The Canvassers' Union (pt2): How Los Angeles Broke the PIRG/Fund Model

This series is an expansion of my reporting inIn These Times magazine (August 18th, "Do You Have a Minute For...?") about two offices of the Fund for Public Interest Research that voted to unionize and were subsequently shut down. The topic is perhaps a little earthy for these blogs, which focus largely on issues of electoral strategy and national news; but as I noted in this series' first post, the Fund is perhaps the single largest employer of progressive activists in the country - in the entire PIRG/Fund world, thousands of would-be progressive leaders pass through every year. A new book is being published that argues this mode of activism is "strangling progressive politics in America." Think of it this way: if the blogosphere is the nascent progressive movement's intelligentsia, these canvassers are its toiling, near-invisible laborers - this might not be as glamorous as the ouster of a wayward Democratic Party leader, but it is just as central to our cause...

Let's start with the weather.

Famously temperate, Los Angeles enjoys the kind of brisk winters through which a committed progressive person could spend each night knocking on doors, asking to speak with residents about a subject of pressing public interest. In the rest of the country, most canvass offices will ramp down or close entirely during the winter months. But in L.A., an office might retain its most committed canvassers year-round, as they nightly comb the wide, wealthy liberal, subtropical city.

This could help explain why, in the past four years, the Fund has shut down three of its L.A. offices.

It certainly helps explain how Christian Miller, one of the primary stewards in the 2005 L.A. door canvassers' union drive, could have kept at canvassing for a full four years.

There's more...

The Canvasser's Union (part 1)

My article inIn These Times magazine is published online today- it's about two Los Angeles offices of the Fund for Public Interest Research that voted to unionize over a year ago. You can read their stories directly at their web site. I'm thrilled with how the ITT piece has turned out; I also want to expand upon many of the issues in there. So I'm going to blog for a while about this issue of activist unionization, a subject that has come up a few times in the comments of my last two series, "Strip-Mining the Grassroots" and "Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004."

From "Do You Have a Minute for ... ?," August 18th, In These Times

There's a word that gets tossed around in canvassing offices to describe people like Christian Miller: "scrappy." That's not because of his skinny frame and sparse, wiry chin-scrabble. Rather, in an industry where the average career lasts two weeks, Miller, 28, canvassed door-to-door throughout Los Angeles for four years.

In the last 30 years, canvassers like Miller have become the most common--if unsung--figures in political activism, going door-to-door or standing on busy street corners to talk to people about various public interest issues. It took Miller a minute to tick through the long list of campaigns for which he'd raised money: solar energy bills, forest protection, Sierra Club, Human Rights Campaign. All were operated by the same company: the Fund for Public Interest Research (commonly known as "the Fund"), a national nonprofit founded by the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) in 1982. Since then, canvassers for the now-ubiquitous state PIRGs have raised over $350 million and gathered more than 20 million signatures for causes ranging from environmental protection to gay rights. The Fund holds a near-monopoly on the canvass industry, running 30 to 60 offices each summer, with thousands of canvassers working on dozens of campaigns.

There's more...

Scheiber (TNR) in NYT doesn't like Democratic success

Kos calls it "people-power" politics; Noam Scheiber of The New Republic (TNR) in an op-ed in today's NY Times calls it the power politics of "Counter-Bushies" taking over the Democratic Party.

Scheiber fairly accurately describes in generalizations that limited space allows him, how the Democratic Party is being changed by a loosely-structured pragmatic liberalism movement successfully leveraging the Internet for fund-raising and organizing.

He describes it, but he doesn't seem to like it. And when given the Times' editorial pages to write about it, he whines.

There's more...

NV-Sen - Carter's new polling, Union Endosements, and other campaign updates

Holy Kamoley, could polling news get any better today? Ensign 46--Carter 39! If this is confirmed, this race is 100% in play. I think I know what race I'll be looking at closely in the week or two ater the CT-Sen primary--Chris

Hi, everyone.  As you know, my Dad is Jack Carter, who's running for US Senate in Nevada.  We've had some really exciting news lately that I want to share with you.  In this campaign update, you'll get:

  • A new Rasmussen poll that gives us plenty to be optimistic about
  • Some information about the union endorsements we're racking up
  • A little bit about Dad's recent rural tour
  • An interview that Dad recently did with blogger Stuart O'Neill

There's more...

Hogs, Pigs, Guns

An AP Story on the Technical Corrections bill in the NC State House has this little nugget:

There are some nontechnical changes. One provision would allow company police officers authorized by the state to make arrests to carry concealed weapons without receiving a permit. There is no opposition to the change, Hackney said.

This seemingly innocuous provision is a union-busting gift to the hog industry.

There's more...


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