Training Progressive Field Organizers For The Future

Cross posted from www.21stDems.org/blog

The 2008 election presents an incredible opportunity for Democrats to take control of our government and build the foundation for a long lasting progressive movement in our country. But to win in November, we will have to contend with a desperate Republican Party that has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to divide and deceive the American people for their own partisan gain. To cut through all of the GOP propaganda, Faux News misinformation campaigns and right-wing radio hate speech Democrats are going to have to get out and talk face-to-face with voters about our vision for America and how we will put this country back on track.

At 21st Century Democrats, we are working hard to play our role in the progressive infrastructure. We train activists in the art of field organizing and then put them on campaigns all across the country so they can go out and talk to voters about our candidates and our vision for the future. On June 4-8, we will hold our National Field Organizer Training: Major League Action at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Over four days of intensive training, we will transform up to 200 activists into prepared field organizers that can be dropped anywhere in the country and start making a difference right away.

You can learn more about our MLA training here.
Or, if you're all ready to go and would like to reserve a spot in the training you can register here!

Our organization seeks to build a more progressive America not only by electing more progressive Democrats, but also by building human capital within the progressive community. Training a young person to be a field organizer helps us not only in the current cycle, but gives that person a skill that will be valuable in every election. Thankfully, there are a lot of great groups like The Center for Progressive Leadership, Democracy For America, The New Organizing Institute, Wellstone Action! and many others that train progressive activists, organizers and candidates.

If you want to get more involved with the election this year and build some organizing skills for the future, please consider attending our Major League Action Training and/or one of the other great trainings put on by our progressive allies. Or, if you can't make it and would like to help pay the travel expenses and registration fees for a dedicated young progressive to attend our training you can donate to our Field Organizer Fund. The better we are at finding and talking to our neighbors about the issues that are important to them, the more successful we will be in November and the more likely we are to build a true progressive movement in this country.

Mark Lotwis is the Executive Director of 21st Century Democrats.

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Case Studies in Young Voter Mobilization

Youth turnout is trending up.  At this point, I hope that is a given.  When we talk about those turnout numbers, frequently they are discussed in the context of national turnout or Presidential elections.  But what does it mean at the local level?  How does this play out in a Senate or House race? What about gubernatorial bids and state legislative races?  

In last year's midterms, 58 federal elections, and 80 state level races were decided by easily surmountable or razor thing margins.  Breaking those numbers down, five U.S. Senate and three gubernatorial races were decided by less than 50,000 votes; 35 House races by less than 10,000 votes and 18 by less than 5,000 votes; and 77 state legislative races were decided by fewer than 100 votes.

In almost all of these races, the margin of victory was less than the turnout increase among young voters in that state.  

A combination of three factors drove the increase in turnout: highly competitive races, in which the potential value of a single vote is recognized by formerly disenchanted young voters; non-partisan voter registration efforts aimed at youth; and partisan outreach to young voters by campaigns.  Two of these factors are outside the control of a candidate and his/her campaign.  But the third is something we can study and replicate to help drive progressive youth turnout and increase our majorities in 2008.

A new report by Young Voter Strategies provides a road map to do just that.  The report features a series of case studies on how campaigns- Democrats AND Republicans - reached out to young voters to create victory in '06.  Below the jump I've pulled out and summarized some of the more interesting case studies, and noted some best practices that have emerged - some of which are smack on the head obvious (but still aren't utilized by most campaigns), and others which go against conventional wisdom.  This is required reading for all Democratic campaign staffers.  

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Field and GOTV with Facebook

Before I jump in, let me say thanks to Chris for giving me this great opportunity to chat about my ideas here, and to the MyDD community as a whole for giving me such great feedback on previous posts.  I used to post under the username 'PlantingLiberally', so you may be familiar with my earlier stuff (and you can still find it, I believe, by clicking my username).  My main goal is to spread the practice of liberal entrepreneurship as a strategy for strengthening the progressive movement.  To support that goal, I write about two basic subjects: business ideas which liberal entrepreneurs can snatch up and turn into a profitable enterprise, and mechanisms the progressive movement can develop to support liberal entrepreneurs.  I am an entrepreneur myself, so there is an element of self-interest in all of this.  But I hope that many others can benefit as well.  Thanks, and I hope you enjoy!

The announcement of Facebook Platform last week has been a sea change in the way the social web operates.  While social networking applications used to be a set of web-based tools for communicating within the gated walls of the network's website, they didn't offer much in the way of letting third parties communicate with those users.  Now, the Facebook application platform makes it possible for any third-party vendor to make use of Facebook's tools and large, established user base, in a variety of flexible ways.  I think this platform opens up an opportunity for liberal entrepreneurs to create a stunning new field/GOTV application that radically re-imagines the way we "do" grassroots politics.

Last week, Matt wrote a bit about Disruptive Field Tools, focused mostly on the problem of voter registration and the possibilities offered by Rock the Vote's API.  Today I'm going to extend that idea a bit more, so that we start to have some idea of the potential power that the Facebook platform gives us in registering voters, gathering supporters, and turning them out to the polls.  I haven't had a chance to read through the full developer documentation for Facebook apps, so some of this is speculation.  But my understanding is that most of these ideas should be possible.  We're only waiting on an enterprising progressive developer to take them on, and an enthusiastic progressive community (ahem, that's you) to refine and perfect these ideas.

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Disruptive Field Tools

Campaigns have changed a lot over the past four years.  2000 and 2002 saw low-turnout debates over snowmobiles and earth tones, dominated by big television budgets and the so-called 'Gang of 500' set of establishment journalists and pundits.  In 2004, blogs came into politics and disrupted the traditional model of fundraising and media, bringing a new and much more information-intensive path to understanding politics.  You no longer had to be an insider to get polling data, and this created a platform for activist innovation.   The closed loop of fundraising and insider connections to journalists was short-circuited by this new model of distributing message, and earlier internet political organizing models like Moveon were able to fully flower into independent GOTV and media organs.  In 2006, youtube disrupted the traditional video market, and layered itself onto blogs and mature tools like Actblue to change the way that message was distributed, and funded.  

And yet, there has always been a distance between field/GOTV and the media/polling/fundraising worlds.  The big question - can the internet deliver votes - has never been answered.  I still hear the argument put out by people like David Plouffe, who is running the media side for Obama's campaign.

"Don't get me wrong," said David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager and Rospars's boss, "the Internet is a powerful organizing and fundraising tool, and it's getting more and more important every day, but it's still not the persuasion and message tool that TV is."

This is a pretty dumb attitude, it's kind of like saying 'well advertising on comedy shows is gold, but drama isn't where the voters are.'  If the people are on the internet and are also watching TV, you have to be in both places.  As you can see, the dismissive attitude towards the internet and the innovative possibilities it offers is still around, large and in charge, even on what is supposedly the most internet-savvy campaign.  I think by the end of this cycle, that will have changed.  The notion of 'going door to door' on the internet, through offering video clips to targeted voters over MySpace, will be here.  Social networks will be combined with voter files, which have seen dramatic improvements since 2000.  And fundraising, field, and media will have converged.  Candidates will be putting out youtube clips early to raise money, identify supporters, and win primaries.  All of this has been tested already, and it works.

Rock the Vote, in 2004, registered 1.2 million voters with a simple online voter registration download tool.  That's more than twice as much as they had ever registered in any other cycle, including the youth-spike year of 1992.  And the online voter registration tool wasn't particularly flexible.  What's happening this cycle could be ground-breaking, in that Rock the Vote is building a voter registration engine with an API anyone can innovate on top of.  Groups and individuals will be able to capture the number of people they register, the data of the people they register, and the contact information of those they register.  This means that, unlike with a standard voter registration download form, the person who asked you to register, presumably someone you trust, will be reminding you to vote.  That's a big deal.  They will also be able to get credit for registering you to vote, since the voter engine will let people see how many people have registered through a page.  It'll be kind of like Actblue, for voter registration.

I've been combing around voter registration statistics, and the number of 18-29 year old voters who voted in 2004 versus 2000 jumped from 15.8 million to 20.1 million, an increase of 4.3 million.  With Facebook, MySpace, and Youtube turning intensely political, it's pretty clear that voter registration, and specifically, being able to count voter registration and compete over it, will be a killer ap.  Finally, field will be at least in some part measurable and put online.  Facebook alone has 22-24 million members, and is growing at 150,000 members a day.  MySpace is over 100 million.  And though it's unclear how many of these user accounts are citizens and how seriously they take participation in these public spaces, the fact that there are these public spaces, and that they are gargantuan, is a game-changer.  My guess is that the opinion leaders in these communities are traditional pundits and stars, but it doesn't have to be this way, and bands and bloggers are in the mix as well.

If Rock the Vote experiences the type of growth of regular Web 2.0 startups like Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, Youtube, etc, there's no reason that 18-29 year old voting block can't expand its share of the electorate by 3 or 4 points. This would swing Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, Iowa, and Ohio.  And it would put North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, and Arkansas into the swing category, while pulling New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania out of swing state territory.

In primaries, the effect of more youth voters would be much more significant, especially if the cost of communicating with these voters drops below the cost of communicating with other demographic blocks.  And we're not even talking about the self-organizing tendencies this generation is already displaying, with its competency in using the grouping tools of the internet.  All in all, it's pretty neat to live through a historical realignment of the political system.  It started in 1998 with Moveon, and by 2008, the new rules of politics will be in place.

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Who Will Rock the Vote in 2008?

Cross posted at Future Majority

I'm a little embarrassed that I found out about this from the Midday Open Thread over at Daily Kos, but Linkin Park has a new video that's got a political/social edge to it. I loathe Linkin Park, and there's a lot that's not great about this video - there's no coherent thread connecting the various social and political problems it depicts, and there's no "ask" or action item at the end.  In short, it's no Mosh, but its encouraging to see nonetheless.  At this time in 2003, artists were petrified of getting entangled in politics, and a video like this - as unfocused as it is - would have been unthinkable.  

Seeing this video got me thinking, who will Rock the Vote in 2008?

In 2004, music played a huge role in generating excitement and interest around the election, and turning out young voters for the Democrats.  At least half a dozen organizations used music events or music communities to organize young voters - Music for America, Punk Voter, Head Count, Concerts for Change/Kerry, Vote for Change, Rock the Vote. I'm sure I'm leaving out a ton of local acts, but these were the big players.

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