The Canvassers' Union (p5): The Fund Busts the Unions

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.
As I noted in the first post, the Fund is perhaps the single largest employer of progressive activists in the country - through the entire PIRG/Fund world, thousands of would-be progressive leaders pass every year.

Part Two of the series introduced the Los Angeles door canvassers who "broke the Fund/PIRG model" by staying with their jobs for the long-term.
Part Three traced the path that led them to petition and vote for a union.
Part Four introduced the Los Angeles Telephone Outreach Project employees, who raise the "real money" in the Fund/PIRG model, and who followed the callers' lead toward a union.

This post is about how each of these unions died before being born.

I realize that this issue is not quite at the top of MyDD readers' must-read lists, perhaps because it is about a group of people who are not in the media, not in office or fighting for office, and not online. But think of it this way: if the blogosphere is the intelligentsia of the nascent progressive movement, these fundraisers are its toiling proletariat. Vital, but nearly invisible; in dire need of empowerment. This issue might not be as glamorous as setting the progressive agenda for the next two years, but it shapes the generation of our activists and affects the health of our grassroots for the decades to come...

There's more...

The Canvassers Union (p4): the Calling Room

Last summer, I reported on the saga of two Los Angeles offices of the Fund for Public Interest Research ("the Fund") that voted to unionize and were subsequently shut down -- In These Times magazine published the story (August 18th, "Do You Have a Minute For...?") and I expanded upon it here (P1, P2, P3). Then someotherthingshappened, and the second half of "The Canvassers Union" was delayed.

But, now we're back! I will finish the story this week, with one post a day.

As I noted in the first post of the series, the Fund/PIRG network is perhaps the single largest employer of young progressive activists in the country. The FFPIRG model of activism has recently been the subject of deep criticism, under the charge that it is "strangling progressive politics in America." I realize that this issue is not quite at the top of MyDD readers' must-read lists, perhaps because it is about a group of people who are not in the media, not in office or fighting for office, and not online. But think of it this way: if the blogosphere is the intelligentsia of the nascent progressive movement, these fundraisers are its toiling proletariat. Vital, but nearly invisible; in dire need of empowerment. This issue might not be as glamorous as setting the agenda for the next two years, but it shapes the generation of our activists and affects the health of our grassroots for the decades to come...

 -/-

Los Angeles has been problematic for the Fund for Public Interest Research.

With its wealthy, green communities and temperate climate, Los Angeles attracted a group of Fund canvassers who lasted from summer to winter and back--unlike most other cities in which the Fund runs canvass offices, where staff turnover in the course of year is almost total. These canvassers became friends; they learned their jobs inside and out; they also opted not to take higher positions in the Fund, for which they would have to work 80-hour weeks and ultimately be transferred out of the city. They just wanted to canvass. (See the second post in this series for this story in full.) And soon enough, for the second time in three years, the Fund's L.A. canvassers decided that they wanted to form a union. (See the third post in this series for that story in full.)

For the Fund, this was a problem--and this time, the problem had another problem, a much bigger problem, stacked right on top.

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AP Projects Bernie Sanders and Peter Welch Win VT AL

The Associated Press has projected Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as the winner of the open Vermont Senator's seat and Peter Welch (D-VT) as the winner of the VT-AL seat in Congress.  Sanders was expected to win easily.  Welch, however, had a fight on his hands in a race for a the open congressional seat vacated by Sanders.  The fact that the AP is ready to call the race the moment the polls close indicates that Welch likely won handily.  This is a good sign for Democrats across the country.  

I spent the day canvassing and then spent the evening phone banking, working on the Democratic (and Sanders) GOTV operation in Burlington and its suburban communities.  While at campaign headquarters, I overheard a Vermont State Senator say that the turn out appeared to be approaching the 2004 turn out, which would be great for a mid-term election!  

My experience in canvassing today indicates that Democrats were voting.  Every single target that I talked to indicated that they had already voted, or at times earlier in the day, that they definitely planned to vote.  Towards the end of the day, I couldn't find a single Democratic target that had not voted yet.      Not one!

Second, the Vermont Democratic Headquarters had strong participation from volunteers.  When I completed my initial canvass list, I came back and was sent back out to a neighborhood that we had already canvassed once earlier in the day to look for people that weren't at home the first time.  In this particular neighborhood, we reached more than two-thirds of the targets and every single target we reached had voted.  

These are great results.  I am optimistic of our chances up and down the ticket, even for the governor's race!

There's more...

In Response to Activism Inc and CanvassingWorks .org

So, a book just came out that trashes the organization for which I worked for eight years. Dana Fisher's Activism Inc argues that the Fund for Public Interest Research--along with the Public Interest Research Groups and Grassroots Campaigns Incorporated--is engaged in a rootless mode of activism that is "strangling progressive politics."

I have some problems with this.

My first problem is that Fisher has made some pretty bold, broad claims--and backed them up with really bad writing. This review by Jim B in Counterpunch is probably the most insightful and generally on-the-mark piece you'll find on the matter, and he says:

"It is an analytically incoherent book... a shallow, muddled, unrewarding account."

But that's just my first problem.  Jim B continues:

For all its weaknesses, Activism, Inc. provides a useful stimulus to debate and reflection... [If] her characterization of the Fund for Public Interest Research's canvass operation is accurate, then the Fund...represents a truly counterproductive force sucking energy out of the progressive movement it purports to strengthen.

This is my second problem. Even though Fisher's arguments are sloppily made, at times vague and at other times shallow, her characterization of the Fund is in fact largely accurate. If anything, it doesn't even fully expose the true problem.

There's more...

Doorknocking: don't be scared, jump in, the water's not cold

-- crossposted from mnblue.com

A woman I know, Maryellen -- a rock star door knocker and volunteer, emailed me.  We'd talked a few weeks ago about doorknocking in the suburbs.  She wanted to organize a bunch of her friends in the city and suburbs to doorknock for Keith Ellison who is running for the MN-06 seat vacated by Martin Sabo.  She was correctly concerned that next to nothing would be done in the suburbs for Keith other than mailings.  You may recall that Pam Costain told me she wished that they'd been able to do more in the suburbs, that when people heard from a volunteer about Keith, they liked him.  In the runup to the primary, they simply didn't have enough time to get that aspect organized.  Since the Ellison Campaign is back to most of the people who were originally running it, the suburban effort (as far as I can tell) is haphazard.

I knew Maryellen would have a positive experience out there in MN-05 suburbia from my experience as a canvasser for Clean Water Action (which is the most powerful environmental group in the state) from 1988 to 1993.  Put me in a trailer park, I'd raise a ton of money.  Put me in the Seward, the Wedge or Kingfield (progresssive, middle-to-upper class) neighborhoods, I'd raise a ton of money.  Put me in East or West Lake of the Isles Pkwy or even the Lake Minnetonka area where the millionaires live, I'd raise a ton of money.  The fact is if you're excited about your cause, speak well, people will listen to you.  Door knocking isn't rocket science or Renaissance fresco painting ... passion will go a long way.  To make it easier, she wasn't asking for money.

She's allowed me to relay her email:

There's more...

Diaries

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