Still strip-mining the grassroots
by GCILies, Tue Sep 05, 2006 at 09:40:03 AM EDT
I've been following Greg Bloom's "Strip-Mining the Grassroots" series very closely, and for a while I'd been meaning to post my own experience with Grassroots Campaigns Incorporated. I've finally been motivated to do so by a very unpleasant irony: I found this Powerline blog post on Labor Day:
the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has hired Boston's Grassroots Campaigns to solicit money for the DCCC by promoting, among other things, the need to raise the minimum wage. One problem: Grassroots doesn't pay the canvassers who campaign for minimum wage increases the current minimum wage.
Powerline is referring to this article in the Isthmus, which describes a few GCI canvassers (who are working for the DCCC) who are protesting their awful pay rates.
How very familiar... if anything, I'm surprised it took this long for GCI's dealings to blow up in the Democrats' faces.
I was a director for GCI's DNC canvass in 2004, to "beat Bush." I had three years of experience working on Capitol Hill, including major fundraising for Gephardt. When I heard about what GCI was doing, I thought- "Excellent. instead of asking for big scale money, I'm now going to do grassroots fundrasing." I was offered an AD position in the San Francisco office on the spot in the interview. But even after the meeting, I didn't quite know what this meant -- they really did not clearly articulate their positions. In fact, I believe GCI is purposely unclear about the differences between CD, AD, Field Manager, Canvasser. The same is true for the pay scale. They purposely just hoarded people in with a "let's beat Bush, you'll get the details later" mentality.
They sent me to San Diego. It was a hard place to raise money. I'd hired a woman who had monitored elections in Bosnia, and she was getting screamed at on the street. Then I found myself in the position of being unable to explain her payscale. Nobody could explain the payscale -- it was awful.
Then I went to Cleveland for the rest of the summer -- a city where the unemployment rate is above 15 percent, deemed "the poorest city in America" in 2004. What kind of fundraising canvassing could we do there? I told them we should have been out there registering voters, but they didn't listen to me. In NYC, people were getting handed 1000 checks, but I'd tell my canvassers, we are blessed -- we are out on the street talking to swing voters, union people. Even if we don't make our quota, at least we have told people the truth. But we had these poor poor people who worked for us, and who just wouldn't get paid on time or at all in part because they were unable to raise much money. And the rest because GCI was unethical with paychecks and reimbursements. They'd be asking 'can I please just get my $18 check so that I can put gas in my car?' But we didn't have the checks -- I was so severely embarrassed. One director gave someone $300 of her own money, just because she felt so bad because this canvasser's pay hadn't come.
Still, I believed GCI when they told me that their goals were to engage small donors to increase the vote and beat the Republicans in the campaign finance race for 2004. All along they were running it on the PIRG membership model -- which is all about long-term database building. They were telling people that the money was going to the swing states -- but it was just going to make a bigger donor list! I'm not saying that's not a good thing -- but, you know, so much for 'beat Bush.'
Eventually, after four months, I told GCI that if was time for me to find another way to help beat Bush. I was so completely exhausted that I was ordered to bedrest for 4 days by my doctor. But GCI was closing down the Cleveland office, and there was only one other director, so I stayed on for two weeks to help wrap everything up. After all that, they called me and told me that I wasn't pulling my weight the last week and therefore they weren't going to pay me for my last week! Their reason was that I had not canvassed during that time. Nevermind my four months of success as a canvasser and canvassing trainer. I guess running their office alone with one person while sick doesn't count as actual work.
When I left, I wrote a long letter to the head of GCI, Doug Phelps, detailing a number of legal and ethical violations (not mentioned in this posting) that I'd seen as a director. I was angry. I was upset about how I was treated. I was upset about how our canvassers were treated. I felt dirty having been a part of this. I was tired. I was poor.
I never received a response to this letter.
However, "hope was on the way." I got a fantastic job on the Kerry campaign in Ohio and really grew into myself with a team of professionals. I had a livable wage. I had a little power. I worked with a great national team. I developed a state-wide voter contact training model. I had a hand in strategic planning. We had record breaking achievements. And while on that team for two months, I learned a great deal about the problems that the DNC canvassers caused for the Kerry campaign -- because GCI had been there canvassing the poor neighborhoods so much, claiming to represent the Democrats, to the point where people were refusing to be approached by the Kerry campaign operatives! After the campaign, I also spoke with my contacts from my years in DC -- some of whom were pretty high up -- who reported to me that the DNC wanted to "shitcan" its contract with GCI.
But here we are again, no shitcan for GCI -- in fact, even more contracts, with the DCCC! We're coming up onto another election, and GCI is still operating with highly irresponsible and even immoral practices, still lying to people that their donation is going to help win the election, still putting the Democratic Party's reputation in danger. It's not just a matter of hypocrisy with regards to the minimum wage, although the right-wing blogs may get great mileage out of that. It's a matter of corporate responsibility; for Democrats, it needs to start here.Kate Burke - Nashville, TN