by greg bloom, Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 07:35:20 AM EDT
So, the Right has the money, and the Left has the People Power. We all know that's how the game is stacked. And ever since that whole shake-up in the 60s, when both sides got their boats rocked, the Right's been building this big machine and throwing money into it. Turns out they're pretty good at it! And the Left? We've been out knockin' doors, talkin' to the People, givin' them the Power--that's how we do. That's how the story goes.
And that's why this little book released last month is a big deal. In Activism, Inc., Dana Fisher of Columbia University traces the history of the canvass--from a vital grassroots GOTV tool of local politicians, to an innovative tactic for burgeoning advocacy/lobbying groups in the 70s, to the big-box fundraising industry that sprawled out through the 90s and continues to grow today. Fisher's book is billed as the first formal study of the modern fundraising canvass ever published. (She recently published a piece in the American Prospect that more or less summarizes her argument.)
Mike Connery interviewed Fisher over at Future Majority last week about the canvasses described in her book. "This is not what democracy looks like, and it is not what progressive politics should look like either," he wrote in a post accompanying the podcast. But how can door-knocking to drum up People Power look like anything other than democracy?
Well, Fisher's book starts from the fact much of the progressive canvass world has been consolidated under one roof -- acronymically speaking, that would be FFPIRG/GCI -- the Fund for Public Interest Research and its network, including most of the PIRGs, Telefund, and Grassroots Campaigns Inc (GCI), a conglomerate that altogether is the single largest employer of "progressive activists" in the country.* (I wrote about Fund/PIRG/GCI's shared campaign model here in the "Strip-Mining the Grassroots" series.) Fisher then takes the time to do what no one has bothered to do in decades: ask these canvassers about their work. Fisher's conclusion is announced rather boldly right there in the book's subtitle:
How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America