Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn--MoveOn must act!

Last week, Grassroots Campaigns Inc's DCCC canvassers in Madison, Wisconsin protested because they were not earning minimum wage--after a bunch of blogs on the right and the left picked up on the story, the DCCC cancelled its contract with GCI.

But the lack of a living wage is just the beginning of the problems with GCI's operations. As Greg Bloom wrote in his series on MoveOn PAC's Leave No Voter Behind campaign, GCI's model has caused severe damage in the field because of a "crisis of leadership" in its management. A veteran of MoveOn/GCI's Operation Democracy read Greg's post and passed it to me, and together with a number of other veterans--we call ourselves the MOFOs, the MoveOn Field Organizers--I feel that it's imperative to show that the crisis continues. In Martin's post yesterday, a couple of people asked what our motives are: it's to expose the ways that GCI is failing its organizers AND failing to run an effective campaign for MoveOn. At the end of the week, we will post a set of recommendations of actions that MoveOn can take to begin to resolve this crisis. If you find our stories compelling, and you agree this issue must be addressed by MoveOn, please send an email to Eli Pariser ( and cc us at (or contact us there directly, and we will update you with further information about how you can send a message to MoveOn).

My name is Kelly Nagy - I've worked on numerous environmental and social justice campaigns, as well as local community issues and Senate electoral campaigns. I was the National Director of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) for almost 3 years.

With all this experience, my first interview with Grassroots Campaigns, in May of 2005, went really well - it even seemed to me like I had just been hired. But in total, the interview process with GCI took almost two months.

In the next several phone calls, the tone of the directors who interviewed me changed -- I was being questioned sometimes for an hour or two each week. They were asking open-ended questions about hypothetical management scenarios that seemed pretty odd to me -- and finally three weeks later I lost patience asked them why I was being put through all the questions. They said, 'we still haven't decided if we're going to hire you, because you were affiliated with SEAC.' I had no idea why that would be a problem. He told me that SEAC is critical of Green Corps, and referred to an article in SEAC 's magazine called Threshold, that exposed Green Corps' policies, and he told me 'this is really hurting our consideration of you.' SEAC is critical of Green Corps--SEAC disapproves of their organizing model because it openly neglects issues of race and class among other things--but I didn't see why that should matter in my employment. I said to him that if they were going to pull up an article published by an organization for which I was not even working at the time of its publication, and question whether I'm appropriate for their position, then it's a position I didn't want.

I didn't hear from them for a while -- it was the first week of July when I got the call that I had been waiting for: a  job offer. I had to go to Boston within 3 days.

The director would later tell me on many occasions that he made the wrong decision in hiring me. In retrospect, I can't believe I made the decision to take the job in the first place. But all I wanted in life was to make organizing a career -- and I was such a fan of what MoveOn had done, and I was dying to take on Rick Santorum (R-PA), which they said I would get to do--and they were presenting this as a long-term career opportunity at least through November of 2008. Plus, I'd already quit my other job in the middle of June, back when I'd thought I'd been hired.

The training was...well, on one hand it didn't seem like a Green Corps training, because I've met some amazing Green Corps organizers, and this training was disorganized and poorly-planned, with hardly any materials and awful workshops. On the other hand, it had that certain cultish vibe of Green Corps - this sense of total singlemindedness, an elimination of all dissonant thought... For instance, a few of us hires with more experience were assigned to go talk to less-experienced trainees, to ask them how they were feeling about the training - and then I was appalled to find that GCI used the information we found to actually fire people right there! Several others dropped out because they didn't like the tactics that GCI was using.

But the training was very good at getting us all pumped up and ready to do anything, ready to triumph for democracy - and we wanted the challenge, thrived on the challenge. When I left the training, I already suspected that GCI was going to fail me as an organizer - because I felt the distress behind their tactics, and the total lack of interest in us as individuals. But I felt really hopeful about the campaign, because I respected MoveOn's work and their potential.

We were originally supposed to contact, connect, and form the MoveOn members into teams in key districts where congressional Republicans were vulnerable. Many of the volunteers who I initially organized were the ones I formed a personal connection with and we depended on. They all thought it was so important that there were paid MoveOn organizers in their district trying to help them take on their local representative.

But in October 2005, GCI flew us back to Boston for a second round of training, and announced that MoveOn changed plans. We were now targeting media markets instead of particular precincts that were related to specific races...this made sense with respect to our strategy of doing media events - we could now focus our efforts to get more "hits" by local news outlets. But a side affect was that we ended up abandoning or dismantling those teams that were ready to work for the progressive candidates in their district.  

Now we were supposed to convince our best team leaders to form "committees" of the team leaders from their entire area. We would basically teach them how to do our jobs - in theory this is great, that's the idea of organizing, to create self-sustainable activists. But we hadn't put nearly enough time in yet - hardly more than 2 months! - and most of my volunteers were really put off. I'd had to convince some of them to be team leaders in the first place, and now here I was pressuring them to sign contracts to be basically full-time field organizers! But I had deadlines to fill, and numbers to make - so these people with whom I'd bonded I had to keep pushing to do more of what they didn't want to do.

According to GCI, if they really didn't want to do it, we didn't need them any more. If they weren't willing to step up, they were useless.

There's something really important to note about this time: we were pressuring our volunteers to "kick it up a notch"at the same time that we were shifting the goal posts! We weren't really targeting Santorum or other specific representatives any more - we were just trying to "get press." None of the volunteers liked the change of targets. They wanted to be concrete. They wanted to focus on their districts. They all quickly saw through the media events thing-- if we were getting MoveOn's name into the newspaper, GCI said our campaign was a success, but the volunteers just didn't buy that for long. They felt like we were just doing PR work for MoveOn and GCI.

And I couldn't convince them otherwise--it was hard to believe otherwise myself. As far as GCI was concerned, the only thing that mattered was the number of news "hits." It didn't matter if the events were covered well by the media, or what the media was saying about it, or what our volunteers thought about it. After every event, we'd spend hours giving a deep report: how many people showed up, how many newsmakers called, how many confirmed they would be there, how many showed, how many articles printed? I understand the concepts of accountability, and monitoring the work. Doing numbers regularly is fine with me--but between all of the spreadsheet work and calls and conference calls, GCI's monitoring obsession cost each organizer two hours of work a day that did not go towards furthering the campaign in any way.  They did not hide from us why they really wanted it. They kept telling us, "these numbers are for accountability"--but anyone can fudge the numbers, and all the organizers did, since we all knew that the only thing that meant success to GCI was having these numbers so that they could go sell their model again.

All the time, we'd hear how incredible the Leave No Voter Behind campaign's numbers were, and how much money the DNC canvass made in 2004. Half a million votes, twenty two million dollars - we heard them all the time. I wasn't surprised at all to read that those numbers were as much bullshit as ours.

Our goal as organizers was to build a progressive grassroots network that was going to change the face of liberal politics; MoveOn just wanted its name in the paper (they had this lovely saying that bad press is still good press); GCI's goal was to sell its numbers.

So the MOFOs were coming and quitting very quickly -- of course, the MoveOn members were noticing and they would get discouraged. When the volunteers were left without their recent Field Organizer who just quit or got fired, they were left without the ability to contact anyone else on the campaign (MoveOn's site is useless in this way). What happened to the MoveOn Minute Taker happens all the time -- people put in all this work, and then just get left behind. The whole thing ends up disenfranchising their grassroots.

But all along, I made all GCI's deadlines, and got their damn numbers. In the end, they fired me because I stood up for basic worker rights. GCI was reimbursing us for 12 cents a mile of driving. I took issue with that from the second day I was on the job, when I mentioned it to the GCI  director, in a private conversation--I said, '12c a mile is not acceptable, it's not even going to cover gas in many  places'. With everything else that kept falling out of our pockets all the time, most organizers just accepted getting screwed--but I wouldn't let this go. The IRS says that we should be reimbursed 40.5 cents a mile. So I kept pushing the point, contacting all of the other Field Organizers - and almost every one of the Field Organizers began to speak up about it. Myself and a few others took it directly to MoveOn, and asked if it was true that they would not reimburse us for gas. At that point, GCI finally changed the policy to 21c a mile.

They fired me two days later.

At this point, I realized that during all those weeks of interviews, when they were asking me all kinds of nagging questions, they were just trying to find out if I would be a team player, who would accept everything without questioning anything -- in GCI's words, 'if I would eat dirt.' If they hadn't fired me, I wonder how long I would have kept eating it.

When they fired me, more than five hundred dollars of my out of pocket expenses did not get reimbursed. I was handed off and lied to and avoided for months. At one point, their finance people said they sent the checks and that I had cashed them -- and as proof, they sent me photocopies of the backs of two old checks that had been cashed months prior. After that point, my calls were never answered again. And since then, everyone I've heard from who quit has said that they didn't see the end of their money.

One of the big questions among all of the MOFOs was about how much MoveOn knew about the outrageous working conditions. Communication with MoveOn was pretty much nonexistent -- we worked entirely through our field coordinators at GCI. There was a web-survey page that supposedly went straight to MoveOn, but at some point that got re-routed to GCI. MoveOn didn't really want to work directly with us -- that's what GCI was for, I guess. But this is very much MoveOn's campaign in any way -- its' history that we were selling, its' members we were burning through, and GCI really wasn't in a position to answer in MoveOn's capacity. Nor did they care to be.

It has been almost a year since I was fired, and I still feel like I never want to organize professionally again. GCI didn't wear me out, I wasn't burned out, I ran a major national organization for years -I can do hard work and manage hundreds of people. I could have kept working.  No - I felt violated by this job.

MoveOn had better start caring --not only about what GCI is doing to its volunteers, but also how it is draining a generation of progressive activists. I repeat myself -- MoveOn had better start caring. And if I can help force it to do so, I'll consider that five hundred dollars an investment in the progressive movement.

Again, if you find our stories compelling, and you agree this issue must be addressed by MoveOn, please send an email to Eli Pariser ( and cc us at (or just contact us directly there, and we will update you with further information about how you can make your voice heard to MoveOn).

Tags: field organizing, GCI, Labor, MoveOn, Operation Democracy (all tags)



Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

i cross-posted this shizz over at the DK again. come toggle that rec button yo!

by little brudda 2006-09-12 08:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

by vmo 2006-09-12 09:22AM | 0 recs
Why are you doing this?

Is GCI earning enough money to give good wages?

And I think if you are with GCI to have a job or career then dont join GCI.

But if you are there to make a difference in the election and help Democrats win then join GCI.  

There are still a lot of problems but it is a young company.

So why the endless whining about GCI.

Is this a disinformation campaign to demoralize grassroot activists?

by jasmine 2006-09-12 01:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Why are you doing this?

by little brudda 2006-09-12 01:51PM | 0 recs
Re: Why are you doing this?

More like an information campaign to empower progressive activists, AMIRITE?

by kilb 2006-09-12 01:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Why are you doing this?

by little brudda 2006-09-12 01:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Why are you doing this?

Most activist volunteers working hard do without pay.  The fact that GCI is paying means a plus for activist.

This is not a job. It is a grassroot campaign to take back our country from right wing neocons.

by jasmine 2006-09-12 01:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Why are you doing this?

Actually it is a job. A lot of people need these jobs to pay the bills.

It's a campaign too.

Why do people have to suffer to gain experiance. And it is not par for the course.

by MartinSTL 2006-09-12 02:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Why are you doing this?

I am a committed activist and organizer. Not all the work i have done has been paid work, nor is that what this is about.

As an activist as an organizer it is in my nature to help create positive social change. This isn't a fight about who's side you are on; this is about telling my story (along with others, I hope you have heard of power in numbers) to share our experiences and hopefully be able to start influencing GCI to start on path to try and correct their mistakes to make a better stronger organization out of them in hopes that then the movement will be stronger and more valuable.

And since GCi, in my opinion, does not value their workers, use and abuse us and see us as expendable no matter how good of an organizer we are, then we shall pressure MoveOn and other companies who contract GCI in hopes for change fo4r the better of all future organizers, volunteers and the overall betterment of our political system!

by artichoke88 2006-09-13 05:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

artichoke888 and martin SL first diary and comments only on  GCI diaries.  Why?

by jasmine 2006-09-12 02:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

To very simply answer this question, I do not blog regulary on MyDD.

Just like MoveOn members do not regulary send letters to Congressional representitives, write emails to congressional representitives, sign petitions or protest in the street.

We only do it when it is necessary and to the correct medium. In this case MYDD is that medium.

Is this not what Operation Democracy is telling it's members to do? To speak out?

I don't understand jasmines and the guy who called us "pathetic" arguments. It appears we are using the tactics that GCI taught us while you two are employing scare and disimformation tactics the right wing use (something Operation Democracy is trying to stop).

So I guess the question we all need to ask you is:
Why are you saying these things and why are you posting so passionatley against campaign staff making a living wage? Why?

by MartinSTL 2006-09-12 02:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

So with little brudda.

by jasmine 2006-09-12 02:04PM | 0 recs
I'm not even going to bother reading this

You know why? Because the people posting these GCI diaries are obviously notifying people ahead of time to recommend it here at MyDD, where a lot of recs can go a long way towards keeping a diary on the list for several days.

So either start playing by the rules and having people recommend the diary on its merits, or you all can piss off. I hate it when people like you, regardless of whether I agree with you or not, astroturf your 'work'.

by PsiFighter37 2006-09-12 02:06PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not even going to bother reading this

And I look at the website of Greg Bloom Beating Bush but it really is a criticism of DNC, Moveon, grassroots campaigns.  And all of them are not really MyDD because they never were active in MyDD except if related to GCI.

by jasmine 2006-09-12 02:08PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not even going to bother reading this

I'm well aware none of them are an active part of MyDD. If they were, I would recognize their user name.

This is pathetic.

by PsiFighter37 2006-09-12 02:11PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not even going to bother reading this

And people like you are a hero who volunteers and work hard in campaigns without pay.  And here they are being paid but complaining, instead of seeing the larger goal--We need to take back our country.  I am  scared about the direction this right wing neocons are taking us.  

If they join GCI for a job or career, dont join.

But if you want to make a difference and still get paid a little then join.

by jasmine 2006-09-12 02:28PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not even going to bother reading this

If they join GCI for a job or career, dont join.

But jasmine in the interview we were told this could turn into a career.

And if the work is so worthwhile why wouldn't we want to stay employed with an organization like GCI?

Again, we do not want GCI to close. We think the work they do is necessary and vital. We just want them to reform these certain aspects of thier practices, so future organizers can put up the fight longer then we did.

by MartinSTL 2006-09-12 02:40PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not even going to bother reading this
Also: Great Right Wing terminology-calling someone a hero.
by MartinSTL 2006-09-12 02:51PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not even going to bother reading this

Get a clue, please. I've been volunteering my time to work on campaigns. If you read any of the diaries I post here, you'd know that.

by PsiFighter37 2006-09-12 04:19PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not even going to bother reading this

Why is this pathetic?
What is wrong with trying to expose an unfair labor conditions? Are you against workers making a living wage? Are you against them having money to return home for the holiday? Cause that is what happens.

I offer to say that you both have never worked on a legitimate campaign (non GCI and PIRG), otherwise you would understand the frustration.

by MartinSTL 2006-09-12 02:53PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not even going to bother reading this

You're right, I've never worked for a campaign.

I've volunteered every single minute of my time with the exception of canvassing for Corzine (which I would've done for free anyways).

by PsiFighter37 2006-09-12 04:21PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not even going to bother reading this

FYI, I only comment on these threads because I feel no need to babble on threads I don't know anything about.  Not to imply that you do.  :)

I've been reading left wing blogs since the only ones out there were the media horse, bartcop, and this modern world.  I've very rarely had the time to get active in commenting, partially because during a lot of the growth of blogtopia (ysctp - see I can throw out the jargon!) I was working for GCI, and after leaving them went to law school, which is just as big a time drain.  But I don't think it's fair to accuse people interested in this topic of being some sort of interloper.  

by dansomone 2006-09-12 04:33PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not even going to bother reading this

and since you have volunteered you time in the past, then you should be able to understand how important it is for an organization like MoveOn who contracts with GCI to run their field campaign and then not only abuse their workers rights but they also ruin the campaign and hurt the grassroots volunteers and structure.

For example when GCi sends organizers into the field to organize MoveOn volunteers and then those organizers either quit or get fired for whatever reason- in turn strands and deserts the volunteers in that area. Most never know what happened and others feel neglected and wont continue to invest their valuable volunteering time. GCI is strip-mining the grassroots on every level.

by artichoke88 2006-09-13 05:37AM | 0 recs
There is no perfect organization

Need to look at the whole picture.

We need to get the side of CGI and how effective they are.

Because even people working for COSTCO who are good employers will have disgruntled employee who will complain about their company.

by jasmine 2006-09-13 06:28AM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

Is someone forcing you to work for these organizations? Just curious because its generally understood- at least in my day- that these aren't jobs you take as a career or to expect to support yourself. I took one because I wanted to help out, and the money was secondary. No I wasn't wealthy- in fact I was poor but I saved up a little money before hand. I also did this in college- so I am not sure where some of you are coming from as I have seen a few posts suggesting this is your career or job?

by bruh21 2006-09-12 03:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

We keep coming back to wages, but it isn't primarily about that.  It's primarily about the top down inefficiency and the way GCI/PIRG burns through staff.  It's about eating your seed corn.  That's the problem.

The solution?  Pressuring clients to force change in the system, just like unions pressure corporations to improve by doing things like secondary boycotts.

by dansomone 2006-09-12 03:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

that's a differ point. If your issue with the org is that its ineffective as a fundraiser- then I would agree more with that. It burns through far more money than it should when compared to other non profits as I remember.

by bruh21 2006-09-12 07:56PM | 0 recs
Not a non-profit

It's not a non-profit. GCI is a FOR PROFIT "political consulting firm" (the way THEY describe themselves).

by bridgetdooley 2006-09-13 07:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

Yes, that is exactly the issue, although not just for fundraising.  It is ineffecient at MOVEMENT BUILDING.  I think that if we don't build a movement, we're pretty much doomed, which is why this matters.

by dansomone 2006-09-13 11:30AM | 0 recs
What next volunteers should be paid?

This is not about yourself.  This is about taking back our country.  If you cannot make the commitment then dont join GCI.  Why try to destroy it when it has been doing a good job towards its goals.  There may be problems with implementation but probably a function of low resources and not enough management staff.  

So GCI is for the committed and not for people who want a high paying job and easy work.

by jasmine 2006-09-12 05:23PM | 0 recs
Re: What next volunteers should be paid?

I'm a little offended that you are implying that I want a high paying job and easy work. You don't really know anything about me, but since what I really care about is helping progressives take back the country, I will just get straight to the point, and not hash over my experience.

If we are really going to take back the country from these right-wing neocons, then we need to ensure that we have experienced field staff covering every inch of the country. Someone who knows the terrain, knows the intimate details of the community, understands the politics of the region and cares enough about the volunteers to make sure their concerns are heard and addressed. This is nearly impossible, if the progressive organizations continue to have to retrain employees every couple of months.

I don't know about you, but every time I have gone to a new region to work (and believe me, it has been more times than I would like to count) it takes a long time to get the local activists interested in what you are doing and an even longer time to get them to actually participate in what you are doing.

If progressive organizations like GCI went into a campaign like LNVB with the notion that they were going to treat their employees a little more like people and a little less like machines, they might actually be able to build a movement that could one day sustain itself and then we could really take back the country and probably for good.

by MartinSTL 2006-09-12 06:36PM | 0 recs
Re: What next volunteers should be paid?

Jasmine wrote:

This is not about yourself.  This is about taking back our country.  If you cannot make the commitment then dont join GCI.  Why try to destroy it when it has been doing a good job towards its goals.  There may be problems with implementation but probably a function of low resources and not enough management staff.  

So GCI is for the committed and not for people who want a high paying job and easy work.


And so if this is not about ourselves then, why are you taking it so personally that we want to do something about what we and many others experienced.

And if I'm not mistaken aren't blogs and diary's for that purpose inherently? For people to tell their stories their side of it and hopefully get others to read it and think about both sides of the story and hopefully open up some eyes to the situation?

How dare you call us non-committed!!! What do you think we are doing all this for? To get a laugh? NO -- we are taking our time to make a valid logical discussion about the ills that are facing grassroots organizing and we are SO committed that we are willing to not only shovel your shit all day long, but to also try to create some change.. and you know what organizers do best we organize. so dont criticize us for doing what we know how to do. Thanks

by artichoke88 2006-09-13 06:17AM | 0 recs
Re: What next volunteers should be paid?

Are you out of your mind?! Do you have ANY idea the amount of time and energy that is required to be a fulltime organizer? Are you suggesting that ONLY people who can afford to support themselves independent of a fulltime job should go to work for companies like GCI?

It's this attitude that has consistently gotten the Democrats NOWHERE as far as fostering young talent in their ranks. The GOP has known for years and years that the best way to strengthen their organization and ensure that their agenda is furthered is to invest in these people. This leadership training that has become so popular with Democratic organizations the past few years? Republicans have been doing it for decades and do it FAR better than we do. AND they make sure that their trainees are placed into well-paying jobs.

What does that ensure? That they don't leave the fold to join the private sector in order to FEED THEMSELVES, which is what progressives are consistently forced to do.

It is NOT selfish to want to be able to support ourselves. Apparently you are lucky enough not to have to worry about that particular dilemma.

by bridgetdooley 2006-09-13 07:27AM | 0 recs
Developing talented organizers is an investment

The left absolutely needs to treat field organizers as the valuable resource and investment that they are.

To develop exceptional professional organizers requires providing them with enough to make their existence as organizers a sustainable endeavor.  Working for free, full-time is not sustainable.  

The volunteers who work for free are invaluable and we must also recognize and thank them deeply for all they do, but that doesn't mean that we can discount those who seek to make this work their livelihood.  

Volunteers are empowered by having experienced and knowledgeable organizers to rely on for training and consultation.  Organizers, in turn, need to be empowered by their organizations to do great work, and that requires several things, including minimum wage (at least), but other things as well.

Even if campaigns switch tactics and require their organizers to adjust to new conditions, relationships with volunteers should always be given premium consideration.  Those relationships are the glue that make this work possible, and disaffected volunteers quickly become worthless, not through any fault of their own, but because the organization is no longer empowering them to do the work they want to do.  What was described here as "pressuring our volunteers to 'kick it up a notch' at the same time that we were shifting the goal posts!", is a sure-fire way to lose volunteer's dedication and crush their drive, if not lose them as a resource entirely.

It's also a way to make organizer's jobs very uncomfortable and indeed to make them feel violated as artichoke88 described.  This is sometimes selfless work, but it's also very personal.  People are pouring not only their hours, but their selves, their reputations, and their integrity into the contact they have with voters and with volunteers.  Organizations would do well to recognize how critical it is to value that contribution, and to support those organizers.  Doing that well builds loyalty and buy-in throughout the organization.  

For a well built organization with solid relationships from bottom to top, "acting with a single purpose" is not a vague catch-phrase, but an actual description of the tangible shared mission that volunteers, professional organizers, and organization leaders hold in common.  What was described here was a far cry from that.

Consider for a moment the long term viability of our movement and progressive infrastructure needed to support it.  Now consider the reality that at the end of every campaign cycle, talented, hard-working organizers are burnt-out and left unemployed, either to scramble for new political work or to leave politics for other work, from which they may or may not return when needed again.  Is that any way to develop our best and brightest into the stars they have the potential to become?

This is a failing not just of GCI, but of our movement.  Take a look at how conservative schools, organizations, lobbying firms, and candidate offices provide a network to their rising stars that ensures continued employment, development opportunity, and even options in building their skill sets as they prepare for careers in conservative politics.  That is the other side of the fence on this issue, and if we continue to think that professional progressive organizers deserve to be underpaid, undervalued, and repeatedly abandoned and left to fend for our/themselves after each election cycle, it's hard to see how we're going to build a movement that can realistically compete.

Frankly, I'm shocked at the trashing of this post's author for what I read to be fair and constructive criticism of GCI's practices.  

FYI and Full Disclosure:
I was one of the founders and directors of, an organization that in 8 months time, starting from scratch, built a network of 37 state chapters and more than 700 volunteers and mobilized tens of thousands of activists to travel to swing states to register voters.  Driving Votes was run on the cheap, with everyone working for free most of the time and a maximum of 6 people receiving any wage at the peak of our operation.  The buy-in and dedication happened when we worked for free, but several of us quit our jobs to run it and the wage was necessary to sustain us.  I feel confident that our volunteers were appreciative of and empowered by the personal attention and assistance we were able to give them throughout our operation, and that they didn't take issue with the fact that we were being paid small salaries to keep us afloat during that time.  

I would hope that all of us in the progressive movement can keep that perspective even when we are doing pure volunteering, and I encourage volunteers to be as critical and demanding of the organizations they work for as artichoke88 was here.  It's not unconstructive bitching, it's owning up as stakeholders in these operations and voicing our dissatisfaction with wasteful, disrespectful, ineffective policies that undermine the value of our personal contributions and our collective impact.

Jesse Kocher

by jeko 2006-09-12 09:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Developing talented organizers is an investmen

Yes but Republicans have lots of money--they are the party of businesses and corporations.  Scaife, et al  have invested lots of money to make what is happening now happen and they are being rewarded now--with all the tax cuts and war and disaster profiteering.

Democrats are the party of people, labor, etc--they dont have that much resources and big money influence.

by jasmine 2006-09-13 04:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Developing talented organizers is an investmen

The record requests that jasmine consider the submitted testimony of multiple speakers that the MoveOn Operation Democracy campaign is ineffective.

The MINUTE TAKER is but a volunteer in the 2006 MoveOn Operation Democracy campaign. Let the record show that the MINUTE TAKER wants dearly to fight the Republican power structure...and yet Operation Democracy has so far failed to utilize and honor the MINUTE TAKER's commitment. The MINUTE TAKER's organizer disappeared; the MINUTE TAKER is stranded, leaderless.

Let the record show that, in this post, Kelly Nagy has acknowledged the MINUTE TAKER's struggle, and made the astute observation that, since almost every other Operation Democracy organizer has in fact quit, the fate that has befallen the MINUTE TAKER has also befallen hundreds or even thousands of other MoveOn volunteers.

The record will repeat in other words: GCI is failing its organizers AND failing MoveOn's members.

Let the record reflect that jasmine does not appear to spend enough time considering the contents of the record.

by MINUTE TAKER 2006-09-13 04:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

I agree with Artichoke: GCI is simply not a good organization. GCI is not helping us create a fair just and free country.

My data: I volunteered for MoveOn's Leave No Voter Behind Campaign in 2004, and worked 50+ hrs a week side by side with the paid GCI volunteers for three months (and occasionally bought them pizza and washed their clothes because they had neither money nor time).  They were under intense pressure -- both internal because they wanted to help take back the country, and external because they were required to conform to the GCI way.

My analysis: I understood that MoveOn did not have the organizational capacity to mount a full-on ground campaign, nor the time to develop the infrastructure, but through some quirk of the internet, MoveOn had the financial resources to hire the GCI organizers.  I initially did not blame MoveOn for this decision and instead jumped on the bandwagon and did my darnedest to help John Kerry win. Any port in a storm and all that. However, in retrospect I believe that decision has doomed MoveOn to political irrelevance.

1. GCI does not build grassroots support: at best they act as sowing the seeds of support; at worst they are simply astroturfing. The organizers are flown in from out of town frequently, are unaware of the local issues that motivate people, and are cut off from the culture they are supposed to be building.
2. GCI is not good at winning elections: Their strategy (or perhaps it was the groupthinkers at MoveOn who were so inept) was inadequate (If Ohio was the most important state, why didn't they win it?), their tactics were crude and only marginally effective- they simply followed the same script as every other organization that helped out and basically every single voter they contacted had been contacted 3 times that same day.

3. GCI is more concerned about self promotion: during the most important part of the campaign, organizers were forced to make up irrelevant and useless numbers that made GCI look good but did not contribute to winning the campaign or building a permanent progressive infrastructure to reclaim our country.  As the guy who was tasked with collecting this information, I know exactly how useless and irrelevant it was toward the goals, how much was fudged or simply made up on the spot because we were all too concerned about trying to win the election.

4. yes, they have abusive labor practices, and that doesn't help us create the progressive America we know is possible, but that is not their greatest sin.  Their true failing is that they aren't any good at winning elections, creating grassroots movements, or building a sustainable progressive infrastructure.  

If MoveOn had a shred of vision or self-awareness, they would drop GCI like the bad habit it is, and capitalize on their (way less motivated and optimistic, but still not half bad) dedicated volunteer base to start creating a genuine, locally driven, progressive movement rather than continuously patting themselves on the back for getting a bunch of email signatures delivered to congress.

by jk2004 2006-09-13 12:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn
I thank you very much for:
  1. understanding what we are talking about in these posts and
  2. taking your time to really put your thoughts and experiences into a written response and
  3. Voicing your opinion to also help motivate positive progressive social change and to really do something that could ultimately help build a better movement!
by artichoke88 2006-09-13 06:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

This is fascinating reading and mirrors the early work-life trauma in my life when I was canvassing for NYPIRG, but "cross-training" at GCI's predecessor in Chicago. Amazingly this was in the 1970s!

The place was unbelievably badly-run (including the woman in charge who was unreachable on the day that our "field manager" was arrested in the field (he had a freaking bench warrant), and (this is pre-cell phones) we were out in the field an hour away with no way to get back.

Our "field manager" put out an entire van load of people into the field all over a broad suburban area, and then was promptly arrested on a bench warrant, the van impounded with all our stuff inside. I was the last put out, and the only one who knew we had no way back, and that our field manager was in jail.

When I finally walked to a place with a phone, I called in for help. But the entire office was downstairs at the bar - all day. The director, who did not come to the phone until after dark, was drunk. At which point all she cared about was whether we'd made quota, rather than if we were safe or furious that nobody came to pick us up.

I did not make quota that day. What I did is gather together the field manager's maps for a vanload of people, walk those districts to find 9 people somewhere along their routes,  and bring them all to a central indoor location (it was almost 100 degrees) and keep them together and safe (two of them were freaked out). Walking all over that suburban area to find 9 people took all day, along with finding places to try and call their unresponsive office. And then I got them all back to Chicago out of my own pocket.

So, I did not make quota. And because of that simple fact, without context or responsibility on their part for anything - not for their stupid field manager and his bench warrant, not for her being in the bar all day and unreachable - and because I complained that the working conditions were substandard, I was fired. In Chicago. Without my pay, with my pockets emptied out to get their employees back an hours-drive to Chicago. To top it off, they stranded me in Chicago without a plane ticket back to New York where I lived and was training for NYPIRG.

by Rosi in NJ 2006-09-13 01:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

We havent heard from GCI or the other side of the story.  Thus I cannot make any judgement.  And I have to be wary of ulterior motives.

Like Driving Votes--they were made up of volunteers who work hard and gave up their job for free, but here the people are getting paid.

by jasmine 2006-09-13 04:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

Once again jasmine: you heard from GCI's side of the story here. When I wrote that, I really hoped that things had changed. Some of my former co-workers assured me that they had. But it's clear that they have not.

In the meantime, it's starting to sound to everyone like you're GCI's side of the story. And once again I have to say: you're not helping.

by Lockse 2006-09-13 04:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn

Wow Rosi, Thank you.

This is a great addition to the story!

It shows that no matter how old the model is (back in the 70s) and as long as GCi keeps using that model, that we are calling 'broken', positive change will never come of it's organizers, managers, campaigns and so on...

Great addition!

by artichoke88 2006-09-13 06:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Strip-mining the grassroots for GCI and MoveOn
Artichoke -
If I can help you in any way I will.
by Rosi in NJ 2006-09-13 07:42AM | 0 recs
Growing Pains and Poor Resources

That is why I considered GCI heroes.  They had grand ideas and plans but poor resources and made do with the little they have.  But still they feel proud of being a part of a movement to be involved.  And people like you are demoralizing their work.

Again this is not a job for people who just want a career or a job.  This like being a priest or a missionary--it involves sacrifice.  But at least you are better off than unpaid volunteers.

I am sure if GCI has more resources and money, if Democrats have somebody like big businesses to fund it(then it wont be grassroots anymore) then you will have better pay and an easy job.  

I would be more sympathetic with you if you tell me somebody is enriching themselves from low wage workers--a few are getting multimillion dollar benefit.  But it is not so.  Everyone including the leaders are working very hard.

They are heroes to me.
But then the mission will be different.

by jasmine 2006-09-13 06:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Growing Pains and Poor Resources

by little brudda 2006-09-13 06:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Growing Pains and Poor Resources

Well, the priest or missionary thing isn't a bad analogy.  That's why no one here is saying "pay enough to get rich!" or "We don't want to work 90 hour weeks!"  I think pretty much everyone here is ok without getting rich, and with putting in the hours.

Instead, it is a question of building a movement.  Does buring people out build that movement?  Based on the fact, which you have yet to respond to, that no GCI canvassers carried over from Boston door in 2004 to 2005, I'd say not.  Boston was one of the larger offices, and at times during 2004 had the highest gross and average out of any office in the country.  But every single one of those canvassers were lost to GCI.  Some of the may have moved on to other activist type jobs (I know some did!), but the question is how many people were lost?  I think too many.  And I think decreasing the number burned out would increase the effectiveness of the campaign by increasing the ability to train and reducing the need for constant recruitment.

by dansomone 2006-09-13 07:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Growing Pains and Poor Resources

I think an interesting contrast would be the Environmental Careers Organization which places interns in reasonably paid internships and follows up on their "alumni" who have then gone on to environmental jobs, creating a network of trained, capable and increasingly connected environmentalists.  

wouldn't it be great if GCI Alumni were mainly positive, maintained the relationships that were built during their campaign experience (both with the fellow campaigners and the recruited volunteers and contacted voters and contributors).  Then we would have an increasingly powerful and effective network of engaged and active progressives who knew the nuts and bolts of a running a field campaign or GOTV effort.  

For fundraising, voter turnout, issue advocacy, whatever, we would have an amazing structure that would dwarf the cobbled together coalition of fundamentalist churches and regressive fringe groups that currently is the mainstay of the Republican party's machine.  And in further contrast to the machine, the network would be intelligent, responsive and able to give real time feedback from the legitimate grassroots all the way to the lead organizers.

So ask yourself what kind of campaign you want to be work for? What kind will you put in the 90 hr weeks for little or no pay?  Simple, it's the one that takes care of you, and helps you win in the long run.  If GCI doesn't do that, well, they should go [cheney] themselves.


by jk2004 2006-09-13 05:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Growing Pains and Poor Resources

But they have money and resources.

That is the key.

by jasmine 2006-09-14 04:38PM | 0 recs
Re: Growing Pains and Poor Resources

"Made do with the little they have?"

2 different times in 2004, they were handed several million dollars by a major institution (the DNC and then MoveOn).  You make it sound like they had to make their own clothes.

by Patton 2006-09-13 08:05AM | 0 recs
MoveOn sucks

I like the Idea of MoveOn, but I find their TV ads rather tasteless. They never miss going for the cheap partisan attack.  

Don't get me wrong, the Cheap partisan attack has it's place, but it's not the airwaves.  If you make substantive criticisms (ala Lamont's campaign) that's good.  If you spout bullshit, that's bad

Look at these "so and so voted against whatever" is the stupidest argument in politics.  It can be used on anything, if you say George Allen voted against body armor for the troupes, you could say the same thing about John Kerry (since there was some body armor stuff in the "$87 billion")

I dunno, maybe that stuff is effective, but it's not something I want to support.

by delmoi 2006-09-17 07:01AM | 0 recs


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