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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Another Postponment

Sorry if I've disappointed anyone, but I'll be waiting until Monday to post Party Building Basics: Part 2 - I figure more folks will be able to read and enjoy it then.

Besides, its the weekend - what are you doing here anyway?!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Supporting Our Young Activists

I'm helping put together a "Come Back Soon" Party for James Walker, an Iraq War vet recalled to duty in the middle of his campaign for state representative against Dennis Baxley in 2006. Therefore, the second part of Party Building Basics will have to wait until tommorrow. Until then, here's a nice caveat to tide you over.

As a 20 year old, I constantly get asked the question: "How come young people aren't involved" and "How come young people don't vote?" The answer to the first question is the start of the explanation for the second question: the progressive movement today doesn't feed its young people - it starves them. Read the article below and you'll see what I mean. Its a constant struggle people like me and many others have to deal with on a very regular basis:

When College Ends, So Does Activism

Unfortunately, local parties can only do so much here. They can put young people in leadership roles, and help get young people elected to local office (building a "farm team"), but in terms of helping them survive financially - DECs are very limited. This is something our progressive movement as a whole needs to address.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Party Building Basics: Part 1

I see way too often DECs and progressive organizations going out to do party building/membership/volunteer recruitment without the basics to do it with. I also rarely see it all fitting into a larger plan - which means any results gained could possibly be short-lived. I'd like to open up the discussion today to focus around the basics of party building. By the way, the same tactics go for campaigns. Here are my ideas:

Good Party Leadership: This is often the hardest commodity to have, I know. I used to believe that even with poor leadership at the top, a dedicated activist can still get things done. This is only partially true: a dedicated activist can move the ball, but in terms of accomplishing things for the long-term, the possibilities of success are very limited. You have to have a party chairperson, vice-chairperson, secretary, treasurer, state committee people, and committee chairpersons who can work together effectively. They can (and probably will) have differences on a number of topics. This, by the way, is normal. If there aren't any differences between your leadership members - that's probably a sign that something is seriously wrong. At the end of the day, however, everyone needs to realize the larger goal of building the Democratic Party and electing progressive politicians. The DEC leadership also needs to be able to adapt. Plans should be built to be adaptable - because conditions can change instantly. The DEC leadership also needs to have some vision (a long term focus) and realize that just because you have a setback, doesn't mean you halt the program you're working on and start from scratch. Wrapping all of this up, DEC leadership needs to be able to work together, and create long term focused plans which can roll with the punches.

A Committee Dedicated to Party Building: In the Marion DEC, this entity is known as the Grassroots Development Committee (or GRD, pronounced "Gird".) I know other DECs have different entities dealing with this, but for the sake of brevity, I'll use GRD to describe the party building committee that your DEC has or should have. A good GRD chairperson is someone who has been a successful precinct captain or club leader. They need to know and understand the volatile nature and structure of the grassroots. They need to be able to figure out and juggle personalities - the Democratic Party is full of varying and...shall we say interesting personalities and psyches. Knowing how each person ticks can yield better results in volunteer recruitment and task allotment. When I talk to New Yorkers, the accent that my grandmother and mother has comes out slightly. When I talk to my friends in the peace community, I take some time to talk about the War and the peace movement before I ask them for help. You get the picture. This isn't sinister in my view, its being courteous of the people you're trying to recruit and get more involved. I view the Democratic Party as a community of individuals from diverse backgrounds and spectrums. Party builders should be very conscious of this.

A Volunteer Coordinator and System: When you find people who might be interested in getting involved, or you have them in your database, how do you manage them? You don't want them sitting on the database forever - those individuals might think you don't value them over time. You also want to be able to track how well they do with certain activities. A volunteer may say they like to phone bank, but if they have a voice that shatters glass - you're going to want so find another activity for them to do! Its also a good idea to track how long it takes volunteers to complete a certain list of calls, and how effective they are at getting information from the voters. Effective volunteers can make effective trainers as your operation grows.

To do all of these things, you need a volunteer coordinator who has the same abilities as your GRD chairperson: someone who knows the lay of the land, who can be patient, can juggle personalities, and in general get the job done. Your volunteer coordinator also needs to learn how to use the FDP's voter database, the Voter Activation Network (called "VAN".) The new version of VAN will contain volunteer database options. In the meantime, a simple access database (for a volunteer system over 100) or excel spreadsheet (for a volunteer system under 100) will do.

People Willing to Do the Work: We have way too many people in DECs who love to talk - but clearly don't want to lift a finger. They have golf games, haircuts, and the like. For the first stage of real party building (which I will start discussing tommorrow), you need a group of people who will be willing to do the phone call work to start getting in touch with your base. Don't bother with the dead weight of the DEC - they're not going to help you. Get the activists together and get going. More tommorrow...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Idea For "Blog Florida Blue" Logo

Wanted to put an idea I had out there for critical review:

Obviously, this is something that's important to us in the Florida Netroots, as this is kinda going to be our brand look.

I'll also make it smaller to fit into folks' sidebars.

Don't hold back - be critical - this is important.

Update: You can find the smaller version in the "Proud Member" block on the sidebar.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

More Lessons Learned at JJ

Eddie of Grassroots Brevard (friend of this site) has written an excellent post summarizing the lessons he learned at the Youth Caucus during JJ weekend. Read it here.

Club Coordination: A Must Have

Not all DECs have a lot of clubs. In fact, some have no clubs at all. In Marion, we have 10 chartered clubs, all geographically based. So its important for us to have some level of coordination. Its just as important for all DECs who have clubs to have a club coordinator, or someone who works solely with club leadership.

In Marion County, we had a great lady who organized and help start a lot of these clubs. Today, our DEC couldn't be more grateful. Through these clubs we have access into communities (6 of which are gated, restricted communities) where we wouldn't no anybody if it hadn't been for the presence of the club.

The problem that we have had is that because there has been little coordination, as well as leadership from the DEC after these clubs were started, clubs have grown to be very autonomous institutions. Some (not all) view the DEC as a pesky, intrusive group who only seem to show up when there's an election or the club needs to be rechartered.

We started changing this practice at the start of the new administration in January. The new chairman visited all of the clubs between January and March. He is set to tour them again starting this month to discuss progress and new challenges that we face ahead. This is a great start, and I would recommend other DEC chairs around the state do the same with their clubs.

But DECs have to do even more than this. There has to be a constant coordination process. This is why every DEC that has clubs should have a club coordinator. Even for DECs who don't have clubs, clubs are important, and they should try and appoint a club coordinator to go out and start new clubs (another post coming in the future.) Here are some things a club coordinator can do to make sure clubs are generally on the same page, and that they don't drift too far from their sponsoring DEC:

Create A General Program: Clubs can play a tremendously helpful role in building a DEC's field capacity - particularly if some (or all in Marion's case) are geographically based. Precinct captains? Block captains? General volunteers? Donors? All can be found within clubs. Remember, clubs should essentially be funnels for interested people to become activists and community leaders. The club coordinator can work with the DEC's coordinated campaign and field (precinct team, committee, whatever) teams to make sure clubs are doing their share of the heavy lifting.

Help With Branding: Every club should have a distinctive logo, which sets them apart from the rest. The club coordinator should work hard to make sure each club has the proper materials (brochures, business cards, letterhead, banners for events, etc...) to make them stand out and be effective in their communities. Remember, Democratic clubs can also be folks' first impressions of the Democratic Party - they need to look good.

Help With Communications: A good club coordinator should work with any techies that are working with the DEC to make sure every club has either its own website, or a subdomain within the DEC's website. They should either find someone in each club who can do basic editing to provide the web page with up-to-date information. The club coordinator should also make sure that clubs are advertising their meetings well in the local newspaper and through other media outlets. If your DEC has a robodialer, it can help raise awareness and attendance.

Assistance with Rechartering: Clubs have to recharter I believe every year (someone can correct me here if I'm wrong.) The club coordinator should work closely with each club to make sure everything is being done properly. They will be particularly needed if there's a new rule or regulation that's coming up (for instance, the whole registering as a PAC or CCE thing which occurred this year.) Having a knowledgeable club coordinator can prevent any miscommunication or confusion in the rechartering process.

Good, healthy clubs equals a good, healthy DEC.

Monday, June 11, 2007

GOP Losing Rural Support

For all of our brothers and sisters working hard in the vast rural areas of our state, there is some comforting news from a new poll released by the wonderful Center for Rural Strategies. Here are some highlights:

* A slight majority of rural voters prefers a generic Democratic presidential candidate to a generic Republican candidate.
* War support is declining. Forty-five percent of rural respondents said the country should "stay the course" in Iraq, down from 51 percent in 2004.
* Rural people have a personal connection to the wars. Sixty percent know someone serving in the wars. One quarter say they have a family member serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
* President Bush's job performance ratings have dropped 10 points (to 44 percent approve) since the 2004 election.

You can read the details here. Rural Florida, and indeed rural America will be a hard nut to crack for us, but it certainly can be done. Don't forget that farmers and rural folks were what started the Populist Party in the late 1800s. The Populists were the forerunners of the Progressive movement of the early 20th century which brought us child labor laws, women's suffrage, trust busting and business regulation, the initiative and referendum process, direct election of Senators, and environmental conservation. This laid the foundation for the modern Democratic Party under Woodrow Wilson, which reached its full fruition under FDR and subsequent Democratic presidents.

It all started with the farmers in rural America as a response to growing corporate domination. Sound familiar?

DEC Websites

DEC Websites come in many formats. They are each unique and reflect the interests and focus of their respective counties. One thing that should be uniform to all, however, is UP-TO-DATE information. Voters will review these sites and make judgments about the viability of each DEC. We encourage Democrats to contact your DEC leadership about the need to have current and timely information on your DEC website. Just for starters, here are DEC websites of TampaBay.

Manatee DEC. Up to date! Has a current events calendar. Club list well done.

Pasco DEC. Linked precinct finder-nice touch. Good navigation.

Pinellas DEC. Archived Newsletters are up-to-date.

Hillsborough DEC. Hasn't been updated for many months. Candidates listed are from Fall 2006. Elected officials are out of date.

Update from Ray (6-12: 2:25pm): From cjohnson, who is a member of the Hillsbourough DEC. He says the DEC is focusing on rebuilding themselves right now after some past troubles. According to Curt, they need volunteers to help rebuild the organization there. Email him if you're in the area, and see what you can do. We here at Reform Florida's DECs are here to help and find solutions for our friends in need.

Building Local Progressive Blogospheres

I've heard many times on Kos and MyDD, that the trend in blogging is towards the local level. This is absolutely correct. While there is still some frontier left at the state level (not in Florida though) in some portions of the country, the real possibilities lay in counties, towns, and neighborhoods. Local issues, local politicians, and local institutions need to be given the same critical analysis and research that the blogosphere has brought to the state, national, and international levels.

DECs can play a small role here. These local institutions are already home to community activists, who in turn have connections to other activists. Just 3-6 people can form the core of a wonderful local progressive blog. Of course, don't underestimate the power of one person to start a powerful local blog as well.

Individuals inside DECs should take it upon themselves to try and form a local progressive blog, which may or may not be affiliated with the local DEC. Each model has its benefits and drawbacks.

Here are some things that a good local progressive blog can do:

Raise Awareness: For candidates, community leaders, and voices of dissent, having a place to get their message out (other than the MSM) is an incredibly valuable tool. There aren't really any big media gatekeepers standing between you and the public.

Activist Recruitment: The blog world is a much different place that the DEC world. One of the funny (and awesome) things we found in the Marion DEC was that there were nearly a dozen people who were signed up on Party Builder, MyBarackObama, and OneCorps who were from Ocala/Marion County, who we had never met before! There are people in the blogosphere (and non-blog people, too) who don't even know that there is a local Democratic Party or Democratic club in their area. As a local progressive blog grows, it will naturally attract these people and funnel them into the local scene.

Hold Politicians Accountable: Accountability isn't just a scarce commodity in Washington! If you've ever spent time at the local level (particularly in Republican-held areas) - things can be just as bad - if not worse. Developers are buying off politicians, people are getting screwed, and special interests only seem to be benefiting. Sounds like a great set of posts! Rather than a DEC trying to set up something like a Government Oversight Committee to send activists to County Commission, School Board, Water Board, and City Council meetings, they can essentially outsource this critical task to the bloggers.

Push Progressive Issues:
Did you know there are ways to enact public financing of elections at the municipal level? Did you know you can make your city compliant with the Kyoto protocol (here and here)? Sure you can! But why wait for the national groups to get their bloated butts down to your neck of the woods to make it happen? Local progressive blogs can bring these issues to light, and push them hard. DECs really don't have the time or the resources to spend on issues (they're organizing, recruiting candidates, and raising money to get the right people elected), so its up to local blogs to get the necessary policies in place.

Build Community: Having a place for local progressives to congregate besides the stuffy and sometimes frustrating DEC meetings and DEC committee meetings is a great thing. Local progressives need some place to go to vent, share ideas, and rally. A good local progressive blog can build that critical esprit de corps needed to move mountains.

This is all part of a larger idea I have, which I'll try and expand on in the future, which I like to call the idea of having DECs as progressive lend-leasers. Lend-Lease was of course, the WWII program that we used to help fund and supply our allies. Once again, more on that in the future.
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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Changes to Political Party Organization in Florida

A couple weeks ago I wrote up a summary of Florida HB 537 on Daily Kos detailing how we may have gotten a few things we didn't bargain for in addition to paper ballots. One of the things I left out of that summary are the changes that were made to the organization of political parties in the state. I'll go through those now.

Section 103.081 of the Florida Statutes dealing with the use of a party's name was amended to include this additional subsection:

(3) A political party may file with the Department of State names of groups or committees associated with the political party. Such filed names may not be used without first obtaining the written permission of the chair of the state executive committee of the party.

Section 103.091 of the Florida Statutes deals with the organization of political parties, particularly their executive committees at the both the state and county level.

Subsection (1) was amended to add:

Each state committeeman or committeewoman must be a member in good standing of the county executive committee for the county in which the state committeeman or committeewoman is a registered voter.

Subsection (4) was amended to provide an additional two weeks for those seeking to qualify for elected positions in the state or county executive committee.

Subsection (6)(b) concerns the composition of each state executive committee and adds that it shall include:

10 Florida registered voters who are members of the party as appointed by the Governor if the Governor is a member of the party

Section 103.161 is the real meat of the changes. It deals with the removal county executive committee members. It completely removes all the previous legislation that left it up to the state or county executive committee to take legal action to remove a county executive committee member and puts that soles in the hands of the chair of the state executive committee.

(1) The chairman of the state executive committee is empowered to remove or suspend from an office within the chairman's political party any officer, state committeeman, state committeewoman, county committeeman, county committeewoman, precinct committeeman, precinct committeewoman, or other member of a state executive committee, county executive committee, political party club, or other organization using the political party name as provided in s. 103.081 for a violation of the oath of office taken by such individual or for engaging in other activities described in this section.

(2) Such violation may include engaging in activities that have or could have injured the name or status of the political party or interfered with the activities of the political party. The chairman has sole discretion to determine if a violation occurred.

(3) Upon the chairman's determination that a violation of the oath of office occurred or that an individual engaged in other activities described in this section, the chairman may remove or suspend the individual from his or her office. If the chairman removes the individual from office, the office shall be deemed vacant upon the delivery of the chairman's written order of removal to the individual. When a vacancy in office is created, the chairman shall appoint an individual to serve through the end of the term of the office. If the chairman suspends the individual, the chairman shall determine the length of the suspension.

(4) An individual removed from office by the chairman shall not be eligible to serve on the state executive committee or any county executive committee of the political party for a period of no less than 4 years from the effective date of the removal.

As someone who wishes to help reform the party and encourage more grassroots involvement, I'm a little concerned about the shift to a more centralized authority structure where the chair can seemingly remove anyone at will or vanquish any group or club from using the party name.

It makes sense for Republicans where it is expected for members to be automatons who move in lock-step, but it doesn't seem very Democratic. We are a party in which members often disagree and I would hate to see those disagreements escalate into opportunites to oust people who are dedicated to the party, but may not share everything in common with the establishment.

What do you think of these changes?