LACDP Summit Lunch Liveblog: Coalition Building

Following is the liveblog of the LACDP Summit Lunch Panel on Coalition Building with:

  • Assemblymember De La Torre
  • Peggy Moore of OFA
  • Henry Vandermeir of the CDC
  • Arisha Michelle Hatch of the Courage Campaign
  • Dorothy Reik of PDA
  • Gary Vaughn of SEIU 721

This very interesting panel was moderated by Assemblymember John Perez.  

John Perez:  Great to be here, we’ve got a great panel of people who have been involved in coalition politics.  People use the term “coalition” in many different ways, some not so good, such as Bush’s “coalition of the willing”, some good such as when progressive groups come together.  Coalitions are a coming together of different groups for a shared interest.  They’ve identified that interest in themselves, and someone else.

First and foremost, you have to frame the issue around which people will coalesce.  Second, you need to have trust between the partners.  Third, there has to be a mechanism to mitigate when coalition partners have a dispute.  Last, there have to be ways to measure success, and ways to build on that success to move forward.

One example of a coalition coming together on a specific approach will be presented by Assemblymember Hector De La Torre.

Assemblymember De La Torre: AB1060 is a bill that requires that all alcohol sales at grocery stores be done where there is a human checkout person who will check all the codes.  Currently you can go to an automated stand with only one person monitoring 4 or 6 machines.  One person can’t monitor all of this, and it’s not just about minors.  It’s also illegal to sell alcohol to someone who is already drunk.  If you aren’t next to the person and able to check, you can’t tell.  Also, teenagers have figured out how to bypass the the freeze mechanism to get around the alcohol sales barrier.  No one is saying that the alcohol has to be locked away like cigarettes, just that a human has to be at the checkout.

Labor is with us on the bill, but it couldn’t be UFCW versus the grocery stores.  So we need to build a coalition.  Young people, parents’ groups, PTA, MADD, etc.  And it was hard, because there were other issues including Mike Feuer’s lock device bill.  It took a while but we were able to convince them that this was in their interest and necessary.  And in the end, UFCW never appeared publicly as the supporter of the bill, but rather PTAs and MADD and those other groups.  You have to figure out who the best spokesperson and the best face for the issue is.  It’s nice to be right, but winning is important.  You have to have the right face on it.  And AB1060 is still on the Senate Floor, so please sign in favor of it.

Question: These machines are anti-employee!  We need to boycott any stores that have them.

De la Torre: I get askede a lot about whether it’s a labor bill.  It’s not: it’s about how we conduct business in this state.  We the people get to decide how business is conducted in the state.

Perez: That was a great example of how to build a coalition.  In terms of format, we’re going to take 20-25 minutes to go through the panel.  Each panelist will take about 4-5 minutes to give their presentation, then I will moderate the Q&A.  First presenter is Peggy Moore.  Peggy is Political Director of OFA, has organized various campaigns for social justice in Oakland.

Peggy Moore: OFA serves as the President’s field team.  The election last year was exciting and folks got involved who had never been involved in a campaign before.  It was an historic movement, but getting into office was just the beginning of making the change.  OFA was created so that we can support the President on the ground.  Staff of 9 in California, but we’re in 48 states.  We have a phenomenal group of volunteers, and we were phonebanking our hearts out from one congressperson to another, depending on who we needed to give our love to.  Right now it’s all about supporting the healthcare agenda.  But pretty soon it’ll be energy, and immigration and other issues.  So we’re working with HCAN, labor, done press conferences, actions, phonebank, etc.  And when we move to education, we’ll be expanding our coalition building.

We are a part of the DNC.  OFA is a project of the DNC.  Our structure works where we have community organizers who create neighborhood teams.  We want to have people ready and waiting on the ground in an instant when we need to support the president.  We have 150 to 175 organizers ready on the ground.  We’re training people to be ready for action.  The issue is transferrable, doesn’t matter what it is.  We’re just trained to be on the ground and help people organize.  We’ve also been working with Learn to Win.

Perez: Thank you Peggy. Next up is Henry Vandermeir, serving in second term as Chairman of the CDC, and Political Director of the Orange County Democratic Party.

Henry Vandermeir: Obviously, one of the things from the party’s point of view from the coalition point of view is to get our own party working together.  With over 400 clubs across the state, getting them to cooperate is important.  Or if there is a speaker coming and you don’t have enough people in your club, invite people from other clubs to come.  Work together on it and help activate people and get a candidate elected.

It’s important to reach out to PDA, Wellstone and all the other groups out there.  We’re all working toward the same goals.  Not a single one of all these organizations has the resources to do what needs to be done in California all by themselves.  So we need to make them realize that in order to make things happen in this state, we need to cooperate.  Leave our egos at the door when you walk in, work together, quit worrying about “these are our people, these are our precint leaders”.  That’s what gets us into trouble.

There have been issues getting cooperation between clubs and OFA.  We need to reach out to them and make sure that we’re all working together.  It’s not rocket science, it’s all common sense.  That’s what we need to do at the club level.  We cannot reinvent the wheel, we don’t have the resources individually, we need to work together on all of this.

Perez: Next is Arisha Michelle Hatch, the Southern California field manager of the Courage Campaign.  She’s responsible for organizing volunteers on a county by county basis.

Hatch: We’re like but for California.  We like to call ourselves the greenhouse for the grassroots, in that we have a lot of different members with a lot of different interests.  I work for the Equality Program, which was established after the passage of Prop 8.  We sent out a viral video ad called Don’t Divorce Us, which got a lot of new members.  While many of those are interested in marriage equality, most are interested in healthcare, and secondarily education.  I joined Courage because they were trying to emulate what Obama did during the election.  The Equality Program was founded because every 4 years, California does a great job exporting labor and talent to the battleground states to the detriment of California, so we’re out here to build a permanent progressive infrastructure in California.  In terms of Equality, it’s not just about marriage: it’s about making sure the playing field is level in all areas such as education and healthcare.

Perez: Next is Dorothy Reik, Vice Chair of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, delegate to the CDP from the 41st assembly.  Led a series of forums on single payer healthcare, Gaza, food safety, etc.  She comes to us through the peace movement, and her club has close ties to the Topanga Peace movement.

Reik: PDA was started by Tim Carpenter after the 2004 DNC convention.  The idea was to further our progressive agenda by working inside and outside the party.  That means working with groups that don’t traditionally work with the party.  We have six issues: healthcare for all.  We don’t support hte public option, and stick to that.  We’re upset about the removal of the Kucinich Amendment.  We want out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and want to end all wars.  We want economic and social justice, everyone should be treated equally.  And as far as right to marriage, we want everyone to be able to marry.  Clean and fair elections, which we don’t have in this country: we can’t have voting machines at the front end or the back end either.  Stop global warming, environmental issues we’re on the front lines working against the corporations who want to keep overheating our globe and world until our children don’t have a world to work in.  If you think oil wars are bad, wait until we get water wars.  And accountability, because Obama’s Attorney General won’t prosecute for torture.  We want Obama to address our issues, not Obama’s issues.  We want OFA to work with us, and take directions from us, because we believe Obama has been taking directions from the corporations.

We have conference calls where you can talk to Tim Carpenter.  I get jealous listening to OFA talking about paid staff.  Outside of Tim Carpenter who gets a stipend, almost all of our people are volunteers.

Perez: Final panelist is Jerry Vaughn.  Public Relations Director of SEIU 721, the largest public employee union in CA since 2005.  721 represents more than 80,000 public works from Santa Barbara to Orange County to the border.

Gary Vaughn: With such a large region like that, we have a diverse region that we represent.  Social workers, sanitation workers, RNs, attorneys.  We’ve worked with OFA on various issues and a number of other orgs.  Oftentimes, unfortunately, we are good at making use of other organizations, but we have a difficult time reciprocating.  We don’t have a permanent structure in the community, but rather come in to help win an election.  That’s where we can make improvements to build coalitions.  And we can work better with people on the other side of the ideological divide.

Question from Deana Igelsrud: I’m the e-board rep from the 47th district and co-chair of CA Majority Rule.  A lot of your volunteers were new to the process and excited about the election.  Many of the more seasoned veterans are more interested in the issues.  How do you build coalitions with new people and keep them engaged when it comes to issues?

Perez: Part of the difference is between building an electoral coaliton and a governing coalition.

Peggy: We all supported Barack, but many of us have issues with how he’s handling healthcare.  So we’ve had camps and trainings to invite people to participate.  We are organizing people around healthcare.  We’re online, calling structures we have in place.  And then when it comes to education and energy, those issues pop in too.  People will show up based on their passion.  Our job and focus is to teach people to organize effectively in their communities.

Perez: It seems like every election cycle, you see a peak of activism, but then some people drop off, and some stay involved.  So people who were involved in 2004 now see themselves as old hands.  How has that experience been, Peggy?

Reik: PDA truly is a movement.  We reach out not only to Democratic clubs to work with us, but we also reach out to other groups in the city and the state to groups like One Care Now, and the group standing against the Three Strikes Law.  So we try to reach people and bring them into the Party and into the progressive movement who may not have been politically involved before.  If someone came to me interested in food safety legislation, we did a forum for that to help teach people about that.

Thom O’Shaughnessy: How do we follow and deal with these three tenets: 1) learning how to agree to disagree, 2) how to marry orthodoxy with pragmatism, and 3) how to trade horses in a soft IOU for working on each other’s issues?

Gary Vaughn: We don’t have an answer to those dynamics.  When we have 30 asks of the legislature, given what we can accomplish, can we make 30 asks effectively?  Maybe we need to bullet down to 3 or 4.  Others would say no, we have to push all our issues.  But in other circumstances, we need to know what we have to walk away from the table having gotten.  Our first rule is, do no harm, especially since we have so many budget cuts.  And let’s look at who is doing the work.  And certainly, having wealthier Americans and Californians paying more is worth looking at.

Perez: There’s been a significant debate about gay marriage, given CA and ME.  One complaint is that the LGBT movement hasn’t been involved in coalition politics, that they ask for help but don’t necessarily provide it.  Arisha, what are the challenges in bringing people out of their comfort zone?

Arisha: Courage is well-situated to work on this issue.  Courage is multi-issue unlike some of the other organizations.  One of the things we’re trying to stress in our organizing work is trying to get people to show up, and stress the importance of showing up for community organizing work.  One of the things we’ve been trying to do is stress the importance of not being a one-issue movement.  Bringing people along in their feelings about marriage equality is important, but has to be paired with helping with the issues that matter to them.

Carolyn Fowler: These are not, or shouldn’t be competing organizations.  What is the best way for organizations to reach out to the clubs?

Henry Vandermeir: One of the things you need to do is find out who you’re actually going to talk to.  Know what your resources are.  Common sense would tell you we have all the contact information for all the clubs.  If we want OFA to contact them, well, why not just go to the source?  Make it easy.  It’s a two way situation though.  We don’t just need to contact the presidents.  They also need to contact us.

Peggy: We work closely with the CDP, and getting a list of all the clubs.  We’re going to be at the eboard meeting coming up next weekend.  Coming up and saying, this is who we are and how we work together.

Dorothy Reik: We do it the old-fashioned way, pick up the telephone and call up the club leaders in our area, see if they’ll cosponsor, or join our food safety or other forum.  We have organizing calls, ways to reach out to club presidents and other people, and would love to work with OFA and other groups.

Question: Republicans by and large stand together and are united in their ranks.  We have as Democrats got not to do that among ourselves.  If you don’t like something Obama is doing or whatever, that’s fine and do it in private.  But in a public forum, I find it very offensive to be attacking Obama and what he’s trying to accomplish.

Perez: I’ll take that as a comment.

Question: We have a challenge of people not voting for candidates or working for candidates, and focusing instead on issues.  They need to work for candidates as well.

Gary Vaughn: We do trade with candidates: we work on your campaign, and we’d like you to work with us on these issues.

Question: I’m very disappointed in Organizing for America.  And I love PDA.  You’ve had time to organize your people, and i’ve been to several OFA house parties.  But they don’t teach people how to organize.  They don’t have to join a Democratic club, but they are afraid to even visit a club.  You are spending money giving orders, call this person and say that, not teaching them how to think.  I would like to see Obama people not be afraid of us.

Perez: People take various tones, some more positive and some more critical.  I would ask us to be as productive and respectful in our discourse as possible.  Sometimes it’s hard not to feel the passion we feel about these issues.  There is concern with the difference between a bottom-up approach and a top-down approach, so speak to those issues.

Peggy Moore: I’m proud to work for OFA.  And I’m a president of an East Bay Democratic club.  I understand some of those frustrations that people might have.  But there is a focus we have.  We decided that the issue was healthcare, and this is how we’re going to organize around healthcare.  And there are some groups that think we should be approaching it in a certain way.  I’m not going to be on the street with Organizing for America, challenging the President.  That’s not going to roll.  Other organizations can do that, and they have every right to.  By pushing Single Payer, we may have gotten a public option, which wasn’t on the table before.  But we have a job and responsibility, and we have other issues to deal with as well.  We listen to people about how to do our job better.  We are training people to do the job, and we’ve been around less than a year.  And a lot of the people who voted for Obama and who need healthcare are not Democrats.  So it’s important that we continue to have these conversations.  I will come to a Democratic club and have a conversation with you, I’ll give you my card.  We may not always agree, and I’m OK with that.

Perez: It is a very difficult transition to go from being an activist to running an electoral campaign, and then move to how to govern.  Understanding that as a legislator, understanding that I had to choose often between a number of undesirable options, it’s very difficult.  But it is incredibly valid for us to be frustrated and to express that frustration, because we too came to the campaign with expectations and we want to see many of those expectations met.  So thank you for your openness and commitment to working with all the clubs, and you hear the frustration expressed, and after all these years in the wilderness we want to get as much as we can as quickly as we can.

Question: The point was to encourage Obama activists to get involved in the clubs.

Peggy Moore: We do encourage people to participate.  We have several members from the Obama campaign, that once the campaign was over, were looking for a place to go.  And some of the members have participated in the Democratic clubs.  And some of the clubs are better than others.  And when you get them in the door, we need to keep them in the door.

Eric Bauman: We need to be careful about putting fingers in people’s eyes.  There are Obama activists who don’t like the Party or our movement.  Just as there were Dean activists with the same perspective.  We need to be figuring out how to do this together.  The other side is together and working together.  We need to work together and stop poking fingers in each other’s eyes.

Question: I’m from the John Muir Democratic Club.  How do we raise consciousness of a particular Get Out of Afghanistan bill?

Henry Vandermeir: As far as getting resources, you need to figure out which organizations are going to be more receptive to what you’re working on.  As mentioned previously, some organizations are particularly focused on certain issues, so it has to be a targeted campaign.  Same thing goes for organizations, you have to figure out which organizations are going to be helpful and cooperative, and which will not.

Perez: Just take a last minute from each of you to talk about any takeaway messages in terms of investing in coalition politics.

Dorothy Reik: We need to work together, but we need to give our message to the powers that be to tell them what we think are the best policies.  We need to elect Democrats, but not just any Democrats.  We need to elect the Democrats who are in favor of what we believe in.   We have one of those, Marcy Winograd, running against Jane Harman.

Gary Vaughn: When we talk about coalitions, we have to try to make connections outside of our norm, including with moderates and conservatives.  Break through the partisanship.

Peggy Moore: Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  I need all of you, your mentorship, need you to keep us on track.  We’re working for a better America.  I want to personally invite you over to the opening of our new office at Centinela and Jefferson in Culver City on Thursday.

Arisha Michelle Hatch: I’m personally a baby of the Obama movement.  I challenge you as leaders and organizers to plug into the energy of the movement, and challenge you to question whether you’re creating an environment conducive to plugging in.

Henry Vandermier: Tolerance is a virtue.  If people agree with you 50%-75%, then consider yourself lucky.  Remember that when you go to work on coalitions.

Perez: I want to thank the panel, and bring back Eric Bauman.

Eric Bauman: Thanks to our moderator Assemblymember Perez.