YK06 Roundup - grassroots, netroots and labor

This roundup is a few days delayed, as I've only just got back from LA (more on what I was doing there at the bottom of this post). I suppose YearlyKos is old news by now, but better blog late than never. (Actually, is that true?)

For some time now, I've been telling myself that one of these days I'm gonna start properly blogging, like it's exercise--or like not-blogging is a bad habit. Well oddly enough, YearlyKos was not a good weekend to start turning over that leaf. Though the event was inspiring and what-all, these were rather adverse blogging conditions: few desks, uncomfy chairs, rarified electrical outlets, scarce non-gross foodstuffs, a noble-but-beseiged wi-fi network -- plus it's Las Vegas, one massive shiny blooping distraction. Part of me wants to see the next YearlyKos at a quiet, forested dormitory, with padded cubicles to which we could retire to get some work done. (Yes, that's the part of me that made no friends last weekend.)

The other part of me was busy on vacation. Amid the panels and trainings, I dutifully got my copy of Crashing the Gate signed and drank moderately at Drinking Liberally. I talked Howard Dean and punk rock with DMI folks, Drupal and post-punk with CivicSpace folks. Also (gladly) received blogging advice from Stirling Newberry, Joel Silberman, and, in no small way, Matt Stoller. (In reverse order: message, frame, and repetition-repetition-repetition. Got it.)

I was surprised to find that many people I met had, to some extent, been following my Strip-mining the Grassroots series. As that particular series is just one post from complete, I want to share some of the reactions I've heard.

First of all, I spoke with people who are familiar with the DNC's current field strategy, and who've been keeping an eye on the posts. It seems like a very interesting time for the DNC -- their plan is much more dynamic than before (and though the first thought that comes to mind is 'finally,' one can't fault Dean or anyone else there now). I also asked more specifically about the GCI fundraising campaign and its role in the larger strategy. The response was equivocal, but encouraging. As I've acknowledged before, GCI is not a part of the 50 State Strategy; indeed, I even picked up a whiff of aversion to the very idea of fundraising on the political field side. They are planning for the long haul on that end, investing the time and resources into organizers that they need to be effective. On the other hand, 'the financial' is a wholly separate silo that seems to be engaged in something of an exploratory phase. GCI itself is contracted for a short-term operation -- an 'experiment,' even though it's now the second time around. It wasn't clear whether the party is better prepared to absorb potential volunteers generated by the GCI canvassers, and I'd like to hear more about what's going on between the 'silos' on that front. But it sounds like they're trying to find the right balance -- I hope that, if anything, these posts can contribute some constructive insight toward that end.

I also spoke with a MoveOn rep, who told me that they've fundamentally changed their game plan with regards to GCI's GOTV operation. Unfortunately, the direction they've chosen is not what I'd hoped for (more on that in future posts). This new strategy was tested out in the CA-50 race for Busby.

"How'd that go?" I asked.
The answer: "We're looking into it."

I also spoke with some veterans of the PIRGs/Fund/Grassroots Campaigns Inc. While there was some predictably mixed reactions to my posts, there was also a lot of positive feedback. Most vets acknowledge that something went drastically wrong with GCI in 2004, and while they also seem inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt (since it was a start-up, after all), they also acknowledge that these are important issues to address. Reactions to my posts about the model itself have been somewhat more guarded -- several people I spoke with rose up a long way through this model, and now claim they owe it their careers. These people are out there doing great things today -- one of my questions, however, is whether we should expect to see more of them out there than there are.

I also heard, as I have many times over in the last year, the suggestion that I don't have the experience to be writing about this model and these organizations. At YearlyKos of all places, this comment seemed disingenuous. Most of the people I met here had scant political experience dating before the 2000 election. Many told me that September 11th (or Bush's election itself) marked an awakening of sorts. This demonstrates something that we English majors (and you religious sorts, if you're out there) know as the revelatory power of the apocalyptic. For me, and for this model, the 2004 election was just such an apocalypse. It taught me all that I needed to know; everything else I've simply tried to understand better. Likewise, the people who created and contribute to these sites did not wait until they 'paid their dues' in Democratic politics; they knew plenty well that something was drastically wrong, and could see that standing in line wasn't going to get them anywhere. Now, it looks like they're finally getting somewhere.

One last thing. The Labor panel I attended at the convention was one of the most interesting (and telling) moments of the event. The panel repeated to the mostly-empty room: Labor can't win without `us,' and `we' can't win without them. I understand Chris Bowers' point, but I didn't agree entirely with the direction he pointed it. Newman is already saying that the Left (and the blogosphere) considers Labor to be an issue, one among many. But amid all of the other 'issues' to which Chris nodded, `Labor' is virtually unique in that it is an economic framework, a community, and a way of life.

As Joel Rogers acknowledged in the sparsely-attended panel, unions also have themselves to blame for being reduced to a faction. The Labor reps on the panel were optimistic that change is afoot. But whatever the future holds, the nascent progressive movement won't move without them. The truth of this statement could be seen in the very city in which we convened -- thriving, modernized, cheap (if you need it to be), liberal, unionized.  

Newman's comment that the neglect of Labor is a 'class thing' certainly gets to the matter of Bowers' post, as for why there is no self-organizing labor blogosphere. But the problem goes farther. The marginalization of labor is a crisis of both ideology and process, in that amid all of the struggling to win, progressives have lost sight of the ideas and ways of life that they are trying to advance. I think that our progressive movement will need to renew this ideology--and, I have an idea of one place we might start.

Which brings me back to my excuse for writing this post so late. I was in Los Angeles, meeting with some people who've had serious labor issues of their own.        

Tags: DNC, GCI, Labor, MoveOn, Unions, YearlyKos (all tags)

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