MoveOn and GCI: still strip-mining the grassroots
by MartinSTL, Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 06:34:44 AM EDT
There has been a lot of discussion recently on this blog about Grassroots Campaigns Inc, which has contracts with the DNC and MoveOn, among other organizations. Last week, GCI's DCCC canvassers in Madison protested because they were not earning minimum wage--after a quick burst of outrage, the DCCC cancelled its contract with GCI.
But the lack of a living wage is only the beginning of the problems with GCI's operations. As Greg Bloom wrote in his series on MoveOn PAC's Leave No Voter Behind campaign, GCI's model has caused severe damage in the field because of a "crisis of leadership" in its management. I am here to say that the crisis has continued into MoveOn's 2006 operations. Myself and a number of other veterans of Operation Democracy--we call ourselves the MOFOs, the MoveOn Field Organizers--read Greg's posts and came together to talk about what we could do to help change the situation. This post will be the first of our series of testimonials that will expose the ways that GCI has failed its organizers, and failed MoveOn's campaign. At the end of the week, we will post a set of recommendations of actions that MoveOn can take to begin to resolve this crisis. If you find our stories compelling, and you agree this issue must be addressed by MoveOn, please send an email to Eli Pariser (firstname.lastname@example.org) and cc us at ChangeGCI@gmail.com (or contact us there directly and we will update you with further information about how you can send a message to MoveOn).
My name is Martin Casas. In the last five years, I've been a field organizer and campaign manager for more than half a dozen progressive campaigns.
I was hired by GCI in the summer of 2005, though for more than a month after that, I did not receive concrete details about when the job would begin. But it seemed like a great opportunity so I quit my other job and waited to hear from them. And waited. I was about to throw in the towel and look for another job - thinking that if this is how they treat their perspective employees, I could only imagine how they treat their actual staff - when finally, in September, I was flown to Boston for a two week training. The training in Boston dragged on too - into five weeks. My girlfriend would call me daily in tears because of the stress of her new job in a new city where she was alone - but I could not tell her when I was coming home, because no one had any idea when I was going home or what I would be doing when I got there.
I would have left them on the spot, but because they'd been dangling the job in front of me for so long, I'd turned down other jobs and at this point I was too far in debt to just quit. I had to see it through. I asked daily for an advance on my paycheck, and I was told this was possible, but it never happened. At the time, I chalked this up to disorganization on their part, and entrusting important work to inexperienced young office staff.
While in Boston, I was assigned to recruit college-age kids for their program. We would not be paying for their trip for the interview - nor were these interviews a guarantee that they would get the job if they wanted it. So whenever I sensed that they lacked the funding for the trip, I would try to schedule a phone interview. But I was told that we needed "numbers" to fill up these meetings --even if we didn't intend to hire all of these people , we just needed "filler" there to make it look professional, so that the people we wanted to hire didn't think GCI was some sort of scam. At this point I was saying to myself "Jesus, these guys are going to huge lengths to make their clients think they had the resources to fill these contracts." It's in their name: GRASSROOTS CAMPAIGNS, INC. Their job is to build these massive campaigns, and they have contracts to fulfill. A simple business agreement - but it meant that they were more concerned about quantity over quality. I realized they'd done it with me too - just bring in as many recruits in as possible, as quickly as possible, regardless of what there is for them to do.
Finally, after five weeks in Boston learning how to run their canvass fundraising, I got myself assigned onto the MoveOn PAC campaign. They hadn't given us any information about it, but at least I would be going home to St Louis and getting to work there.
But my assigned region was in--ready for this?--Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, half of Wisconsin, the bottom part of Minnesota and a congressional district in Kansas. This was nothing -- one organizer had half of Colorado, and every state between Texas and Canada. We were expected to drive around my district constantly, and we would only be compensated 12c a mile. The12c a mile was also supposed to cover lodging, food, and car expenses. We would be responsible for the other half of our travel expenses.
(Later it was changed: we would get re-reimbursed for the first 300 miles of travel each week. Everything else (round trip) was on us. A trip to Las Crosse, WI from St. Louis (my turf) is 495 miles, one way.)
Once I was in Des Moines for a meeting. The temperature was -6. My tire blew out on the freeway. I sure didn' t have enough money to pay for it, and GCI wouldn't cover it (supposedly the 12c a mile was enough). I had to call my girlfriend and ask to use her credit card. If I didn't have her, I would have had to call my brothers or mother and asked them. Their question would have been, "Why won't your company pay for it?" My answer would have been: "Oh, because it's for the good of the campaign, and democracy."
Driving was not the only way that the organizers got screwed. Many organizers racked up $500 phone bills waiting for GCI to approve their land-lines. The re-imbursement checks were rarely on time and never for the full amount. This had to of been because of two things: A) sloppy accounting on account of the young inexperienced staff, or B) GCI was shifting funds by telling us the money was in the next check and then never paying us the full amount. Same with paychecks. Late, sometimes sent to the wrong locations, never direct deposited. Healthcare was so high a month that the plan GCI set up virtually went unused by its field staff. $270 a month -- how can a person making $25,000 a year before taxes afford that?
After months of this I was more broke then I have ever been. I was on my way into serious debt. What choice did I have? I had to pay for all these things to keep my job.
And for what?
I had some really amazing volunteers. I had one group in Madison Wisconsin that turned out 300+ people to remember the 2000th soldier killed in Iraq. I had a single woman read off the names of the dead in St. Joseph, MO.
But quite often, I was forcing members to work on issues that they didn't care for. In Missouri I had many volunteers wonder why they were calling into San Diego for Francine Busby and not into their own neighborhoods for Claire McCaskill. Same thing in Iowa. I often found myself lying to my volunteers to get them to follow through. Some of my volunteers were working full-time on this - and they were doing it because of my relationship with them! And I was only pushing them to do more so that I could keep my job. Because of this, I turned some really motivated people completely off politics .
Eventually the phones stopped ringing because people didn't care. We had strip-mined the grassroots, and this was only January!
I needed a break to spend time with my girlfriend and recharge - one of my supervisors told me this was ok, since it would be the last chance I get to do this before the campaign kicked into full gear. But when I called my other supervisor, the response I got was: "Why? No one else is taking a break! Do you not believe in the campaign?"
I explained to him that I did, I have been doing campaigns going on for 4 years now, but I just needed a week to recharge.
"Oh? What is a week going to do for you? Do you really think that is going to help?? "Yes," I replied.
"I don't know. I don't think you believe in the campaign anymore."
No I do, I repeated.
"Listen Martin I don't know what has gotten into you, but you better kick it up in high gear again. You have been really slacking lately. You aren't getting the same numbers as you used too."
So at this point I knew it was over. I knew they didn't give a crap about me or how I felt. I was done. I sent an email the next day saying "I thinking about leaving staff and would like to talk to you about this, because I don't feel like my heart is in it anymore. I'll finish up at the end of the month and wrap everything up for you." The day after that I got a call from my direct supervisor "We are going to let you go at the end of the week."
And that was that.
I have since got a better job in progressive politics., and my girlfriend and I are engaged-- something she told me we would never be if I was still working for GCI. (I proposed a month after I quit.) We had to fight really hard to get out of debt and pay off my bills, but finally things have straightened out.
My experience with GCI left me not just angry -- but a little embarrassed. I can't believe I got used like that. I can't believe I let myself use others for that. I fell for it hook line and sinker.
They hire from an endless supply of impressionable idealists who will buy their story, they make them work incredible hours with impossible demands, they pay them dirt and wear them down so they can't look for a new job, so they have no where else to go, so you have to keep working for them.
GCI is not a progressive organization fighting for change; they are a company that is fixated upon growing its own model larger and larger, for less cost from them or their clients, by shifting as much cost as possible onto their staff. They are in business to stay in business, and it is so important to the progressive movement that this cycle is put to an end.
Again, if you find our stories compelling, and you agree this issue must be addressed by MoveOn, please send an email to Eli Pariser (email@example.com) and cc us at ChangeGCI@gmail.com (or just contact us directly there and we will update you with further information about how you can make your voice heard to MoveOn).