Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (p3): the Collapse of Leave No Voter Behind

In the first post of this series, I described my experience working as a field organizer for MoveOn PAC in the 2004 election:  

The 2004 MoveOn PAC Leave No Voter Behind was not just a 'bad' experience. It was a soul-crushing experience.

I did not choose that phrase carelessly -- it is a sentiment shared by many of my fellow organizers who were out there on the ground. In the comments, they've called the campaign "ill-conceived,""cynical," and "disastrous." Since MoveOn has rehired the vendor that ran Leave No Voter Behind--Grassroots Campaigns, Inc--to run its 2006 ground operation, Operation Democracy, I believe it's important to open up a dialogue about what went wrong.

A number of GCI's managers from the campaign have taken issue with these posts -- they reason that all campaigns are "hard work," and that "kinks" and "snags" should be expected, especially since this particular campaign was the first time that either MoveOn or GCI had attempted such an operation.

But this glosses over some crucial context. GCI is in fact the youngest offspring of the Public Interest Research Groups family; Leave No Voter Behind was staffed by hundreds of PIRG/Fund for Public Interest Research managers, who took leaves of absence to work on the campaign. The PIRGs do, in fact, have experience in GOTV--on college campuses and state ballot initiatives--and though nothing on this scale had ever been implemented, in an important way this campaign was not so different from a standard PIRG/Fund operation. It was a new permutation of their well-worn model.

As I wrote in the "Strip-Mining the Grassroots" series (and it would help to read that post in conjunction with this one), the PIRG/Fund world is rigidly structured around this model:

The model is more than a set of guidelines -- it's a comprehensive campaign template that assigns the goals, schedules the time, scripts the interactions, and measures the progress of each participant. Those goals are defined entirely in terms of numbers -- numbers of recruits, numbers of members, numbers of dollars raised. It has three primary components -- recruitment, training, and canvassing -- which are compartmentalized and monitored in order to produce the optimal result.

In this post, I will explain -- in terms of this model itself -- why the Leave No Voter Behind campaign collapsed under a crisis of leadership that can be traced directly to the top of GCI.

From the outset of Leave No Voter Behind, it seemed that GCI had grafted the canvass model onto GOTV with relative ease. The basic infrastructure (group recruitment sessions, role-play trainings, and so on) remained the same. Instead of paid canvassers, we were recruiting volunteers; instead of asking for donations, the volunteers were identifying voters and encouraging them to vote. The scripted "raps" were rewritten accordingly.

Unlike the fundraising canvass, there were no 'quotas' -- but there were fixed (and large) goals, which were plotted out day by day, hour by hour. As organizers, our primary goal was to recruit precinct leaders by making cold-calls, primarily to MoveOn members. Supposedly, we would make six to eight contacts over the phone per hour, and schedule three or four of them for a recruitment meeting. Ideally, two or three would show for the meeting, and then one or two would sign on to be a precinct leader. So, according to the model, about one precinct leader would be generated per hour of calling. We would then train these precinct leaders to manage their own precinct team, working towards the goal of 90 contacted voters. Some of our volunteers would inevitably flake out. But if all went right, the organizers would call for four hours a day through the first two weeks of the campaign, then would 'reduce calling intensity.' We would spend the rest of the campaign training and leading our 25 precinct teams through the demanding triple-tiered canvass plan. From the very beginning, we had been warned that we would have to put whatever effort was needed into "getting the numbers."

As I explained in my last post, Leave No Voter Behind immediately fell far short of these numbers. The campaign launched a week late, and most organizers were without phone or internet connections for several days after that. So, things had gone wrong -- however, this just meant that we'd have to "kick it up a notch" in our recruitment calling, in order to bring in the numbers of volunteers that we needed. But then things got worse. Our 'Web Action Center' (WAC)--the internet-based application through which every step of our campaign was to be administered--began to severely malfunction, causing major interference in our recruitment, team management, and canvassing operations.

Now, a distinction needs to be made here between these dual setbacks of delayed launch and infrastructure collapse. The former entailed a significant decrease of the total amount of time in which we had to reach our goals. The latter represented a further decrease in total time (since the campaign was paralyzed through repeated computer crashes) but also, and more importantly, a significant and permanent increase of the time necessary to complete our tasks. This increase extended across the board: it now took longer to make and record a call, took longer to train a volunteer to work with a buggy system, and took longer to deal with those bugs ourselves. Out from these two compounding problems sprang the crisis of leadership.

In the comments of my last post, Mr E argued with this claim of 'crisis,' saying:

Anyone who has been through a campaign--of any sort--knows that plans often fail or fall-short. The key is to not give up, but make the most of what you've got.

Indeed. GCI now had somewhat less than five hundred organizers in the field, many of them with scant organizing experience, who had just barely enough time and resources to recruit perhaps fifteen precinct teams each. These organizers already had thousands of volunteer recruits who were struggling under an erratic system. But we were many more thousands short of LNVB's original goal.

'We can't change the date of the election,' our regional director told us, implying in the same breath that they would also not be changing our goals -- which meant that we still were expected to recruit the original number of precinct leaders.

After the WAC went down entirely, once it came back up with limited functionality, management increased our calling hours to six hours a day (or more: in a couple of unfortunate cases, struggling organizers were ordered to cold-call as much as twelve hours a day). Organizers were disallowed from working with their volunteers during the hours between 4 and 9pm -- the time when people (potential recruits and volunteers alike) are most likely to be available. (In another unfortunate situation, an office's management forced its organizers to turn over their cell phones during calling time -- so that their volunteers could not even get them on the phone.) This mandatory calling was extended all the way through to five or six days before the election.

Even under normal circumstances, this schedule would have been problematic -- it left us scrambling to find time to speak with our precinct leaders early in the morning, in the middle of their work days, or late at night. But with our 'wack-ass WAC,' it was disastrous. Remember that a key principle of the model is that "early success is essential to continued success." Mired in technical difficulties and facing a near-total absence of organizer guidance, our volunteers were dropping out of the campaign as quickly as we could recruit them.

The organizers followed them en masse. Within a few days of the WAC crash, anywhere from a quarter to a half of the staff in many offices quit; the entire Las Vegas office was summarily dismissed. Even after this wave of attrition subsided, organizers continued to drop out steadily, right up until the final weekend.

In the comments of my first post, a number of PIRG/GCI managers argued that those who left the campaign were inferior organizers -- "mentally not tough."

I actually think Lockse answered these comments best (in a comment that I urge you to go back and read in full):

The model is built so that people who have the will to do the work can succeed. If it wasn't working, and it never got fixed, then I can tell you it is not the fault of the people who signed on. Keep in mind that you're talking about young people who wanted more than anything to beat George Bush. Who were willing to do anything--if it would help beat Bush. Key word there is 'if,' people.

Remember that the PIRG/Fund model works on three essential components: recruitment, training, and canvassing.  GCI chose to sacrifice training in order to meet its recruitment goals. As a result, attrition (the hidden fourth component of the model) skyrocketed, and the canvassing suffered.

Also note bschak's comment on the first post: even the handful of best-case offices that ran 'well'--with less than ten percent attrition--still ran into these fundamental problems and produced a compromised canvass. Off-blog, I asked Lockse--who has run many a canvass campaign--whether a fundraising canvass office would ever deprioritize training. The answer was: "Not if it wanted to raise money."

Lockse added that canvassing for votes is not all that different than canvassing for money -- the end products of a successful campaign are bonded teams that know what they're doing and why, and are able to do it in the most efficient way possible. That requires no small amount of leadership.

But GCI's senior management knows quite well how the model works -- they essentially built it. Why would they knowingly knock a leg out from under it?

I see two explanations -- I'll leave it to you to decide which is more disturbing. First, GCI's contract with MoveOn is likely to have stipulated the number of volunteers recruited (as opposed to the unknowable number of voters turned out). Second, the model itself--not the campaign--was GCI's true end. As Lockse wrote in the "Response to Strip-Mining the Grassroots," this model is like a giant game. So when Leave No Voter Behind was falling apart, with the model's future prospects at stake, and no dollar sign on the bottom line, GCI cheated at its own game in order to "win."

And yet this explains how, in the comments of the last post, Mr E could actually remark that "we beat our internal goals." Indeed, Leave No Voter Behind probably did manage to hit its original goal of volunteer recruits -- in much the same way that GCI raised twenty-two million dollars for the Democratic National Committee "to beat Bush." Neither campaign significantly helped us to win the 2004 election. Both turned away thousands of people who wanted to help and ended up feeling burned for it. Nevertheless, MoveOn, like the DNC, must have been pleased with the result.

Does this model seem like a success to you?

Tags: GCI, GOTV, grassroots, Leave No Voter Behind, MoveOn, PIRG, TheFund (all tags)



where my peeps at?

Some dialogue. All that we've heard in defense of GCI is from people who "used to work there." Personally, as someone who worked in the PIRGs for years, I'm appalled at this story. It's simply unacceptable. And I am still waiting to hear from someone who still works there.

Why does GCI think that they do not need to engage in this conversation? Why does MoveOn think that?

by Lockse 2006-07-19 09:13AM | 0 recs
Re: where my peeps at?

There is no way that GCI will allow anyone but their top brass to openly respond to this.  And institutionally, that's their prerogative.  

But it is telling that they can't even send someone to defend them openly.  Their reputation is being knocked down a peg among anyone who reads MyDD (read: much of the progressive activist "elite"), and they aren't bothering to respond.  Greg is being very fair and judicious, so it's not like they would be doing the equivalient of going on O'Reilly or anything.

by Patton 2006-07-19 09:28AM | 0 recs
Growing Pains

It looks to me just growing pains.  This is a relatively young company and has a very noble purpose.  I am not sure the purpose of rehashing this all the time--discourage people to join?

Last time you said you will write on solutions? Where is it?

Do you have a beef with CGI and this is revenge time?

by jasmine 2006-07-21 04:49AM | 0 recs
you're missing it

Jasmine - please don't insult Greg, myself or others who have posted here. This is clearly not axe-grinding.  There are a lot of us here trying to have a conversation. If you don't want to think about these things, then don't engage -- but if you do choose to engage, don't trivialize us by implying that we are being petty or spiteful. We're having this conversation because we think it's important to make this right.

by Lockse 2006-07-21 05:45AM | 0 recs
Hurts so good?

Patience, jasmine! I should note that my solutions aren't going to reinvent the wheel -- just some simple, common-sense suggestions that might help bring about some change within this closed system.

In the meantime, I want to make a note here to anyone who is about to hit the comments to tell us that my 'complaints are outdated,' that GCI was just going through growing pains, nothing to see here move along people.  Don't bother, unless you are able and willing to report to us the following number:

How many of GCI's field organizers have already quit MoveOn's Operation Democracy?

by greg bloom 2006-07-21 05:53AM | 0 recs
Taking back the country is suppose to be hard

It is hard work--taking back Democracy.  So it is not for everyone.  It is not suppose to be a well paid job.  It is suppose to be a service to community and Democracy.

Sorry, I cannot understand why you are complaining.  

by jasmine 2006-07-21 08:44PM | 0 recs
I just read the whole diary and comments

Sorry about my rant.

by jasmine 2006-07-21 09:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Hurts so good?
I just want to say..
There are plenty of assholes out there (here). There are plenty of lazy people! There are plenty of capitalists, needy freaks, and sorry losers. These are NOT the people that will succeed or find success following the GCI model. Just my opinion. Much experienced.
by LaLaBlackSheep 2006-08-06 07:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (


I understand that there was the inevitable chaos, disorganization, management problems, etc... with the MoveOn field program in '04.

But I can't figure out what your constructive points are.

You've said that MoveOn started late in launching their massive program, and suffered the consequences. And I'm pretty sure they'd all agree.

But I have to say that on election night, (I had been working for Kerry for eight months, with no contact with MoveOn by then) I visited four polling places in targeted districts around Columbus, OH. At three of those, the only campaigner in sight was a MoveOn precinct captain. It was pouring rain, but these kids had clip boards and cell phones and were working with their GOTV teams to make sure every one of their targeted voters came in. At none of these sites was there any sign of ACT or the DNC (unless you count me and the soda I had been sent to deliver to help keep people in line).

The DNC and ACT field organizing programs were at least as chaotic as the MoveOn one. I could write my own agonizing exposé on the DNC field operation (but won't! - don't worry, anyone). And of course, those programs had years to prepare, not weeks.

The RNC's program was a mess too, despite the hype about how they're perfect. I'd ask groups of GOP volunteers on street corners in various cities how things were going, and always heard the same stories: tech that didn't work, managers who were AWOL, vols being under-utilized, etc....

In other words, the problems you're describing are systemic to all politics, to any start-up organization, and really to the question of organization in general.

So, if you want to put us through a painful 2004 flashback, you really need to give us some good analysis of what you think caused the problems, and to suggest some ways to improve. I believe that MoveOn's organizing efforts over its eight years of existence have given us some of the best examples of ways to fundamentally change politics and to improve organizing. Because of that too, I really want to see a constructive discussion here rather than just depressing stories.

So let me help by trying to pin you down on some specific questions.

Which of the following are you trying to say:

1) That GCI is fatally flawed and should never be hired by anyone again?

2) That the GCI model is fatally flawed and should be changed? (If this is your point, then please tell us what exactly about their model is wrong and what you want it changed to. I can't tell whether you think it's just too top-down, or too exhausting, or what?)

3) That MoveOn and GCI should have started earlier. (I'm sure you'd have no argument there.)

4) That GCI works their organizers too hard, too long and demands too much accountability from them?

Or have I missed your points altogether?

by Zack Exley 2006-07-19 09:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Zack -- there might be a little bit of point-missing here. In this post, I'm talking about a specific action from senior management, and I'm explaining its ramifications.

It's ugly stuff, that's for sure -- but I only decided to write this series when I was certain that it could build to some recommendations, specific and general, that would be constructive. I think I proved myself there in the conclusion of my series, "Strip-Mining the Grassroots." I'm arguing that the model is not fatally flawed -- it could be a powerful force -- but it is being implemented un-progressively. It's not just that organizers are being over-worked -- it's that they're being overworked in bad faith. The model's priorities are imbalanced towards quantity at the expense of quality -- and that causes serious negative externalities and hidden costs. The model could be better -- it would take patience and resources and difficult negotiations, and it might have to be scaled down at first, but it could move forward. It's a matter of making it more professional -- about holding it to standards of both progressive ideology and good business. Right now, it doesn't comport with either.

This should not be such a far-out charge to level. The progressive movement is currently in a period of retrenchment -- it needs to be both expansive and inwardly-reconstructive. The "leaders" we are talking about here have been doing this for more than 20 years; they have left a lot of waste in their wake. Their methods and philosophy resemble the same ruthless corporate world that they initially set out to fight. I think, considering where the Left is right now, that any questions about "the way things have been done for twenty years or more" are worthy of consideration. I am not alone in this. My argument is very much in line with a critique -- made by historians and community leaders and Kos and Armstrong themselves -- of the diminished state of civic engagement on the Left and throughout the country. I think MoveOn could be a positive force moving forward out of this quandary -- but that only makes it more important to think critically about this.

With regards to the current MoveOn/GCI operation, it seems that the wrong lessons were learned from 2004. In future posts, I'll suggest ways -- short-term and long-term -- in which the right lessons can be learned. For now, I'll leave it at: it's first and foremost an issue of accountability.

by greg bloom 2006-07-19 11:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Greg, I think we're probably more on the same page than what you might think.  Your second paragraph sums up a lot of what I think as well.  GCI can definitely be a force for good while being good itself (although I think the former is more likely).  And we can offer some suggestions.  

So what do you think they are - care to add on here prior to another diary entry?  

As far as general issues, I think some can be identified with your own words here actually:

-overworked (though not neccessarily in bad faith, that is often situational and per staff director)
-emphasis on quantity not quality
-a corollary to the previous - focused on a model for the model's sake

And I think some other things include:

-what kind of tool GCI (and perhaps other groups) will be
-top-down versus bottom-up
-allocation of resources
-basic HR (pay, benefits, etc.)
-recruitment pools for staff managers
-placement and position of staff managers/directors

by Peter from WI 2006-07-19 02:01PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

This conversation is kind of driving me crazy because there are so many different points in play here, and none are being treated with very much depth or clarity. In any case, none are being treated separately.

I can think of these:

  1. Working people too hard.
  2. Quality of management/leadership.
  3. Technical breakdowns.
  4. Starting campaigns too early, without enough preparation.
  5. "Top-down" vs. "Bottom-up" (both phrases need to be defined - and have been used a lot in this discussion with no definition or description).
  6. Is a canvass machine the appropriate way to do GOTV? No? What is the right model then?
  7. The intentions (or "good faith") of specific progressive orgs.

Am I missing any?

What ties all these together is that they are being raised by Greg's really important stories from '04. But if this discussion is going to produce useful results, let's get clear and specific and treat one thing at a time.

by Zack Exley 2006-07-19 03:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Zack, when Greg told me he was going to write this series, I thought 'oh boy, this is going to be messy.'

In the earlier posts, some PIRGbots seemed to be surprised to find that Greg wasn't complaining about the hours and the pay; I wasn't surprised. I knew that's not his issue here. But I gotta be honest -- I did expect Greg to write about things like the housing mixups, the delayed paychecks, the illegal gas mileage compensation, the tendency to motivate through nagging guilt, the crippling opacity, the slavish adherence to hierarchy, the wasteful and degrading obsession with roleplays, the fact that several offices were sent incorrect voting information to distribute to their voters in the final weekend, the total neglect of persuadable voters, the failure to prepare for the particularities of individual state's electoral systems, and the general contempt for any piece of information that wasn't a number. Among other things.

But look, Greg hasn't mentioned any of that -- and his argument makes all of it peripheral. By their own frickin frackin model metrics they blew it. And MoveOn blew it by hiring them back. That means this model is broken -- and it needs to be fixed.

by hoboninja 2006-07-19 04:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

I know for a fact that on the PIRG side of things, the admin folks are working hard, and have always worked hard, to make sure that pay and other admin issues are dealt with professionally and in a timely manner.  When it doesn't happen, it's because of a breakdown at the office-level, which, while not excusable, is somewhat understandable - in light of putting a bunch of 22-25 year olds in charge of something with which they have no experience and most find rather foreign.  I'm not excusing it, just saying I understand it.  I am proud to say that never once did my offices ever have issues with that kind of thing.  My RDAA was awesome, and she always helped me with the technical aspects that I might need.  

At the risk of quibbling, while the gas mileage rate is wholly unfair, it's not illegal.  There's a rate suggested by the IRS.  If you're not compensated at that level, you're allowed to write it off on your taxes.  

There's more to respond to, but I need to go to bed.

by Peter from WI 2006-07-19 07:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

This is absolutely not the case with GCI.  In my time as a Director/Organizer, my office didn't screw up a single reimbursement request--but we waited for many of them for months.  100% of the dozens of payroll problems that we experienced were the fault of the finance office in Boston.

Out of the blue one week, my paycheck (my name is "Patton Price" and I was working in Cincinnati) was sent to "Preston Pierce" in Fort Lauderdale.  That was not the "office-level," it was the result of making a functional payroll system an extremely low priority.  I think your explanation is a little insulting.  Filling out a half-page form and stapling a receipt is not "foreign," and 22-25 year-olds are generally not as stupid as you give them credit for.

by Patton 2006-07-20 07:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Patton, this is NOT true.  Believe me, I worked in finance.  EVERY office screwed up requisitions and payroll spreadsheets.  If you really want me to tell you stories, I can.  Let's start with the dude who called to complain when he didn't get his money.  The accounts payable staff asked him where the requisition form was, and he got really quiet for a second, and then said it was still in his desk drawer.  Or maybe the guys who got parking tickets, and decided that leaving them in the glove compartment would get them paid off.  Or the people who didn't understand that "fill out your budget information" meant "don't leave it blank."  Let's not even talk about the people who tried to claim both milage and gas reciepts for their travel expenses.  Or the people who decided that nick names were cool, and their legal names didn't have to go on their forms.  Or the people who thought that "send in your payroll spreadsheet by noon on saturday" meant that noon on monday was cool.

Stapling the reciept to a half page form may not be foreign, but can you honestly say that you sent in every single reciept?  If so, you would be a rare soul, indeed, in the midst of the campaign chaos.  Hell, I did payroll for boston door for months, and me and two other boston directors basically designed the cash out procedure, and I KNOW I made mistakes, and I'll be the first to admit it.  

This is really not a fight I want to have, but what you should try to understand is that every time one of those mistakes happened, it meant that the finance staff had to spend time fixing it.  Which meant that the people who didn't mess up had to wait for their money while the mistakes were fixed.  As for payroll, with only one computer with the software on it, and at times over 1400 checks to do in 3 days, well, of course mistakes happened.  (back to that forward planning thing again, it would have cost around 500 bucks to network the payroll software, and let more then one person do and check the work, but nooooo).  And considering the lack of institutional support, the fact that people quite often were working round the clock to get payroll done, and we were literally racing to the airport to get fedex packages out at the last possible moment, well, let's just say that there was not exactly high morale among the central staff people.

Again, I really don't want to get drawn into this fight, but I do think that most (not all) canvass directors and organizors were NOT hired for administrative skills, and it showed on the finance end.

by dansomone 2006-07-20 10:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

respectfully, why does there have to be a fight? it sounds like some offices did better than others locally and centrally there were huge problems that put enormous strain on both human and object resources.

both POV seem valid and both seem GCI's fault:

  1. centrally, GCI was short-sighted and foolish not to prepare and create the infrastructute to better handle payroll. this applies to both personnel and equipment.
  2. at an office level, GCI failed by not devoting reasonable training and information on how to complete the paperwork and why it needed to be completed in a particular way.

more importantly, this seems like one of the forest/trees issues from the outside - both issues spring from the more malignant GCI viewpoint that motivated and committed volunteers and employees are chattel to be treated with limited attention, no forethought, and apparently no respect.

or am i missing something?

by jax 2006-07-20 10:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

If you don't want to get dragged into a fight, don't make it one.  I don't have any doubt that everyone in the finance office worked hard.  I have no doubt that everyone at GCI works REALLY hard, and that isn't my point.

I'm sure that I didn't screw up any of my own reimbursement stuff.  I wasn't the one who handled most of that stuff directly in my office, so I can't be as sure about everything else, but it was handled by two people who had worked in business before (our CD, for instance, had worked in management for a large corporation for a few years before working on this campaign).  I don't doubt that there were idiots staffing many of the offices, but we desparately tried to maintain a professional atmosphere in my office (San Diego Door, but the same goes for street, though it did take them forever to get permission to fire the AD who was getting drunk with canvassers in the office at night), and our efforts were destroyed when paychecks would arrive two days late and reimbursements would never arrive at all.  This is not to mention the wacky web of "new hire" paperwork we would ahve to complete each time GCI would spawn--and relegate us to--a new legal entity.

IF you honestly think that the payroll and remibursement system worked well and was only hampered by the mistakes of the director/organizers, than we are just going to have to agree to disagree.  That is so far afield of my direct experience that I don't think we can even agree on the basics of what happened and when.  I don't mean for anyone to take any of this personally.  Even the highest up people at GCI who I met and interacted with were really impressive and admirable people.  I like them.  

In a previous thread, I made the suggestion that GCI just outsource all the payroll and "officey" shit to a company like ADP or something.  You didn't like that suggestion, and that's fair, but it's like I'm totally opposed to being constructive about this.

by Patton 2006-07-20 10:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

It's not like I'm totally opposed to being constructive.

by Patton 2006-07-20 10:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

"IF you honestly think that the payroll and remibursement system worked well and was only hampered by the mistakes of the director/organizers, than we are just going to have to agree to disagree."

No, I don't think that at all. I think there were two main problems:

1) The people who are great at recruitment, training, staff managment, and motivation are not always the same people who are good at administrative stuff.  GCI hired for the former, not the later.  And then they had week long trainings where the admin stuff was squeeeeeezed into half of the last day.  So organizationally, the people in the field were not prepared to do the stuff they needed to get paid on time.  And, becuase the organization is rightfully focused on the "campaign" stuff, no one was ever really blamed when they got the "finance" stuff wrong, so there was little accountability in the field.  

Again, this is not to lay blame on individuals, but I never really saw anyone take any ownership for their mistakes, and this stuff wasn't a priority, so there were mistakes made in the field.

Considering this is getting on to two years old now, I don't remember exactly what offices did what, especially with the street and door splits like SD.  But let me be clear on this.  On VERY BASIC THINGS like getting the payroll spreadsheets emailed in in a timely manner, no office was perfect, except maybe the cape cod office and one or two of the smaller offices in the southwest like tucson.  No office was late every pay period, but again, the problem was that a mistake by one office meant that payroll staff couldn't work on getting the checks out the doors for the offices that did get it right, so mistakes compounded one another.  In terms of your personal requisitions, I don't remember your name coming up as a problem, but, well, in addition to stapling every single reciept ever, which would make you a saint, can you also honestly say that your budget spread sheet was kept up to date and mailed in regularly?  That your debit card spread sheet was also?  That your office never sent out a canvasser without having them fill out tax forms?  That new hire information (that annoying web that actually had to be done to get people paid...) was sent in on time?

Gah, I really shouldn't be spending this much time on this, so point 2 will be briefer:

2) This gets back to Jax's point about the forest and the trees, but from a different angle.  The problem as I saw it was that there was no forward planning.  People in finance were more overworked and less apprecieted then in any other part of the organization.  (I was an AD, did national recruitment, and finance, so I can speak with some authority there...)

In addition to the (rightful) lack of focus on the admin end, there were two sub problems:
a) no forward planning: as refered to above, they refused to hire people in advance and get them trained up before they were snowed under
b) you simply can't do the same amount of work doing admin stuff as you can doing organizing or recruitment.  staring at spreadsheets for 14 hours is signficantly more draining then a mix of phone work/recruitment/training/canvassing etc over those same 14 hours.  and when you make a mistake on the admin end, it messes with someones money, and you can't simply go on to the next role play or door, which makes it more draining still.  Maybe that is more personal to me, but I think that's fairly universal.

In terms of being constructive, I actually think this is the place that GCI has the least work to do going forward.  My understanding is that the systems are actually mostly working now.  And I really think outsourcing is a bad idea, since an outside company would be much less forgiving of the general screw ups that were fairly universal, which the finance staff at least tried to understand since we were mostly former directors and cared about "the cause."

I do think that the most constructive thing would be to somehow get that "forward planning" mindset in place, since it would prevent a lot of these problems.

Finally, I'm sorry if I read your original post wrong, but it really seemed like an attack on the finance staff, and not a critique of the systems that were set up.

I think I'm going to try to refrain from further comments on this part of the issue, since it sorta makes me want so shoot myself in the face.

by dansomone 2006-07-20 01:36PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

I didn't mean to attack the finance stuff.  I am not doing a good job of making my point, so I will bail out with one final comment: GCI is not a campaign, it is a business.  It is not acceptable for a business to get payroll right "most of the time."  If they don't get that, they shouldn't be running a business.

by Patton 2006-07-20 08:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

After re-reading your comment, I had to add something.  The attitude that it's OK to fall short on payroll because other things are a higher priority is symbollic of exactly what's wrong with GCI.  I agree that good activists don't always make natural administrative staff (shit, I can bear that out with my own work history!)--but GCI (and I mean "GCI" not "the finance staff they hired in 2004") needs to understand that it is not only a terribly short-sighted practice to knowingly continue a system that results in emplyees getting paid late and reimbursed inadequately, it is also illegal.  If the exact same folks were running an entity called "No on 35" or "Smith for Rep.," I think your argument would hold up perfectly.  But they are running a business, called Grassroots Campaigns Inc., for a profit--and they are using practices that are not tenable for entities that want to survuve long-term.

That you, I, and anyone else who worked on any campaign in 2004 would agree that administrative stuff isn't our highest priority is a perfect indicator that we are the wrong people to be handling that particular job.

by Patton 2006-07-21 08:48AM | 0 recs

I was a volunteer. The first day I waited for about an hour to do a  ridiculous role play even though I have been a sales rep. Now I'm a teacher and routinely speak in front of large audiences of adults.  Go figure.

Then I was sent to canvass with out-dated voter information. Even worse,  the list was not a route.  I was walking around in circles in the hot, humid, Florida sun . They did not supply me with a map, sent me to addresses that seemingly didn't exist. There were several offices and I have no idea why I had to drive so far away and then return to report my results.

It would have been nice to get a t shirt, I wore my (Dixie) Chicks Vote t shirt on election day. I also helped them input their results on their database. What a clunky piece of software that was and I bet that they paid a pretty penny for it.  

I feel the frustration and disappointment with the model. This year I was sent an email soliciting volunteer precinct leaders and responded. I never heard from them again with respect to that. The other malfunction is pr for local events. There is a Rock the Vote  registration event in my area and I can't find any information about it on the Rock the Vote site. However, it is listed in the DFA local activist link.

With all that said,  I still belong and contribute to MoveOn. I don't know if I will volunteer this time.

by misscee 2006-07-20 07:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

To be clear and specific -- this was a campaign that wasted the efforts of its participants because the "leaders" forced organizers to build out at the expense of building in. That's specific to this instance. But it is also a good metaphor for the more general problem with PIRG/Fund and in a sense the Left: burning through the grassroots as fuel to "hit the numbers" and "win" without cultivating a dynamic progressive community.

As for your points: (1) "Working people too hard" is a problem with the fundraise canvass, which is not direct political action, rather a business, and therefore should not demand 12+ hours of labor a day. In a GOTV campaign, 12+ hours a day is pretty necessary.

(2) "Quality of management/leadership" is exactly the issue here, while (3) "technical breakdowns" and (4) "starting campaigns too early" are important only inasmuch as they prompted the management to clamp down, hence the crisis.

With regards to the (5) "top down" nature of the model, I'll be dealing with it in my next post, but in the meantime, please see my last post on the model for a definition.

(6)"Is a canvass machine the appropriate way to do GOTV?" Yes. The right model would be top-down, but would be run with trust, respect, and the ability to listen -- i.e. a capacity for bottom-up dynamics. It would treat people as members, not as numbers -- in other words, it would find attrition to be a bad thing, a sign that something is wrong. By (7) "good faith," I mean that these people are devoting their lives to this work. If they are working on false pretenses ("raise money to 'beat Bush!'"), if they are ordered to act in a way that is not in the interest of the cause ("you have to cold-call for eight hours today"), and if they can't get an honest and respectful answer when they inquire in regard to those issues, then...well I actually don't want to accuse anyone here of "bad faith," but jeez doesn't anyone want to take some responsibility here?

by greg bloom 2006-07-19 04:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Wait a second here, a fundraising canvass is indeed direct political action.  The idea is to identify people who support your political efforts, get them to give you money, and get their name/address/phone/email on your list.  Then you go back to those people again and again via phone calls/emails/etc.--you engage them with calls to action (sign this petition) and fundraising appeals to provide ongoing support for your cause.  All of this furthers your organization's political mission.

Really any outreach the DNC does is direct political action, especially when you're asking people to get involved in the political process in as fundamentally important a way as giving $ to support your efforts.

This context for all of this will all change dramatically of course when we get public financing for elections :)

by dal27 2006-07-20 05:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

That was a joke, right? You were trying to be funny?

by hoboninja 2006-07-20 06:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

In other words, the problems you're describing are systemic to all politics, to any start-up organization, and really to the question of organization in general.

I respectfully disagree.  They are systemic to lopsidedly top-down politics and organizing.  I think that is evident in the collapse of the MoveOn campaign (and also why GCI's DNC campaign was really successful--a top-down fundraising program isn't nearly as wacky as a top-down "neighbor-to-neighbor" program).

The biggest problem with GCI is that they burned out a ridiculous number of talented young people who might still be active in Democratic campaigns if they had not been jerked around.  All campaign work is hard, poorly paid, and crazy as hell.  But GCI adds a bunch of unneeded bullshit to the mix, and now one of the most gifted field organizers I've ever met sells corporate CRM for a living.

by Patton 2006-07-19 01:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War

Lockse, you know as well as anyone that when PIRG (or the like) gets attacked, their strategy is to try to let things die out and not be negative publicity.  It is one of the curious (and good) things about vibrant, active sites like MyDD that these complaints are a permanent record (and what we say is too).  I doubt that anyone from the GCI leadership will have anything to say in a formal sense.  More humorously, do you think that any of them take time to read blog sites?  I didn't even have internet access at home when I organized with PIRG.  But really, in their eyes (I would say that their eyes have a certain degree of myopia on more than a few things), where this would hurt them is in two places: partners (like DCCC, MoveOn, and PFAW for GCI and HRC and Sierra Club for PIRG/the Fund; and recruitment.  Their recruitment model builds from two places: people who have already bought in as canvassers to become directors, and fairly unconnected college students.  They're not going to have their CD/organizer recruitment base affected heavily at all with this.  They're hurt much more by word-of-mouth by friends and within locales.  And their partner agreements are generally strong enough because of the positives that are characteristic of what they do.  So in a calculating sense, I doubt it's in their best interest to confront this directly.  Should they as wanting to be part of the progressive and especially progressive activist community?  Most definitely.

[Without rancor] No PIRG-dick size contests on MyDD.  I'm happy to be out of the world where that matters to people.  (Follow the link in Greg's main post to see what I'm talking about)  Lockse, I don't think you should or want you to hate me, as I think that's a little ridiculous.  I did not work at all with your people - if I generalized too heavily, it was 96% from the experience I had with people in Ohio.  I didn't attack you or the people who worked with you personally.  So don't be foolish about it.  If I offended you, I'm sorry about the stuff that could rightfully offend you.  Apology accepted?

I should have posted more before on the thread linked there, but I got out of town around the date that the response to my last post went up, and I just didn't check when I got back to work on Monday.

I think what I had to say came out too harshly and I regret that.  I worked with some GCI greenhorns that had literally no experience doing anything of the like, including some random-ass California girl (very upper class, sorority-girl-like) who drove out to Ohio to do whatever she could to win the election, found a job a job with GCI, and completely rocked from there).  My generalization was too great, and perhaps what I should have said was something more to the effect that mental toughness is a requirement of doing good organizing, and that those who had been involved in a longer-term campaign might have had the opportunity to develop that more.

In a less stressful situation than 2004, many more people could develop the endurance and toughness to ramp up to something like that election.  But that thing was so intense that very few could have the chance to develop it.  An analogy.  Running for weeks at a time and developing lung capacity and endurance over time means that a regular 10k runner can ramp up to run a marathon with a higher degree of ease than someone who doesn't run at all and just all of a sudden decides to run a marathon.  If the latter trained like the other had, he could too.  But not without.  I wasn't saying that as people, the GCIers were less tough and had less character, or at least I didn't mean to imply that.  I just meant that the people with experience and some tempering-by-fire were better suited to handle the situation.

The big issue I have is that quality (inferiority/superiority) of organizers is predicated almost entirely on one thing: training and skills.  The PIRG people were by and large far more trained and much less green, so they were naturally better organizers.  I think that anyone can organize.  Some will be not that great, but only a small amount, some will be really good, but again, a relatively small amount, and most will be good.  Like a 10%-10%-80% breakdown.  The 80% just needs to be trained to do so and get the experience.

Again, it's a matter of going from zero to 90 versus going from zero to 20 to 40 to 60 to 100.  

I definitely agree with Zack that any startup org will have problems.  To me, it's amazing that they were able to pull something of that size and scale together that quickly and achieve some success.

I will be the first person to say that there are myriad problems with the PIRG/Fund/GCI model.  That's why I left.  I'm totally open to identifying what the problems are.  I'm less enthusiastic about waiting around for a defense, as I'm sure we can anticipate what much of it would include (if you've had experience with the model, you have heard it before, I'm sure - I know it, because I bought into, and still buy into much of it).  I'm more enthusiastic about figuring out how it can be different.  Will that accomplish much (if they're not going to respond, why would they even listen to what we have to say)?  Maybe not, but it could be a useful set a points from which others can advance - or we might get lucky and Doug Phelps reads it and has a change of heart, open to suggestion from below.  

by Peter from WI 2006-07-19 11:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War

I was a Lead Organizer -- my office was one of that handful that managed to meet our goals. It was one hell of a fight, too. By November 2 not a single person in our office quit.

But Peter, I appreciate your apology -- since I kind of hated you a little bit myself for that comment. I had management experience from before the campaign, from outside the PIRGs, and I think your line -- about the PIRGers being such great managers who held it all together while the people without PIRG experience failed -- was just total bullshit. My co-LO was a PIRGer, and almost caused his whole half of the office to break down. I had to talk almost every one of his organizers out of quitting.  These people were willing to do the goddamn work. It was just a matter of were they doing something efficient. And whether their "leader" was guiding them the right way.  For example: He was so worried about hanging up signs of accomplishment and running roleplays that he didn't realize that his office was falling apart.  The organizers would ask it really necessary to run role plays on phone calling at 8 in the morning when they were going to be on the phone for 6 hours later that day?  I didn't think so. That was more about the model and less about 'the fucking world is at stake.'

In my crew, when the final weekend came around, most of my organizers were ready to recontact their voters, and they got their volunteers out there and did so. I can't say the same for any other offices.

But look -- when the debrief came around and they brought organizers in to talk about what worked and what didn't, they didn't bring me in. I don't know what the hell their rationale was, but I do know they did invite a PIRG LO from another office whose entire staff wanted to beat his ass. That makes no sense to me.  It's as if they were trying to not see the truth about themselves.  My office makes its goals, and they bring in a guy with staff that quit and/or didn't meet all their goals to go over what went right and wrong. At the time I was pissed.

But I think it was because they knew that I stepped outside of the model.

by ricardo 2006-07-19 12:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War

I think a big think with PIRG LOs was whether or not they were PIRGbots or not.  The LOs in my office were split.  One was (mine), the other was not.  Before I came in, both had seen a bunch of GCI newbies (as in new to organizing that summer) quit.  From that point on, the people with my LO were far happier, because he was fine with straying from the model where appropriate.  We didn't worry about putting up the accomplishment posters (I laughed when I read that) or run phone roleplays at 8 AM.  We knew what we were doing.  We were focused on goals, but numerical goals were part of a larger goal - that's the key.  The goal was getting out enough votes to beat Bush, and that was our focus.  Likewise, when the other LO kept her staff late every night for some BS meeting, we were out the door as early as possible, even with full debriefs.  And he was cool with entrepreneurialism.  I put some things together with volunteers outside of the model.  I also organized different material delivery logistics outside of what was then a broken system.  He was cool with all that - not despite it being outside the model but instead because it served the larger goal (and incidentally, the smaller goals too).  To be fair, from the time I came on, we didn't lose any more organizers, and in fact, added some with the extra funds allocated to Ohio.  Our office shattered our goals too (I'm still proud that Athens county, which I had all to myself - an anomaly in the way precincts were allocated - had the highest Dem turnout ever for a presidential election.)  

That you weren't brought in for the post-campaign debriefs is total bullshit.  That's just endemic of some of the problems I have with PIRG's model.  No ground-up innovation but instead top-down buy-in to ownership of what is handed to you.  Little to no creativity.  

I think there's lots to learn within the PIRG/GCI world about basics of human resource management in terms of treating their staff.  And I think they have a lot to learn about larger strategy.  

On the meta-level, I think Greg has important ideas about connecting the various Dem campaign outlets with better coordination - I've heard within the past few days a horror story about a GCI canvasser working for the DCCC in the Milwaukee area telling a person at the door to skip contributing to the local candidate for the House and instead give to the DCCC campaign so it can go to a House district more likely to turn blue.  And I think GCI as it develops can still be a really powerful entity even with its model, if applied in a way that includes non-fundraising canvasses well before an election.

Say they dedicate one day a week doing canvassing strictly for voter ed and lit drops, or voter reg (or simply carrying voter reg forms with them - my last summer canvass directin, we carried voter reg forms with us, and it didn't affect our canvass average adversely, and I would argue that it helped canvassers buy in to a "campaign job" in a bigger way).  They could be such a tool for good work besides low-margin, small donor fundraising (though I think as a category of fundraising, that is important to cultivate).  Likewise, coordinating with local and state parties could be huge - for both sides, be it coordinating with list-building and list-management for the Dem parties or bringing in staff or officials for briefings for GCI staff).

by Peter from WI 2006-07-19 01:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War

ricardo - how did you step outside the model?

by Zack Exley 2006-07-19 03:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War

Most importantly, I stopped reporting our actual recruitment numbers. I told them the numbers they wanted to hear.

Here's how the model was dealt with at the higher level. A lot of the LOs would say in a conference call: 'we're having trouble with the precinct leader retention rate, because we're on the phones for so long.' The response we got was, 'We have x number of hours that we have to be on the phone for the state. If your office feels that it's going to fall short of the amount you're supposed to fit in, call your AOD and tell her, and she will report that to the state director, and he'll divvy those hours up among the other offices.'

That's fucked up. So here's how I dealt with the recruitment goals: I'd call my organizers into the office and tell them whatever I'd just been told. Then I'd say, "I want you to email me all of your actual numbers. I want to know exactly how many PLs you actually have. you don't need to worry from me whether you're going to get fired. i know for a fact you're working your goddamn asses off, your job security is 100% with me. email me the actuals, and i'm warning you that i'm probably going to report something a little bit different. But i want to know where we're at so that we can implement something that works around what you have."

If i fluffed the number of volunteers we had, it didn't matter -- as long as our volunteers were working well enough to get the votes. The upper people who were too invested in the model got so lost in staying in line with the recruitment numbers, they were hamsters in a cage, missing the forest for the trees, all that.

by ricardo 2006-07-19 05:04PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War

Hilarious and brilliant.  I did a little of that too.  And it payed off.  More time spent with best PLs = better numbers overall.  

I ended up calling some friends from college, across the state from me, who had done some organizing and political activism in the past.  I had them go work with my precinct leaders in the places I couldn't to personally.  It was totally under the table, and I had them do training and other support things that made it more like organizing and less like a factory thing.

by Peter from WI 2006-07-19 07:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

MoveOn has contracted with GCI to do something different and innovative.  They have, in targeted districts, field organizers working on similar things to 2004, but with a lot more going on.  It's a good move on GCI's and MoveOn's part.

The DNC sure has done a lot - in-house too.  And they'll only grow that.  They're really connecting their grassroots, at least in one direction.  And GCI has a contract with the DCCC at least I know.  They might with the DSCC too.  

by Peter from WI 2006-07-19 01:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

I worked for the Fund as a canvasser and a director.    I also worked on GCI's 2004 MoveOn campaign. I think the model's broken.

by may1978 2006-07-19 05:04PM | 0 recs
what would be the ideal?

As mentioned previously, I think a lot of this is better then Greg's stuff about the DNC campaign.  :)

I think that the "constructive criticism" thing is also important, so, what would be the ideal outcome?

For me, it would be a group doing exactly what GCI's mission is, with a progressive model.  That is, a progressive consulting firm with good labor practices, recycling, etc that works to support candidates and campaigns on a partisan basis.

How do we get there?  I have no clue. If I did, I probably would have stayed with GCI and tried the whole "change from within" thing.  

I think some changes are obvious:

  • more focus on forward planning
  • stronger client base to allow more job security (which is a long term thing that I'm pretty sure they are aiming for...)
  • a living wage for canvassers and directors
  • less top down, less "secretive," sharing more information.  No "internal numbers," tell people what they actually need to do  
  • more focus on infrastructure and retention

Has GCI started on some of that?  Yes, of course, especially the infrastructure and client base stuff.  Some of the other things (a living wage, for example) would break the model they use.  Would a canvass/organizing model that does all that turn a profit?  I have no clue.

by dansomone 2006-07-19 05:50PM | 0 recs
Re: what would be the ideal?

I think that PIRG misses the forest for the trees when it comes to being part of a larger political movement (some part of it has to do with self-importance and arrogance, some with just poor strategizing).  But their internal long-term campaign planning is fairly strong.  

I'm not sure how GCI or the Fund can develop stronger client bases, or maybe I don't get what you mean.  

Living wages for canvassers and directors is definitely a thing.  Also, having more director staffs in offices of all sizes would help with a lot of working condition things.

Totally agree on the less secretive point.  You never know what your staff director isn't telling you, but you know that there's key things you don't know.

The last point is the overall thing.  More infrastructure built in a sustainable way and retention on all levels, not just of Kool-Aid drinkers.

PIRG spends so much of its budgets on recruitment and training.  If that were shifted towards better pay and more staff, I think a major turnaround could happen.

by Peter from WI 2006-07-19 07:13PM | 0 recs
Re: what would be the ideal?

"I think that PIRG misses the forest for the trees when it comes to being part of a larger political movement (some part of it has to do with self-importance and arrogance, some with just poor strategizing).  But their internal long-term campaign planning is fairly strong."

I worked for GCI, not the PIRGs, so I really can't speak to their campaign planning.  But GCI had NO post election plan.  They scrambled to set up a client (EA PAC) so they could keep canvassing in places after the DNC canvass ended.  That led to losing a lot of good people who might have stayed around if there was some job security.

Beyond that, they were always playing "catch up" internally.  The finance team was always dealing with 3 crisises ago, since staff were never hired until the "volume" was there to make sure there was at least 12 hour days for everyone.  Do they think "gee, if we hire someone a few weeks in advance, we can get them used to our systems before they are snowed under with work?"  Nope, of course not.  And they are unwilling to offer the salaries that would attract experienced financial professionals long term, so they get people like me who were totally new at the stuff we were asked to do.  (I use finance as an example, since that's where I worked for a good while).

On the client base side of things, if GCI had done some marketing pre-election and actually gotten a client other then EA PAC lined up, well, refer to the paragraph above.  :)

by dansomone 2006-07-19 09:06PM | 0 recs
Re: what would be the ideal?

Canvassing operations are ALWAYS low margin.  When one of my offices routinely cleared an 18% net for weeks at a time and did 16% for the season, we were ecstatic.  

I think that's one of the reasons there needs to be a different focus on what canvass operations are supposed to do.  I think the Fund/GCI canvass model of doing 5-hour canvass shifts is part of it.  Seriously, no one canvasses for 5 hours, and eliminating the crap time (4-5 PM) up front will help with a lot of issues, and could reduce the length of the work day for all involved.  

Especially for GCI, which with its all outside client base (as opposed to the Fund, where net goes towards building long-term PIRG stuff), where a 10% net or 5% would be fine I think (and I think actually in even years they'll net much higher than that simply because of what they're canvassing for), a decreased emphasis on fundraising canvassing and more door-to-door organizing operations would be a big boost to some of what they have as long-term goals.  

And for god's sake, as far as election law allows, more coordination with local parties, the actual DNC folks on the ground, and the state parties.  

by Peter from WI 2006-07-20 07:46PM | 0 recs
Re: what would be the ideal?

"And for god's sake, as far as election law allows, more coordination with local parties, the actual DNC folks on the ground, and the state parties."

Yes! See my comment above.

by adamterando 2006-07-20 07:55PM | 0 recs
Re: what would be the ideal?

And for god's sake, as far as election law allows, more coordination with local parties, the actual DNC folks on the ground, and the state parties.  

even were all the other more concerning problems highlighted in this series corrected, i must admit to great pessimism on this point. based on my incredibly frustrating experience trying to coordinate a local 50 States Neighborhood Canvass, the 'actual' DNC folks on the ground, state parties and local parties don't particularly think much of either other's work or care to coordinate with each other.

hopefully my experience was an outlier but it was ridiculous enough that i will not attempt another community-cooperative DNC effort... adding in a fourth group? [shudders]

by jax 2006-07-21 06:40AM | 0 recs
Re: what would be the ideal?

I think your comment gets to the crux as to why we don't win election. The party is NOT organized. No coordination, everyman for himself. This is probably a multi-year project, but if we could get some actual coordination between national, state, and local parties, we could have a governing DOMINANT majority for a generation. I truly believe that. It's a matter of getting everyone to buy into their party and to for people at all levels to realize that it is in their own best interests to work together for the Democratic Party, not just for the county party, or the city, or for the state, but for the party as a whole.

by adamterando 2006-07-21 08:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

I worked for the PIRGs for over seven years as a Canvass Director and Campus Organizer. I worked for GCI for over a year as an organizer. I think the model is broken.

by Lockse 2006-07-19 05:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

I'd be especially interested to hear your thoughts on what PIRG can do differently.  I had an interesting conversation with another former PIRGer (more like 7 months than 7 years) this past weekend.  The beer we were drinking definitely facilitated some bitching, but he had some interesting thoughts on the social entrepreneurialsim with consolidation of the whole PIRG thing and others.  

A lot of my friends are still with PIRG or people I met through it all.  A few are heavy Kool-Aid drinkers, some have tried to get out but failed, and some are out and doing other things, and loving it (PIRG is a great place to be from when you want to do other organizing).  

by Peter from WI 2006-07-19 07:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Also, where did you campus organize and when did you leave?  We probably know some people in common.

by Peter from WI 2006-07-19 07:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

I worked for the Fund as a canvasser for 8 months. My girlfriend worked for GCI as an organizer in 2004. I definitely think the model is broken.

by Trish Parker 2006-07-19 06:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

From what I understand, they're doing community organizing.  The field organizers are working with MoveOn members within their districts, sort of building neighborhood teams like they did in 2004, but with less of a feverishness that allows for true leadership development and blossoming of actual volunteer activists.  They're doing it in targeted Congressional districts right now with an eye on expanding, and keeping it going full-time, not just in election years.

by Peter from WI 2006-07-19 07:04PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

I worked for Grassroots Campaigns Inc for a year as a Canvass Director on the East Coast. I think the model is broken.

by campaign06 2006-07-19 07:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

I worked for GCI as a Recruiter and Canvass Director for the DNC and as a Lead Oganizer for the MoveOn project and then as a Canvass Director for Environmental (Take No) Action.  The model is completely broken.  But fixable.  Which is the sad part because no one on the inside is actually willing to fix it.

by private kicker 2006-07-19 07:43PM | 0 recs
They need to focus on real results and people

I canvassed for Clinton in 96 when I was 14.  I was one of the lead organizers of Students for Gore on my campus in 2000, where we did 12+ hours a day as volunteers toward the end of the campaign.  It might sound trite, but I've literally never quit anything in my life.  I knew what the stakes where, and was willing to put my all into it in '04.  But I ended up leaving GCI before the election.  It really came down to two related things.  

First, it became clear through action and finally through words that the campaign was not about getting votes as much as it was about proving the validity of the model as a product.  One might think this would mean making it work to prove it's worth, but instead lead to the chaos Greg described, and often to falsified numbers.  An essential campaign might be a great time to test and adapt a model under fire, but it's nothing short of reckless when the interest is in selling the model as packaged as opposed to making it work and selling the result.  Not only was it something I didn't want to be a part of, but we were alienating volunteers in these key swing states we were working in, people who had often stayed at arm's length from politics but thought the goal was so important that they just had to abandon their reservations.  Idealists who we were, in effect, using.

Second, under no circumstances should any organization treat it's employees the way we were.  Some might say this is a stray bad LO, but I heard and saw this happening again and again, in office after office.  Money is always tight on a campaign, but people have to live.  I went into debt during the campaign, and not because of my living expenses.  Not only where things like gas not refunded to us, we were required, routinely, to pay for supplies and services out of pocket without the possibility of reimbursement.  And many of us did it (despite our better judgement, and an ugly feeling of being taken advantage of in our gut) because the goal was important.  When a five hundred fliers where needed and the budget only allowed for twenty, where do you think the extra cash came from?  

At the same time, we dealt with our work ethic being constantly and openly questioned.  We worked our asses off, and we didn't need to be told we were doing a good job or patted on the back (though it never hurts in good management.)  But when we had to hear that we "must not really care about the campaign,"  that we "were out of there if we didn't meet x number of calls by y date,"  and that we were "completely replaceable,"  that is just totally unacceptable.  And when I had to say as much to my LO, and she burst into tears because she'd been hearing the same all down the line, it became clear I needed to move on.  This wasn't just slipping through the cracks, this was part of the system.  And it really left a lot of bright, talented people with a bad taste in their mouth about campaigns and activism in general.

by geophurry 2006-07-19 08:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

My name is ck swett. In September and October of 2004 I was a DNC fundraiser in Manhattan. At the end of October, 70 or so of my fellow canvassers and I boarded a bus and headed down to Columbus, Ohio where we joined MoveOn's effort to get out the vote.

As a fundraiser, I was indefatigable. In the two months I prowled the streets of New York, I culled just over $35,000. I was panhandling for a New America. I was also profiting quite nicely--30% of every contribution under $200 and 10% of every dollar over single contributions exceeding $200 ended up in my pocket, $11,000 all told. $1,150 a week for a kid right out of college isn't so bad.

And for such a good cause! I was changing the world! I was finally chipping away at the Bush Administration, that impenetrable fortress that had so easily (flippantly) turned away all my other efforts--the marches, that speech I gave in the pouring rain in front of 400 protestors on the main quad of campus, the banners I painted, the late night conversations I moderated. No longer did I feel like Don Quixote, no longer would I find myself atop the windmill. Every dollar I raised (not counting the 30 cents that was kick backed my way, of course) was, in my (self-serving) imagination, going straight toward this "magic" fund that certainly would conjure a Democratic victory and an end to the "regime."

When I was making $1,150 a week I could believe in magic, and when I could believe in magic, really fucking believe in it, I was able to convince other people to believe in magic as well (they weren't necessarily making $1,150 a week (many I imagine were making much more)) and their belief buffered my bank account and further purified my already pure belief in magic. It all worked very well, this anti-bush zealously mashed up with unadulterated profiteering. (This is not to say that most fundraisers got rich; rather the opposite is true. My story is, if not unique, quite rare. But it is my story.)

And then October drew to a close and we went to Ohio. And as soon as we exchanged our DNC nametags for MoveOn t-shirts everything seemed to collapse (could the center not hold?) That fundraising machine that had so efficiently and elegantly and wonderfully sucked the money out of Manhattan (millions of dollars! We were panhandling! We were changing the world!) encountered this sputtering medieval MoveOn contraption that seemed more fit (please excuse the vulgar imagery) for sucking itself off then rustling up votes.  After wasting a day and a half with the ponderous diddling of the MoveOn folks (this was Columbus, Ohio, aka ground zero) we separated ourselves and went to work with the 72 hours left before November 2, 2004. We damnit if we didn't kick some ass down there, damnit if we didn't rustle up some votes and put a little fear into the hearts of those republican fear mongers.

But 72 hours with 70 or so people is not enough, even with the passion and the efficiency and the will and those buffered bankaccounts.

And we lost. And it was soul crushing, one of the worst nights of my life (I've lived a very fortunate life). And riding home I didn't really know what to think other than it would be nice to honk at all the cars with the Bush/Cheney stickers. That's something right.

But as the hangover slowly ebbed and winter sucked the color out of New York and my unemployment sucked the funds out of my recently fattened bank account I thought back on what I had been through.

It was maybe the two best months of my life (maybe I haven't had all that great of a life?). I, we, really thought we were changing the world. But we didn't and Bush won, and with the crushing of the soul came a hollowing of the body. And that was it. As white American male nothing else really came of it. I still don't have health insurance but I get by. I still read articles about Iraq and feel bad, but not that bad. And I still drink too much on the weekends, still hoping some cute girl will make out with me.

I want a Democrat in the white house in 2008. Hell, I want Lieberman out of the Senate in 2006. And I don't know how it's going to be done. But I'm pretty sure that if some young kid as the luck I did two years hence, gets rich over eight weeks and then goes down to some electoral hot spot under the same conditions that I did, and nothing has changed, the same ill conceived, masturbatory machine is still clanking away, he's going to have his soul crushed just as completely as I did.

But he'll survive, right? And I'll probably survive too, as well as most of you reading this self indulgent post that probably is making Greg wince right now (yeah homeboy, some things don't change). But if we do really, honestly, genuinely, to the root tip care that our country changes course in 2008, not because we think it will immediately make our own lives better but because we believe, truly, that it is right and good for the course of the country to change, then I believe we cannot keep on the same path (use the same "model" right greg?) that we tread in 2004, when, for a brief moment, I really was rich.

by ckswett 2006-07-19 09:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Dude.  Thats the best comment i've read on a blog ever.  You should write poems or something.  

by rallydemocrat 2006-07-19 10:20PM | 0 recs
Best dialogue yet

I've been watching Greg's posts, and agreeing with most of what he has had to say.  I think this is by far the best response that I've seen yet - constructive, useful and forward looking.  Greg - you better dedicate a whole entry to solutions.  Per some of the responses here, I firmly believe it can be productive.

I've been a bit of a lurker here, but look forward to the "solution post"

by rallydemocrat 2006-07-19 10:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

Look, Peter, I appreciate that you apologized, although I don't think it was me you should have apologized to. The point here is, by now, obviously something you agree with -- the model could be better. You know it won't get better with the current leadership, unless they're pressured. And I knew they wouldn't be coming on here to engage in this discussion -- but I called them out on it anyway, because this is just really embarrassing. The first thing PIRG and GCI can do differently is listen to the people they're supposedly leading. So if you agree, and you think that your efforts went in spite of the bigger structure around you, and you'd like to do right by the cause that you devoted yourself, how about you join in with the other people here: 'My name is Peter, I was a director in the Fund and for GCI in the 2004 MoveOn GOTV campaign, and I think the model is broken...'

by Lockse 2006-07-20 04:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

My thoughts are currently registered with the national leadership of the Fund.  That my voice has been heard to some degree on this is something in which I am confident.  

by Peter from WI 2006-07-20 07:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

They heard my voice and they dismissed it -- you really think they care about yours?

by Lockse 2006-07-21 06:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

If you're saying I should declare that "I think the model is broken," or something to that effect, I think my observations here should suffice to say that I think the model, while not necessarily broken (i.e. broken = unfixable in its current form), needs serious work on it.

I don't think that it is endemic to this model that staff leadership refuses to listen to their staffs (whether RD to local organizer/CD or national to RD or whatever).  I think that so many have just been trained as Kool-Aid drinkers (and the personalities of the middle and upper management likes Kool-Aid drinkers, I don't think one's status as a drinker of Kool-Aid predicting one's future with the organization is neccessarily built into the model) that they have no capacity to listen to people and register their ideas as good, bad, or indifferent.  They are either ideas within the model or ideas outside of it.

Agreed though, they're not going to engage in any kind of productive debate here (although I have seen one LCD-now-more-like-an-RD that I really respect as a person and organizer engage in the debate before on a website somewhere - acknowledging that there are difficulties and perhaps problems).  But I wonder what you think the concrete avenues to register concern are and what are the most effective ways to go about making something happen.

by Peter from WI 2006-07-21 06:28AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

Broken = fixable. If someone is willing to fix it.

And when we say 'the model,' we don't necessarily mean the raps and the schedules and all that -- we implicate the client and the workers as well. The client pays the bills and gets the names on the list -- the client is part of the model. The client can help fix the model. MoveOn can help fix the model. The DNC can help fix the model. Telefund's clients can help fix the model. The workers make the model run. The workers are supposedly the future leaders of our movement -- in theory, they are 'members' of this movement. In practice, they are not. The workers can help fix the model.

by greg bloom 2006-07-21 06:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Well 2004 was about one single goal: beating George W. Bush, and doing it in one way, a massive GOTV effort.

The current thing seems more like a long-term building project, using the midterms of 2006 as a jumping off point where this is energy and people that are their targets are focused.  This will build a MoveOn infrastructure more concrete and person-to-person than just their uni-directional email list.  

by Peter from WI 2006-07-20 06:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

My question is why does MoveOn need to be doing this? Why can't we have a tightly run canvassing and voter outreach operation within the Democratic Party that is run nationally but executed locally through the county parties? It seems like we're talking about a dual party infrastructure here, almost a shadow party (MoveOn being the shadow) and it seems a little self-defeating. I know MoveOn may be more nimble since it's an outside group, can take millions of dollars in soft-money (for now), and might be able to direct things more easily since it doesn't have to go through the national/state/county/local party infrastructure.  But STILL.....I would rather we be directing this discussion into how to be organizing local Democratic precincts (which are in every county in the country, not just in the urban areas, and yes, Athens Ohio is an urban area). This model was probably necessary in 2004 with a sleepy moribund national party and no time to ramp up the local infrastructure, but I think it's time has now passed.

I feel that MoveOn is built out to its max. It's never going to target voters in Blue Ridge township, Piatt County, Illinois. Only the Democratic Party will have the resources and the name recognition to do that. And only the Democratic Party SHOULD do that.

I have a lot of faith in most aspects of the Fund/PIRG model. When you boil it down, it's all about running a tight ship and not wasting money. I'd like to transfer that mentality to the Democratic Party, not to MoveOn.

by adamterando 2006-07-20 02:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Lucas, I wrote a little bit about the 2006 operation (at least with regards to its short term GOTV plan) at the bottom of this post.

There's also the MoveOn Minute Taker blog, which is about the "concrete" "person-to-person" activities of Operation Democracy, although the blog seems to have slowed a bit recently.

by greg bloom 2006-07-20 06:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Let the record show that it is not just the MINUTE TAKER's blog, but also Operation Democracy that seems to have slowed a bit recently.

Where's the MINUTE TAKER's MoveOn peeps at?

by MINUTE TAKER 2006-07-20 07:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

I served as a canvass director for GCI in three seperate offices during the 2004 campaign.  I was also in Columbus for the disastrous move-on project described by CK above.

I think my experience most resembles CK's. While running the canvass, and succeeding, I had that rare high of thinking that the work I was doing was really making a difference. Even while succeeding however, I always felt that the business model itself was broken- in the sense that it relied on pushing a group of extemely talented, extremely motivated individuals to extreme ends.  While any individual may be able to sustain this for a few weeks or months, burn out is the only way for it to end.

Having followed these postings, and with the benefit of hindsight, I'd have to agree that the model itself (not just the business model) is broken, and that a more honest approach is required.

by magicrat 2006-07-20 06:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

I have to object to this characterization of Columbus.  Definitely not disasterous.  The GCI people that got bused in a few days before the election were the cause of some of the issues the writer seems to allude to.

(I know there are all sorts of issues about this - and I can attest as a neutral observer, for a fact, that they didn't have any sort of coordination until the Fund's guy Tom Fendley seperated off from the rest of the operation in that office and worked the hyper GCI nominal lead person into something that would work for him and his crew.  They were good once they got assigned as a seperate thing - but they were not assimilated partially because of the model's broken-ness overall, but partially because of the de-facto leader and some of his character.  I got along fine with him, but I know that he wore thin with some of the other folks around in Columbus.)

The Columbus operation went pretty smoothly, having more than just 'model' parts to it.  We had the normal GCI staff and Fund/PIRG imports doing what was the model.  We had other Fund/PIRG imports doing some guerilla canvassing in weak districts, shoring them up in generally one day of canvassing.  We had volunteers around the office coordinating some of the admin functions we needed.  And our LOs and Regional LO worked well together as a team - no infighting, no insurrections.  And I would say that 99% of the time, the staff got along well with one another on all levels and genuinely enjoyed their work and working with the LOs.  

We busted our real goals by about 25%, based solely on reporting, and the estimates were that we busted our real goals by about 33% for real.  I organized Athens county from Columbus, and we had the highest Dem turnout in history for that election (thanks in huge part to my friend from Miami University driving across the state to be my local organizer to work with the PLs on the ground there in the last week before the election.).

I guess my larger point here is that GOTV is drastically different from fundraising canvasses.  Fundraising canvasses are more straightforward in planning and executing, but harder to build the skills and teams to do it very well.  GOTV is harder to plan and execute, but not really that difficult to train people to do well enough to work (building a team here is a whole other story).  

It's important to stop comparing the fundraising canvass and the GOTV work on an apples-to-apples basis.  The people from GCI knew a good working model for fundraising, list-building canvassing.  It works.  Is it broken?  I'm not sure it's broken, but it needs medical attention for sure.

They really didn't know a GOTV operation all that well.  Certainly not in the same league as their experience with fundraising canvassing.  Their GOTV model was a cobbling together.  And as a young organization, that had to be expected.  That doesn't excuse any of it, but that's the way it is.

The similarities in problems between the two operations, fundraising canvass and GOTV effort, are endemic to the GCI/Fund model, and they are magnified in their contexts.  But again, they are different beasts.  I think for the sake of constructiveness in proposing solution, we identify clearly and specifically what problems there existed in either operation and seperate out the ones that are seperate, and find the commonalities between the ones that existed in both.  It does our potential solutions no good to miss this distinction between the two operations.

by Peter from WI 2006-07-21 06:02AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

This is a sincere question not a critique: In your opinion, how is a GOTV operation different from a fundraising canvass. I'm familiar with the Fund's fundraising operation so I know how that works. So how is GOTV different? Maybe you could write a diary on that subject if it's a big question.

by adamterando 2006-07-21 08:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

I see a few relevant contrasts right off:

The fundraising canvass is about sales techniques, which require a good amount of training for most people; on the other hand, GOTV is volunteer-based (at least in this model) and volunteers are less reliable. They need to be closely led.

Managerially speaking, in the fundraising canvass, it's about running an office well -- making sure everything happens on time and is in order, and so on. In the GOTV canvass, it's about building a reliable, positive presence in regular people's lives -- guiding precinct leaders well enough so that they'll guide others. So, the demands of the GOTV canvass are in one sense less than the fundraise, but the management needs to be even more person-to-person. Also, in another sense, more processing needs to be done on GOTV -- more maps to be drawn, more data to be entered.

In 2004, GCI failed to recognize that the strength of our operation could not be entirely based within the office -- it refused to let the work really be done with people outside of the office. So its control grip was too rigid and people slipped right through.

by greg bloom 2006-07-21 08:58AM | 0 recs
Fundamental reason why the model is broken...

Greg, there is an absolutely key difference that gets to the heart of things, and your Diary as a whole.  

The fundraising canvass is about accountability from the canvassers.  At the end of the day, you have that talk with your LO  - "Did you hit your quota today?"  The entire thing is based on the LOs performing that conversation effectively.  Because they send you the message, ever so subtly, that we'll can your ass tomorrow if you don't have a better answer.  And those conversations go all the way up the chain - from the canvassers on the ground answering to their LOs all the way to the state directors answering to whoever runs the whole thing.

Volunteer staffed GOTV doesn't work like that. It can't.  You can't threaten.  You can't guilt volunteers.  You have to motivate them.  You have to empower them. But the GCI 04 model was based on fundraising model, the pyramid scheme of pressure.  When it comes all the way down the chain, finally gets to the organizers, the message you get (and the role play you do OVER AND OVER) is "use pressure! Use guilt! Threaten to replace".  

And that's where the model actually is broken, in my mind.  Because when volunteers get the kind of vibe that the model asks an organizer to give them, they don't respond like a paid canvasser would. In fact, they feel that much less motivation to go do it again tomorrow.  This was the biggest problem LNVB had - and I think its why we had sooooooo much attrition.  We were not just losing volunteers, we were asking them to leave by our tone and our technique.

by rallydemocrat 2006-07-21 10:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Fundamental reason why the model is broken...

I know some managers in the fundraise canvass that certainly motivated and led without relying on guilt. And on LNVB, despite my best intentions, even I found myself guilting volunteers occasionally. Management styles will vary, and there will be a certain amount of bad managers in any institution -- just like there were some good managers on LNVB. The question that you bring up is whether the institutional attitude is imbalanced to encourage this bad management, whether that imbalance is generated at the top, and what it would mean to re-balance.

by greg bloom 2006-07-21 11:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

I've been following this series with great interest, as I was a NVLB precinct captain.

Did I miss how GCI calculates its expected number of contacts in a canvass? Because the girl I worked for was happy with my numbers (my family and I worked the borough we lived in) but was always disappointed by the overall numbers, which were from the rural area we live in. It wasn't until she got lost driving country roads in the dark from another  precinct captain's house to mine that she understood canvassing in rural areas. I never transferred the pressure she put on me to the canvassers because I knew full well the difference between walking door-to-door and driving house-to-house.

The worst failure of NVLB in my area, IMO, was that we had to stand outside the polls and rely on our voters to check in with us. I had a lot of Bush voters recognize me and check in, causing me to miss people who WERE on my list. It had been my understanding that paperwork had been filed to allow us to sit in the polling station, but that was not the case.

by Mary Mary 2006-07-20 08:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Depending on the state, the polling station thing may not have been MoveOn/GCI's fault. In Pennsylvania, for instance, only representatives of parties and candidates can get poll-watching certificates.

by bschak 2006-07-27 09:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

My name is Alex Roberts. I worked with Greg Bloom for 2 months in Miami, Florida organizing voters for John Kerry's election.

Much of the time, my associates and I, Greg included, had more vision and a better idea of how to "get out the vote" than did GCI. All of our precinct captains can attest to that, I am sure of it.

To sum up my GCI experience as a field organizer, i would say it was perfectly in sync with Murphy's Law: everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and much of it was the fault of the rigidity and shortsightedness of GCI as an organzation. Their model is broken.

(On top of running an inept campaign in Miami, GCI also tried to fire me 3 days before the campaign. After 8 weeks of working 90 hours a week, they were gonna can me 3 days before the campaign, in all likelihood so they didn't have to pay me my  $500 bonus for putting in 4 months of work with them (2 were in NYC). A standup organization! My superior saved my ass...he is the man, but GCI is hopeless).

I feel pity for for hiring GCI a second time.

by airegin 2006-07-20 12:51PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

While I will be among the first to say that GCI has its problems, I'm certainly not ready to write it off, or say that MoveOn should have no contact with them.

In the past two years, GCI has built a stronger and more experienced upper and middle-management staff (with some exceptions I think).  They have developed as an organization and been able to really get some better planning work done on how to do things besides fundraising canvassing.  That said, their fundraising canvassing, when not being done for the DNC when working to defeat George W. Bush, tanked.  In many cities, they closed offices and in some places did not re-open ones that had been going before.  

That totally sucks that some a-hole was a dick to you and tried to screw you out of some hard-earned, deserved money, and I don't begrudge you your anger and frustration.  But don't let that condemn an organization that does in fact have its heart and mind in the right place (at least I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on that).  

As to the other point you made: what did/does your vision of the GOTV thing look like?  I ask in all seriousness, because I still haven't seen a vision of GOTV that is perfect (ever).  I've seen some good ones, and actually, more properly executed and with a few technical details better nailed, I think the LNVB model could have been absolutely among the finer institutional ones.

by Peter from WI 2006-07-21 06:16AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Our vision of GOTV was not in the end so very different -- we're talking about the execution from above. When these people say the model is broken, they mean that it has been implemented incorrectly, with disregard for the participants and detriment to the cause, and that it continues to be implemented even when it has failed. If the people in charge were accountable for their management, then it might not be broken -- but instead the model keeps going, keeps getting re-hired, without getting fixed.

You have not addressed my central point -- not of "problems," but problem: in 2004, GCI broke the model in order to hit their recruitment goals. That is a simple thing to acknowledge -- you've already said as much a few times in so many words -- and it is a first step toward accountability.

by greg bloom 2006-07-21 06:38AM | 0 recs
Leave No GOP Slogan Behind

I'm afraid the nuts and bolts of getting people who don't care to vote out to do so is over my head. But any campaign that started with borrowing Rove's "No Child Left Behind" slogan and reworking it in a too-cutesy way to become "No Voter Left Behind" had to be bound for failure.

When Democrats and liberals childishly imitate Republicans and conservatives, it just make them look too silly to be taken seriously.

by Sitkah 2006-07-20 01:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Leave No GOP Slogan Behind

The naming of the LNVB campaign was one of its strengths actually.  It wasn't cutesy, it was clever.  And the MoveOn audience/membership appreciates that tongue-in-cheek humor that gave some levity to the gravity of the operation.

I think you might just be taking politics into a realm of formalism that will continue to threaten the public perception of liberals (hand-wringing, too serious, know-it-alls, paternalists).

by Peter from WI 2006-07-21 06:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Leave No GOP Slogan Behind

Borrowing a slogan from Karl Rove is bad politics. It plays right into the steriotype that Democrats have no ideas.

by Sitkah 2006-08-01 10:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (


There seem to be people still in contact with Grassroots Inc.; I'm curious, aside from maturing, has the organization changed its approach? In '04 at least, there was a fixation with "making numbers" and calling rather than doing rounds with GOTV volunteers. For apathetic or mostly Republican areas, I think the model is clearly flawed.

Meaningful metrics are great, but GCI had a clumsy approach, not taking into account the quality of the call lists or the nature of calling purple or red areas. My friend called the company's fixation the equivalent of a drunk looking for his lost keys under the streetlight, as opposed to where he lost them, because the light is better. I was calling northern WI, and there just weren't that many motivated progressives to get to our meetings. I had a pretty poor yield, partly because I was an average telemarketer, but also because it was very red terrain. (And for all our disagreements, we all believe that former Greenbay paper mill workers routinely worked 3 inferior jobs for their families healthcare are exactly the kind of people who shouldn't be voting Republican.)

The volunteers we did get should have been painstakingly nurtured. Instead quite a few left disillusioned with the computer program, because they felt pressured to hit their numbers, or because they felt poorly trained by the 30 minute crash course they got. The computer program is an easy fix, but what about the others?

A hired GCI gun came into my friend's Northern WI district fresh from a CA canvass, and she couldn't have been more dedicated to either the cause or GCI. Unfortunately she gave a speech the night before the election that caused 1 ward leader to quit and several others threaten to do so. That's amazing that on the eve of the election, MoveOn had so alienated its strongest members, people who had logged considerable hours for LNVB and were at a coffee shop at 10:30 pm on their Monday night.

I'd love to hear from people still within if the metrics are better and if cultivating community leaders is more of a priority.


by procon 2006-07-21 08:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

and if nobody can defend the model, even through pseudonym, well that says something too.

by procon 2006-07-21 08:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

No one from GCI has come forth to defend their model because it produces results.

They are busy doing actual work to change the direction of our country. Blogs are a good thing, but we are not going to be able to just blog are way to victory.

They identified nearly 3/4 of a million new contributors to a party that lacked any real kind of small donor base. If your read that last sentence and do not think that is a big deal then you have no clue about political fundraising.

They also ran the most successful and popular campaign that MoveOn, the number one progressive group in the country, has ever done.

Why would the two most important groups on the left keeping hiring these guys, if that are not producing good work? They now do work for the DCCC too, which is probably the 3rd or 4th most important group on the left. Looking at their track record when is the DSCC going to sign on?

Thinking that contributing money to a campaign /political organizations is not a political action blows my mind (hoboninja). The act of giving money shows the highest level of support and political action (besides voting). People who contribute money to a campaign are more likely to volunteer, actually follow through with a volunteer commitment, to give again, and pay more attention to what that group is doing/the issues that group focuses on. For issue based groups people who give money build the membership size of groups. Political clout is based on membership/money a group has. If, you are Senator X wouldn't you listen to the group that has 25,000 due paying members in your state that will be talking to your voters on a nightly basis about what you are or are not doing?

Bottom-line is that these guys seem to produce real results that groups must be happy with if they keep hiring them.

by directactionworks 2006-07-23 09:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

No one from GCI has come forth to defend their model because it produces results.

You just can't beat that logic.

by hoboninja 2006-07-23 10:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

I don't have an opinion on the GCI's fundraising methods (except that they're costly), and this site's critics of LNVB are either ambivalent or supportive of the fundraising. The many thoughtful, critical comments on this blog are directed at the MoveOn campaign.

You say it was a successful GOTV, can you explain more? What was the attrition of the LNVB precinct captains? Are they now more active MoveOn members? Answering those questions would be helpful.

by procon 2006-07-23 10:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

You cannot tell me why giving money is not a political action, so then you come after me about something else.

If, GCI is purely results based, which to my knowledge it is than yes they do not have to respond at all. They are busy doing productive work. I highly doubt that of all the people at GCI that work 80 hours a week all knowing that there work is pointless or even counter productive that not one of them could respond to why the model works. I think that is probably because they are busy doing productive work and that there are many people they that could defend their action if they wanted to. They may just think that they have better things to do.

Here is their defense during 2004 GCI identified 3/4 of a million new contributors for the DNC in a few short months, ran the best and most popular campaign in the the history of MoveOn, and now we a currently working with DCN, DCCC, and MoveOn doing work for the 2006 elections.

The NUMBERS or the RESULTS of their campaigns speak volumes on their own. They are proof that the models they use are highly productive.

by directactionworks 2006-07-23 01:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004


by little brudda 2006-07-23 02:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

"I highly doubt that of all the people at GCI that work 80 hours a week all knowing that there work is pointless or even counter productive that not one of them could respond to why the model works. "

The people in the trenches do hard work, no one here is saying they don't.  In fact, most of us DID THAT WORK for quite a while.  Lockse did it for the longest of anyone posting here, but I did it for almost 2 years.  

No one here is saying that the fundraising canvass didn't gross a crapload of cash.  No one here doubts that GCI did an amazing thing in getting together a massive GOTV operation in virtually no time.

The two issues are the costs and the philosophy.  Practically, did getting those 750k names burn out the donor base, or the base of potential activists?  Did that GOTV effort create enemies among the young workers who should be the progressive movement's greatest allies?  The PIRGs have been organizing based on this model for 30 years.  Look at what's happened to the progressive movement over the past 30 years, and tell me they are "results based."

Philosophically, can you really create a progressive movement with conservative planning and top down philosophy?  I have no idea, but it is a problem that no one "higher up" seems willing to address.

by dansomone 2006-07-24 05:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

The cost of running a fundraising canvass are costly because prospecting, the act of identifying new contributors, is costly.   Blaming GCI for the high cost of prospecting just does not seem right. That is like blaming the police department for the fact there is crime. You have to spend money to raise money that is not GCI fault it is just a reality.

In fact fundraising canvasses that are done well either operate at cost or can even net money as discussed before. Other ways of prospecting such as direct mail can result in huge initial losses (hundreds of thousands of dollars). Either way the money will be made up through further appeals from members. The losses in terms of money that come from canvasses are made up more quickly. The cost is worth it, that is why all of these groups are hiring groups to do canvasses for them now.

I do not have the numbers for the LNVB, but I take the word of one of the people who posted the fact in one part of this series that MoveOn members rated it at their best campaign that MoveOn has run.

Again, if GCI did such a bad job then why would MoveOn hire them again? There has been a lot said about GCI in these posts, but no one has explained why these groups keep hiring them. My conclusion is that in the end they produce results and they are excellent at what they do.

It just does not seem to me that these people are the enemy. They look to me to be part of the solution.

by directactionworks 2006-07-23 03:15PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004


When I asked for dialogue upthread, I was hoping (against hope) for something better than this. Something like, oh, maybe: 'there are some good points here, and here's what we at GCI are doing to make things better.'

Instead, we get nyah nyah nyah fingers-in-the-ears.

My first instinct is to respond to all your points, because I'm still sympathetic to the organization and I understand the perspective you're coming from. It's a sort of perspective of unjust persecution. But you've blindly jumped into this very nuanced conversation without even acknowledging that we've talked through all the positives of these organizations already.  

I've personally weighed through what you're talking about, and I ended up asking the same questions other people are asking. For you to ignore that is insulting, and furthermore, it is not helping your cause. You need to do a little more thought-work in this conversation.

by Lockse 2006-07-23 05:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Say, lockse, they do seem pretty intent on ignoring you. I wonder why that is.

by greg bloom 2006-07-23 06:18PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004


I did read everything written in Greg's blogs. I have friends that have worked for GCI so I am so what familiar with the organization. They have good things to say about them for the most part. Through them and reading the rest of this is where up came up with my thoughts. In my first post I was addressing one question from procon.

So sorry if it came off as insulting, but I guess everyone that only brought one or two points instead of focusing in on a long series of questions was insulting too?

Again it seems like they must be doing a pretty good job if these groups keep hiring them.

Thank you for being part of starting such an organization and you should be proud of your hard work. I think that you helped lay down the framework for a group that has gone through some growing pains, but seems to have worked past most of that and will do a ton of good work for the left.

I just do not think my post was insulting.

by directactionworks 2006-07-23 06:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

now we a currently working with DCN, DCCC, and MoveOn doing work for the 2006 elections.
-- by directactionworks on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 05:06:37 PM EST

I have friends that have worked for GCI so I am so what familiar with the organization.
-- by directactionworks on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 10:45:24 PM EST

by little brudda 2006-07-23 07:15PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

The "we" thing if I get what you are saying is taken out of context. I am writing as if I am GCI in that paragraph. Read the whole post. Great insight though.

by directactionworks 2006-07-24 01:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

George Bush must be doing a pretty good job if this country keeps electing him.


by hoboninja 2006-07-23 07:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

Sorry for my grammatical errors, but I was in a hurry the last time I posted. I wrote it so quickly that I did not see your post. Who is "they"? My guess is that `they" is GCI, well like I stated before I only know people who have worked for them. Please correct me if I am wrong about this.

Trying to compare what I said about GCI with Bush is comparing apples and oranges. Bush was elected by the America people on a couple of different issues (gay marriage, national security, and so on), which has a ton of grey area. Most people reading this think that Bush is really wrong on these issues, but obviously not all voters felt this way. GCI was hired to either get new contributors or votes, which they did by the way.  This is black and white. These are measurable things. I doubt if GCI never really got of the ground and only got 5,000 contributors they would be hired again by anyone. According to both MoveOn and GCI they produced votes too. So they were hired again.

Lockse since you worked for GCI, do you have any insight for why they were hired again. It seems like you are someone that could give a perspective on why the DNC and MoveOn hired GCI again. Your prior defense is more about what happened in 2004 for the most part. I know that you do not work for them anymore, but it seems like you could give some great insight on this. When reading more about this campaign style I found it interesting that the PIRG's clients seem to always back up their product as well (it seems like everyone is saying that the model is basically the same thing).

Sorry, I just find it really interesting that with all the negative stuff said there must be some good reasons that clients keep signing on with them. The number one reason that I can think off is that despite the criticism they seem to be pretty good at what they do.

Could you take some time to do this? It just seems like why clients use GCI is an important part of this discussion and unless I am missing something somewhere on the numerous posts, this part of the discussion has not been covered with much depth.

by directactionworks 2006-07-24 01:15PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

Look, I blanched too when hoboninja made GCI analogous to Bush, but his point about your logic is fair. The country re-elected Bush because of system failures. Not 'issues,' but failures - market failure, media failure, civil failure, failure of human nature.

Here's how I see it: GCI, and the PIRG/Fund model, is incredibly successful at recruitment, at getting people to opt-in. If MoveOn's objective in 2004 was only to recruit a number of its members to come into a room and make a verbal committment, then yes. GCI would have succeeded.

But MoveOn's (and the DNC's) decision to rehire them doesn't necessarily take into account two things: one, the nature of the experience of the participants (ie- whether our recruitment is just bringing people in the door only to have them leave just as fast). Two, the long term effects of the product's 'action.'

GCI getting re-hired does not serve as on-face evidence of the enterprise's success. In fact, I think that's what everyone here meant when they said the model is broken.  And if it iss broken (as in "not working in any sense") then it should be forced to get better or die. Instead, it keeps going without changing even though it might not be helping the cause.

At the same time we're not saying anyone is a 'bad person' like George Bush. We're talking about specific failures here, which MoveOn and the DNC might not even comprehend.  Even the GCI people might not understand the problem, or might be too afraid of what it means to acknowledge it. It took me a long time.

by Lockse 2006-07-25 06:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Direct Action Works

Hey there directactionworks-

I'm going to break some things down for you.

GCI got rehired by the DNC because they did an amazing job at getting new donors for them.  The DNC only saw the ends- not the means.  Quite frankly, I don't think they would care what the means were anyway.

MoveOn rehired them because numbers were reported incorrectly.  One would say they were inflated.  Wait, isn't that why so many people invested in Enron?  When one is threatened to be fired from the only thing he or she believes in unless he or she turns in certain numbers (ie: volunteers) - what do you expect?  Accuracy?  

People had a few reactions:

1.  They quit and moved to another organization.

2.  They got fired.

3.  They started lying about their actual numbers.

When volunteer numbers started to fall (and by the way- this was mostly because the stupid technology didn't work) and the numbers were reported accurately, the higher ups freaked out and threatened firings.  
It's quite hard to be a good organizer if you can't do the things you say you are going to do.  People tend to not want to volunteer for you anymore when you tell them -"Hey, we have this super user-friendly database that all you have to do is hit this button here and your walklist will print."  - And then it breaks a week later- never to be fixed 100% again.  

I find it very insulting that GCI was literally setting people up to fail and then blaming them when they did. The crazy thing is that Move On had no idea this was happening.  They were never actually on the ground to find out.

Let me explain that:

Here's the scenario in 10 easy steps:

1.  You must recruit 250 volunteers.

  1.  Here are the tools you can use to make that happen.
  2.  The tools break (the Web Action Center) 1 week into the campaign.
  3.  Please fix the tools.
  4.  Sorry we're working on it.
  5.  I can't seem to retain any volunteers because the tool I gave them to canvass with is broken.  They are frustrated with me and the campaign and don't want to do it anymore.
  6.  Ask them if it's really because they are lazy and hate America.
  7.  Please can you just fix the tools.  I only have 50 Volunteers.
  8.  I will fire you if you don't do better - even if we never fix the tools.
  9.  Just kidding I have 250 volunteers.

In the backgground MoveOn was trying to fix the WAC but had no idea how much it actually screwed up the campaign.  GCI just kept telling them that our numbers were on their way to hit the original goals.  

I know for a fact that people were making numbers up and turning them in to the higher ups.  The higher ups asked no questions because they were the numbers they wanted to see. Those numbers were then turned over to MoveOn.  They asked no questions because they were the numbers they wanted to see.  YES more people voted in this election, which indicates that our side did something right.  But was it MoveOn/GCI?  Maybe- but there is no way any of their numbers were accurate, which makes measuring their success in 2004 completely impossible- despite what they tell you.

Offices that were actually committed to the cause of getting that psycho out of office did the best they could with the volunteers they had left.  They may not have had the TOTAL number of volunteers that GCI wanted, but they sure as hell developed QUALITY volunteers.  Mostly it was because the organizers scrapped the WAC and stopped calling so much near the end and actually ORGANIZED and TRAINED and DEVELOPED the volunteers they already had.  So they did actual organizing and then sent in fantasy numbers to the higher ups.

So that is why MoveOn rehired GCI.  And just to give you credit directactionworks- YES it is absolutely political action to donate money.  Anyone that tells you otherwise is a complete moron.

by private kicker 2006-07-24 08:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004

Greg.  I find your analysis extremely accurate from my limited experience in the campaign.  God, I hope someone in a decision making capacity is reading AND comprehending your insights.

by chuckwoolery 2006-08-01 10:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (

Jesus what an asshole ;)

by LaLaBlackSheep 2006-08-06 07:55PM | 0 recs


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