.

Clubs, particularly those that have been around forever and consider themselves for the most part autonomous from their sponsoring DEC, can be a tough crowd to change. Change in well-established clubs, will inevitably come in increments. For new clubs and caucuses, getting them into a grassroots, bottom-up mindset is a lot easier.

Speakers Bureaus are a way to begin to democratize older clubs and put new clubs and caucuses on the right track. Typically, every club's leadership (or leader in most cases) hand picks the speaker for the meeting and designs the entire meeting. And typically, without any DEC leadership from above, each club kind of meanders off on its own path, cut off from any larger vision or purpose.

With a club coordinator, each DEC can start finding good speakers who are passionate about certain issues, particularly local and state issues. However, here's the catch, each speaker should be trained beforehand in the need to articulate to older clubs the need to organize and do things from the bottom up. For instance, an education speaker can say "We won't be able to get the kind of funding we need for our schools unless we have a well-organized dialog with our neighbors. We won't be able to do that either if were waiting for someone else to do this for us. We as individuals need to get together, organize whether through this club or not, and take action."

Every speaker should have the importance of grassroots organizing built in.

Of course, speakers bureaus are important for several other reasons:

Get Everyone On the Same Page:
If July is going to be healthcare month (perfectly timed with the release of "Sicko"), the club coordinator should work with their clubs to make sure that pre-designated healthcare speakers are lined up to speak. For baby boomers, make sure that there's going to be some kind of action item associated with the arrival of the speaker, such as the formation of a healthcare action group (more on this idea in another post.)

Get the Base More Excited: Which would you rather hear, a speaker on Medicare discussing the difference between Part A, B, C, and D? Or would you rather listen to someone excoriating the problems of our current system (linking them to the Republicans), and discussing the new ideas being proposed by the individual Democratic candidates? I would say most would go for the latter, but the former is what I've currently seen in many Democratic clubs.

Deliver a Clear and Consistent Message: I hear a lot of misinformation out there about issues, even among hard working Democrats. Some think the property tax amendment on January 29th is a good thing. Of course, it would probably be one of the most destructive things ever enacted in Florida history. The point is, having a month dedicated to educating Democrats and the public alike (through "open meetings") on an issue like property taxes is important and can get everyone on the same plane. Democrats aren't robots and don't just accept everything that their told (which is good), but they can be consistent and well-armed in their conversations with their neighbors.

2 comments:

Jennifer said...

The leaders of our club are also members of the DEC, so we're able to have some degree of coordination while retaining our independence from the DEC. Besides, the DEC has enough on its plate getting speakers for its own meetings, let alone recruiting speakers for the clubs too.

Eddie Schwieterman said...

Excellent points, Ray.

I notice that we often have speakers who are very knowledgeable and informative about a subject, but there is no follow up on how we can organize in response. It's kind of silly if you think about it...what's the point knowing these things if we don't do something about them?