Party Takeover Underway

From the diaries--Chris

Below is a tale, its ending unwritten, of a Gate Crasher's tentative but persistent first steps toward real political power.

It's motivated by the belief that it is time to stop typing about how bad the Dems are and to do something about it -- to put my life where my sig line is and be the Democrat I want to see.

In the past months I have moved from political voyeur, reading blogs and being horrified by our nation's decline, to (small) money donor, and now to foot soldier in the battle.

But there's the hitch. The party is so dysfunctional that I'm having trouble even enlisting! Read more to hear what getting boots on the ground really takes and why my difficulty may be as inspiring as it is frustrating.

Discovering how bad it really is: the bad news.

Part of my move to real involvement started out of curiosity. I had read once that the Republicans beat us in 2000 and 2004 partly because they had a much better machine, and used this new-fangled stuff like computers, e-mail, and the like.

In September, I ran an experiment. Went to the county Dem and GOP websites.

I found a form at the GOP site where I could check off boxes for what my skills were, how I would be willing to help, and enter other data. Within a day I was getting updates by e-mail on action items and meetings, calls for GOP volunteers. (They eventually dropped me. Must have looked up my party registration).

At the Dem site I had to dig a bit more and found an e-mail address. I replied to it. I heard nothing. Weeks and several more e-mails later I was on the Dem's e-mail list. I never heard from a person, but at least I got the occasional update.

Frustration Grows

In January, I resolved to get more heavily involved and had time to do so. So I went through the web info again and sent the following e-mail:

I am replying to the request on the website to volunteer for precinct work.

Here is what the website says:
 If you are not a member of your precinct organization and would like to be active, please contact us with your precinct's name (the school, church, or fire station where you vote), your name, and a contact number or email address.  We'll be pleased to have your precinct chair get in touch with you

Here is the requested info:

Precinct: Bethabara (I live at XXXXXXXXXXXX)
Name: XXXXXXXXXX
e-mail: XXXXXXXXX

I am excited about the party and Dean's efforts to build from the ground up. I have made a small donation to the DNC. I am looking over the various committees to see where I might be of most use, too. If someone knows which committees need the most help, let me know.

I never received a reply to that e-mail. Never. Nothing.

Houston, we have a problem!

I gave it a couple of weeks and was busy. But I persisted. I made my way to the local party HQ. A foot soldier should show up at the enlistment office, right?

My first trip, the office was closed. There had been mixed messages about new hours in an automated e-mail (I was still getting those). Oh well.

Second trip was a great success. I spoke to the one very welcoming woman there who confirmed that the party was in rough shape but she was excited about the training the DNC would do the next weekend for precinct captains and party leaders. She hoped they would attend (did not sound too confident about turnout). I told her I saw the info about that on the website but had to be out of town that weekend.

The woman looked up the name and contact information for my precinct captain and the head of the volunteers committee. I gave her my information and listed my skills (writing, research, debate).

Another week or so went by and I got a call from the 1st Vice Chair. Unfortunately we played phone tag until recently as I was out of town then she was on jury duty.

Meantime, I e-mailed the volunteer chair and the precinct captain:

My name is XXXXXX. I recently visited Dem headquarters in an effort to volunteer to become as active as possible in the local party.
Previous attempts to volunteer by sending e-mail to the suggested addresses on the county Dems website failed to elicit a response.
The woman working at HQ that day, XXXXXXX (forgive me if I am way off on the name) was very welcoming and gave me your e-mail addresses as points of contact.

I have been out of town (I travel many weekends as XXXXXXXX) so missed some of the recent precinct training and other meetings.

But I could attend the upcoming precinct meeting and would also be interested in discussing other ways my skills could be helpful.

Thank you in advance for your replies.

The volunteer chair said I would be welcome at a meeting Feb. 22. No mention of nor question about how I might be of use. He is also President of Young Democrats of XXXX and they have a website with this on the front page:

The Young Democrats have kicked off their campaign to register Democratic voters for the 2004 election.

It gets worse.

The precinct captain said, Feb. 3, that she would let me know of the meeting time. The mainpage of the county Dem website says meetings are slated for Feb. 9. Six days out, the captain doesn't know??? Here is the info from the website:

The XXXXX County Democratic Party has set Thursday, Feb. 9, as the date for the 2006 Precinct meetings.  The early February date will give precincts an opportunity to hold another meeting before Feb. 21 if they do not have a quorum at the first meeting

Precincts that simply cannot hold a meeting on Feb. 9 may set another meeting date but they must notify party headquarters at XXXXXXX before holding the meeting.  Such precincts must also provide ample public notification such as a notice of the different date in a local newspaper.

At these meetings, precincts are to choose delegates to the county convention, elect interim officers where vacancies have occurred, and collect the $150 precinct dues.

Precincts are supposed to meet at their polling places, but they may meet in another location provided they give party headquarters prior notice and place a notice prominently at the voting site.

Surely I would hear from the captain soon. Guess what? Feb. 8 I sent another e-mail, to her home as she had suggested. No answer. My e-mail to her office tells the rest of the story of Feb. 9:

I tried your home email last night.

Is the Dem precinct meeting today/tonight?

If not, I can relax. If it is, where and when?

I REALLY, REALLY want to participate.

I tried other ways of finding this information, too.

I called party HQ today, no answer, no returned call. Message said open until 1pm.

I rushed down there but found the office closed and locked at 12:45.

Sorry to be a pest, but I hope you can understand how frustrating it is.

I received a reply that night, that I had not missed anything, and that she would get back to me by Saturday about place and time.

Meanwhile, I was closing in on the vice-chair contact. She had jury duty, but could be reached at home in the evening. I called and she said she was busy but would call me the next night, Friday.

So, like a dumbass, I waited by the phone Friday night. Nothing.

So I called the vice chair Saturday morning around 10. She knew me. I knew her. Her husband had a part in hiring me 21 years ago. She knew my job. She asked me can I write. Can I write? She asked me can I research. Can I research? Very strange. Anyhow, she promises she will find something for me to do to help someday. But I have not been so insulted in a long time.

Oh, and did I mentioned that she explained the office was closed Friday because they couldn't get the lock to work? I am not making any of this up.

Meanwhile, it is Saturday, the day the precinct captain will tell me when the meeting is. Or not.

So, Sunday afternoon, 12 hours ago, I asked again, and 8 hours later got this:

I have requested the use of the Demo Headquarters on February 20th, 2006. I expect to hear from them tomorrow (Monday).

Remember this from the website?

The early February date will give precincts an opportunity to hold another meeting before Feb. 21 if they do not have a quorum at the first meeting.

I guess she is super confident we'll have a quorum on the last day meetings are allowed under the rules. Forgive me if I don't share that confidence, but what do I know? I'm just a blogger.

Why I'm Enthused. This is all great news!

When people were writing diaries about quitting and forming third parties if the Dems didn't filibuster Alito I would reply with comments like this:

Jeers to the Democratic Party of the not too distant past that brought us to where we are today.

Cheers to the Democratic Part of today that will bring us to where we need to be in the not too distant future.

Jeers to instant gratification.

Cheers to the persistance of social movements that took decades to see success and those still struggling: anti-slavery, women's suffrage, civil rights, environmentalism, feminism, sexual orientation, and others ya'll can list.

And this:

To those who say, "If the Dems don't filibuster or do X or Y the right way this month, I'll not vote for them or join/start a new party or something.":

Listen, please:

  1. Today's party is not the party of next spring or next year. Being unhappy with what happens this week is being unhappy with what happened to get to this week: yesterday's party.

  2. The party is changing. How could you not have seen kos's posts on this subject, his posts on Dean, his book chapters?

  3. Dean is the chair. Howard Dean. The guy that has cajones and that is mocked by old-schoolers for the scream. The guy that says we're losing in Iraq. He is the CHAIR.

  4. Dean has a plan: training people down to the PRECINCT level. Rebuilding and repopulating the infrastructure of the party with me and you. The offices are already staffed and paid for in your county. All you gave to do is walk in the door.

  5. Today's precinct captain becomes tomorrow's alderman, next year's stathouse rep, etc. The future Senators you want to have the spine for filibustering come from today's new party members.

  6. Dean is raising cash (at record levels and in spite of campaign finance law changes that disadvantaged Dems more than the GOP) at record levels. The party's future cash source (small donor progressives) will be more and more influential because the party will literally not be able to afford to ignore us.

  7. It is much easier to take over the hollow shell of the Democratic party than it is to start a new one. The phone lines are there. Just get yourself on one end of it instead of having to get a new phone line, too.

Item 7 is why I'm psyched up. In the weeks since I wrote that comment I have found that it is more true than I ever knew.

I know how to get things done and I will succeed. I know how to have a functioning door lock, a functioning website, respond to e-mails, generate e-mail lists, return phone calls, and get people working.

I may have had some trouble with the enlistment office, but I can see a quick rise from foot soldier to captain. And I'll have more and more soldiers behind me.

Let's go, folks. The gates are rusty. We may not have to crash the gates, just apply a little WD-40 and open them. Mark Stoller's blurb for Kos's book says this:

"Crashing the Gate is the start of a conversation. It will unleash a torrent of stories about how badly the party has been managed, who's at fault, and why the Democratic Party keeps losing.

He has the tenses all wrong. The conversation is already happening and my story is unleashed before publication. And "[i]keeps [/i]losing"??? Kept.

With Dean's spending plan, your help and mine, we will win and keep winning.

Just be the Democrat you want to see.

Cross-posted at Booman Tribune.

Tags: Activism, Crashing the Gate, dean, Democratic Party, grassroots (all tags)

Comments

20 Comments

Re: Party Takeover Underway

Call the DNC in DC and talk to someone.  I did.   They are working to clean up the website, it was so neglected.  They would like everyone to come by to say hello and stay in touch.  I know, the site is not much fun.   They want people to call with suggestions.   I have sent several e-mails and never got one, not one, answer.  They know.  We should be standing in Gov. Dean's line saying here we are, each and every day.  If we keep showing up asking for something to do, maybe they'll plan on us.  Call Gov. Dean's office and talk to someone.

by oakland 2006-02-13 12:31AM | 0 recs
As for the call to the office

I think I'll send the diary link to ttagaris at DNC. The diary has been brewing for some time now, and his DKos diary last night celebrating the anniversary of Dean's leadership got me going, especially after he gave me a little mojo for a comment threatening to write this diary.

by demondeac 2006-02-13 04:00AM | 0 recs
The website

in question is our County one.

I was gonna give the county party a chance to have me help clean it up before ratting them out to higher ups.

My aim is not to point fingers (hell, at least thy did something while I was doing nothing).

But I have sent a get acquainted e-mail to the state regional rep that the DNC inserted to help with such stuff.

by demondeac 2006-02-13 03:53AM | 0 recs
Frustration!

About two weeks ago, I got the name of my precinct chair from the County Dem website. Walked to her house and left a note saying how eager I am to get involved, and I'm willing to help out with anything. I left my phone number, email, and home address.

Still haven't heard back.

I'll be knocking on her door again this evening, probably leaving another note. If she doesn't respond this time then I'm just going to start without her, going door to door introducing myself and registering voters.

On the good news side, however, I've been volunteering for a state House race across town, where the community interest has been enormous. People are constantly calling the office or stopping by, asking how they can help, or giving us input on where we need more signs. Or telling us about the Republican candidate's activity in the area.

And this is my favorite: there's a local grocery store that also serves as an early voting location. They're notorious for taking down campaign signs. So we have a volunteer who's been going to this store three times a day to plant signs. It's almost become an obsession for him!

So many people want to get involved, we just need to find a way to put them all to work.

by paulrobeson 2006-02-13 05:33AM | 0 recs
Way to go!

There are many more stories like yours now that my diary is on the DKos rec list.

Check them out.

As usual, the comments are better than the diary.

by demondeac 2006-02-13 06:44AM | 0 recs
Gate Crasher's Classic Story

My personal experience with volunteering met similar resistance or incompetence. A friend of mine exerted a huge amount of effort, and finally got to be half-precinct captain. Even then, when she showed up first in line for the county meeting, she was 20th to sign in because the "in-crowd" had already met behind closed doors.

Your report about the difficulty of entry into the local Democratic Party has several possible interpretations (all of which I think are true):
- (1) Dysfunctional Management; long-termers just holding down a chair between elections
- (2) It is human nature to work with known factors (friends, culturally similar)
- (3) Intentional barriers to maintain control and keep out people and ideas they don't like.

Perhaps you mostly need persistence to push through barriers 1 and 2, although you can see how difficult-to-open the gates might be to busy people, different culture from present club members, minorities, less-educated.

Barrier number three requires strategy, intentionality, and knowing when to keep your mouth shut. I know, it's supposed to be democratic, but think about it more like getting a new job at a company where you have to start at the bottom rungs, perhaps even a company where you don't agree with corporate policy or the corporate culture. You're not going to change things right away, but build a resume over time. In the short term, competence, courtesy and volunteering for the dirty jobs can gain you respect.

In the medium run, generating money, voter registrations, volunteers and ultimately voters moves you up the ladder.

Speaking of resume building: Join a non-profit board with community visibility. Learn how to fund-raise. Make lots of political friends. Dress nicely. Speak articulately.

by MetaData 2006-02-13 07:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Gate Crasher's Classic Story

Thanks for the advice. It is precisely what I was looking for when writing the diary.

Bottom line: gotta be a politician.

by demondeac 2006-02-13 07:54AM | 0 recs
Apologies from an "Officer"

Let me apologize for all the crap you went through.  But more imprtantly, let me thank you for all the crap you went through.

I've been working as a field dedicated campaign staffer for quite some time now, and fully understand your frustration with the party at the local level.

I do however agree with you that the organization is getting better.  In fact, let me quote something from a Major Senator's (and '08 presidential hopefull) blog report to his staff and himself.

from Red State.
Krempasky post a link to the Democratic Party website that now provides tools for campaigns and candidates to make and manage fundraising homepages.  This in conjunction with previous services for online contributions like ActBlue have left Republican bloggers asking their party leaders "where's our sites and tools?"

Granted, this is for fundraising, not field operations, we seem to be scaring the Republicans.

Howard Dean started the 50 State Program in which the DNC hired and trained organizers in ALL 50 states.  This seems to be filtering down.

I, as a campaign organizer, always encourage all my volunteers to join the local committees after the race and convince my candidate to turn over the volunteer database to the local committess.

I think the problem lies therein, that campaigns and committees don't work together as much as they should, and needs to end today.

</soapbox>

by Pitin 2006-02-13 08:34AM | 0 recs
I'm helping take over my county...

Our county party in Rural Michigan has been down for years.

We started having booths at the fairs and festivals.  Almost everybody we talk to is real happy to see us again..."we haven't seen anything in years" seems to be a common refrain.

This from a community with a major University in the center of it all.  The dem's haven't been non-active, but I do believe it's been very eggheady (with all the prof's from the U), that local townies haven't felt very welcome.  But, that is all changing.

Go check out our blog icdp.blogspot.com

I am trying to get it on the main page, but the gatekeeper (the guy with the server passwords) hasn't been very forthcoming.  I think he's pretty proud of his page, and doesn't want some whippersnapper to change it with bloggin, and organizin...So now we just go around him and use blogger, there is no mention of any webpage other than the blogger page on most publications...
 

by chanupi 2006-02-13 08:58AM | 0 recs
Re: I'm helping take over my county...

Nice site

by demondeac 2006-02-13 11:15AM | 0 recs
Arab Muslims

I have already emailed the DNC. Last week at CPAC the word "Towel Head" was being tossed around. There are 2 Great American Lies going on here:

1. Republicans care about Muslims.
2. Democrats agree with Republican Foreign Policy.

Until SOMEONE steps up and says it's time to get out of Arab lands this cycle WILL NEVER END. The eternal struggle between Repubs and Dems. It will never end.

Everyday I tell someone new that Iraqis hate American soldiers and want to kill them. And then I tell them how much their children will pay in income for the deaths of these soldiers. And I tell them the Democrats sat back and did nothing because they were too stupid to verbalize a strategy for securing America that didn't involve invading Arab lands.

by Landsurveyor 2006-02-13 09:12AM | 0 recs
go man

Terrific diary, thank you.

On a lark, I compared the University of Chicago Democrat and Republican club webpages; neither was stellar, but the Dems was horrible, with broken links (of the order of misspelling "chicago") and a blog last updated in Spring 2005.

by sdedeo 2006-02-13 09:38AM | 0 recs
I HAVE IDEAS!

demondeac has already bookmarked my website, so this is for the rest of the readers of this post.

My entire blog is dedicated to fixing county parties (particularly in Florida, but the prescriptions I discuss can be applied nationwide). Check it out:

http://reformfloridasdecs.blogspot.com

Enjoy!

by gatordemocrat 2006-02-13 09:42AM | 0 recs
Re: I HAVE IDEAS!

Nice work.  I'm in Orlando.  Good to see some other Florida folks doing stuff.  :)

--sam

by samizdat 2006-02-14 06:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Party Takeover Underway

Thank you for perserving. Please keep on keeping on. My advice is this: read this blog every day. Good shit's happening and you can tune it in here. It may not be on the public 'surface' yet, but it's there nonetheless. Keep the faith.

by Sun Tzu 2006-02-13 01:08PM | 0 recs
I have this blog on RSS feed

Just went back and saw this front-paged. Cool.

Thanks for the enthusiasm.

by demondeac 2006-02-13 03:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Party Takeover Underway

I think it's great that motivated Dems should take hold of rusting party machinery in the counties and make it work again.

I'd be just a little concerned that it's less than nine months from the general (or, put another way, a tad more than 15 months after the 2004 general) and so much party machinery has apparently gone unrepaired.

I come across by a chance a Prospect profile of Terry McAuliffe from July 2001, and read, amongst the problems he'd walked into,

Many state parties were functionally nonexistent three years out of four; some didn't even have fax machines; and the average tenure of a state party executive director was a mere eight months. "Eight months!" he shouts. "Unacceptable."

(Fax machines in 2001?!)

I don't know how far the state parties have been reformed; but there certainly seems to be work to be done at county and local level.

Shouldn't this be the responsibility of the state parties? Or, a year into the Dean regime, can't their help be counted on by local parties?

Perhaps the causation works the other way round: you need a critical mass of people interested in running for local and county offices to sustain a party organization month in, month out.

Perhaps you need a vibrant social side - barbecues and picnics and whatever - to sustain interest (and raise cash) when there's no election in the offing.

What worthwhile has been, or remains to be, learnt from the GOP Amway model, I wonder?

I'm tapped!

(Except I have a particular beef with Dem sites. Pick a county site at random and you're pretty much guaranteed a dispiriting experience. They tend to be spare to the point of bare, and cobwebs visible. The takeaway message is that the site is there only because of instructions from above; that, in the local party, there is neither the competence nor the will to make it the slightest bit inviting to the visitor (and potential member and contributor).

Most particularly, don't have a blog if it can't reliably be updated every couple of days. (Nothing ages a site like an untended blog!)

More than two years after the DFA revolution, shouldn't more have been done to energise the online face of the Dems countrywide?)

by skeptic06 2006-02-13 01:22PM | 0 recs
Unfortunately

most state parties have yet to step up to the plate in regards to reorganizing local and county parties. Most, to be fair, are still reorganizing themselves and cannot be too much help at the local level -yet.

by gatordemocrat 2006-02-13 03:26PM | 0 recs
Re: Party Takeover Underway

It's different everywhere. Some county organizations are doing well,  but more are struggling. The people who have been holding them together have probably been doing it for years with nobody else being interested.

Go get involved. Grit your teeth and sit through the boring meetings. Volunteer to organize a fundraiser or chair a committee. Do the work and follow through.

I did this a few years ago and had a similar experience. I spent 6 months with my hand up trying to volunteer. It took a long time just to get a precinct list. it's been 3 years, and the county party is much, much better, but still has a ways to go to be a completely functional organization.

The flip side is that once people realize you're really there to help, you'll be able to make a difference. Then you can run for your state party committee and/or the DNC. Or as a delegate to the 2008 national convention.

Please do. And hurry up! The DNC needs fresh new ideas and energetic people. And I could use some company at the bar during the meetings.

And for those complaining about their county party's site. Stop complaining and offer to manage it for them. Not everyone has tech skills or writing skills.

by Jenny Greenleaf 2006-02-13 02:00PM | 0 recs
The DKos version has 300 comments (approx)

Among them are many very good ideas.

Meanwhile, I have had e-mail from some activists and the state communications director is getting on the case.

There is hope.

by demondeac 2006-02-13 03:31PM | 0 recs

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