Tag Archives: Organizing Strategy

Beyond Bush Dogs? Proposal For A Pro-Active Battleground District Organizing Strategy

(If there isn’t a full weekend of discussion in here, I don’t know what to tell you. – promoted by Lucas O’Connor)

Cross-posted from OpenLeft

Let me say flat out that I’m thrilled with the unfolding Bush Dog campaign, even though  the precise outlines are a bit undefined. The central thrust is clear, and the timeframe is short. Fact is, I’m so thrilled that I want to suggest doing something even more ambitious to start working on in background mode, even as we move quickly on the Bush Dog front.

What I’m proposing is a project focused on the battleground districts-with the Bush Dogs in safe districts as a sort of penumbral offshoot.  (As noted in my previous diary, more than half the Bush Dogs-22 out of 38-come from safe districts.) The logic here is that whatever is true about battleground districts in a progressive sense will be even more true for the safe district Bush Dogs.  What I envision is combining national and local strategizing, letting activists at each level take on the roles they are best suited to.

What trigged this was a post by Julia Rosen at Calitics expressinig her extreme frustration with Jerry McNerney who’s quoted in a Washington Post article talking incoherent GOP-appeasement gibberish.  In the discussion, Kid Oakland points to McNerney’s voting record.  It’s clear that he’s no Bush Dog.  But it’s also clear that he’s being influenced by hanging out with a bad crowd in DC.  We need a way to organize a coherent counterforce.  My proposal abuot how to go about it is on the flip.

The Big Picture Logic: Realignment

So, what I’m proposing is that we establish a structure for dealing with all battleground districts, and that we conceive of the Bush Dog campaign as strategy within that larger framework-even though a majority of Bush Dogs (22 of 38) are not in battleground districts by  Democracy Corps criteria.  If we develop a logic that applies to battleground districts, then it will apply all the moreso to safe Dem districts.

Basically, it’s our logic that America is standing at the brink of an historic political realignment, the sort of change that only happens once every 36 years or so.  While the political establishment thinks in terms of the system that has been, and calculates accordingly, we think in terms of the system that could be, that is aching to be born.  Although historically associated with presidential elections, last year I wrote a diary arguing that two consecutive wave elections in the House is the key to realignment.  The last time that happened was 1930/1932.  It’s that time again.

If we’re right, we’re on the verge of a potential realignment, as the political center of the country moves decisively to the left.  But it can’t move there if there’s no there there. And there’s no there there if a sizeable chunk of Dems supports Bush and undermines the Dem leadership. Such a shift would turn today’s battleground districts into safe blue ones.  Thus, it’s the very political timidity of battleground Democrats (and their safe seat Bush Dog bretheren) that is keeping their seats in peril.  FDR was right, again: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

While it’s clearly important to challenge the Bush Dogs in safe seats, the most coherent national organizing can best be focused on battleground districts-both those we hold, and those we are fighting for-for a very simple reason:  The realignment of political power in House has its most salient impact in swing/battleground districts.  This is where the shift of the center of political gravity has the greatest possible political impact and implications.  It is also where the greatest opportunity for political change can be squandered.  What we are seeing with the Bush Dogs now is a dramatization in sharp relief of a much more general problem.  There is virtually no major problem or opportunity out there that we can effectively respond to if we are crippled by swing district representatives with their mindsets forged in the past, especially as those districts become safe Democratic.

While realignment can be seen in the numbers, it is manifest in a qualitative change that is about whole new sets of issues and new political narratives.  The way that DC consultants instinctively frame issues is part of what we are directly up against in trying to nurture a realignment, and it has tremendous influence on battleground district candidates and officeholders.  Our purpose is to do whatever we can to counter that pernicious influence with a fresh, powerful, inspiring, and above all successful alternative.  More Carol Shea-Porters.  Less Melissa Beans.

Project Summary

My proposal is simple: Use an initial organizing project to establish a national battlegound district* [*with a safe Bush Dog annex] network that combines national and local activists and organizations.  The initial project centers around fielding a poll–much like MyDD did [for those not familiar with it, Mystery Pollster discussed it here and  here]–that can yield us important information that we can use to lobby and pressure Dems in marginal districts, while mobilizing coalitions of local activists and organizations–and that can be used to energize Democratic challenges to Republicans in marginal districts.  If we field a national swing district poll, similar in scope to the recently-released Democracy Corps poll but with our own carefully-crafted question set–again see the MyDD example–we can generate some extremely useful ammo for making our arguments.  What’s more, simply by fielding a poll ourselves, we start to alter their perception of us.

Repeated exercises of this same organizing formula-at least once a year, but possibly more often-will provide a solid framework for continued organizing, while a variety of simpler actions can be developed as well.  Establishing lateral networks, so that activists in different battleground districts are in much closer touch with one another, is a key goal of this project, which will allow for a much more continuous flow of organizing activity than a purely centralized effort could effectively mount.  Ideally, these networks will become increasingly active and capable of spontaneous organizing as important issues are being debated in Congress.

Project Aims

The purpose of this project (subject to revision) is 7-fold:

(1) To create a national framework for pro-actively and continually influencing conservative Democrats and Democratic officeholders in swing/battleground districts, and supporting them in getting a progressive message out.  We’re about carrots as well as sticks.  Once we really get rolling, we should be increasingly about carrots.

(2)  To influence the political climate in battleground districts held by Republicans to make the environment more favorable for Democratic challengers, and weaken support for Republican opposition in Congress.

(3) To bring into focus underlying shifts and forgotten long-term trends in public opinion that support a fresh, progressive approach to problem-solving and governing.

(4) To highlight new and emerging progressive issues, narratives, and policy proposals.

(5) To bring to the fore salient facts that are otherwise routinely buried by existing political discourse.

(6) To effectively communicate 3, 4 and 5–particularly at the district level–to Democratic officeholders and candidates, local media, Democratic activists and organizations, non-party activists and organizaitons, and directly to the people via new and traditional forms of organizing and outreach.

(7) To build strong bonds between locally-grounded and nationally-focused progressives on a continuing, ongoing basis.

What It Would Look Like: The Kick-Off Project

Foreward: The most compelling way I can think of to present this concept is via an example of the sort of kick-off organizing action we could undertake.  However, it is vital to remember, the purpose of the organization is not simply to pull off such an action.  It is to create an organizing framework in which many such actions-large and small–can be taken with maximum synergy and bang for the buck.  However, this is only a draft proposal.  I am certain that others could make it even better.

Rationale: Two major challenges confronting us now, and continuing through the 2008 election are (1) to reverse direction in the Middle East-not just withdrawing from Iraq, but preventing war with Iran, refocusing on al Qaeda (the real al Qaeda), and restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process-and (2) to reframe the fundamental terms of poltical debate in America.

The two are intimately linked: (1) is the most pressing example of (2).  But a broader focus on (2) also provides a context for (1).  For example, the larger context of security for all and the sub-context of protecting our vital infrastructure encompasses both Katrina and the Minneapolis bridge collapse as well as reversing direction in the Middle East specifically, and rethinking the “war on terror” in general.

To move forward on this, we need to know much more accurately where the people are, what they will support, and what they need to know in order to grow their support.  We need to kow what resonates with them and why.

Proposal In Nutshell: Conduct a national battleground district poll similar to the one conducted by MyDD, employing the same collaborative form of question development beforehand, and data analysis afterwards, but with a more precise focus, informed by the project aims and other discussion above-and use this poll as the foundation for a coordinated lobbying, media and outreach effort locally direct at the congressional district level.  The aim should be to provide and promote a tested progressive narrative for (a) changing direction in the Middle East, (b) replacing the “war on terror” with a more sensible, viable and effective organizing framework for enhancing security for all, and (c) reordering our political priorities to deal with problems the GOP has neglected or exacerbated: global warming, erosion of the middle class, repairing old infrastructure and building new infrastructure for the 21st Century, etc.  Dissemination of the results should involve a maximum of outreach to other progressive organizations to strengthen the message, forge alliances and give the story legs.

Proposal Step-By-Step:  The following lays out the major elements of the proposed plan.  Some can move forward simultaneously, others are obviously sequential in nature. Each stage includes all the actions that can be undertaken roughly simultaneously. 

Stage I.

(1) Online poll development.  This should proceed in two stages.  First: clarification and agreement of basic principles guiding the poll development.  Second: development of the questions in a series of batteries.  This should be done here at OpenLeft, but it should be promoted across the blogosphere, and people should be encouraged to discuss it elsewhere so that a broader dialogue develops feeding into the final decision process.

(2) Battleground District Identification.  The recent Democracy Corps battleground poll provides a good starting point for identifying the districts we want to include.  A preliminary core list can be identified so that work on (3) below can start right away, while we work to come up with a final list of districts to poll.

(3) Activist/Blog Recruitment. Ideally, we would want to have at least one activist and one local blog running point for each of ~70 battleground districts.  More is obviously better.  A small activist group is better than just one person.  But one person on the ground can better establish a group than we can, hence the minimum goal.  (Ongoing as needed.)

(4) Organizational Partnership Recruitment.  As a whole, we are generalists.  To do this right, we need partnership with specialists, and those with boots on the ground.  This includes, but is not limited to groups working to end the war, given how intimately militarism impacts the entire range of domestic issues.  We should directly approach organizations to partner with us in this project, and we should create an organizing guide to assist those working at the district level in recruting local organizational partners.  Groups recruited early in the process will obviously have the opportunity for input into poll development.  Others will have input the next time around.  (Early bird. Worm.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.)  (Ongoing forever.)

(5) Fundraising Duh! (Ongoing.)

Stage II.

(1) Conduct poll.

(2)  National logistics. Organize logistics for national roll-out of poll (more on what this means below).

(3) Local Logistics Organize logistics for district-level roll-out of poll (more on what this means below).  Leadership from the district level, support from national level.

(4) Press prep work  Pre-event press work at local and national level.  This is a major effort, and to make sure it has the impact it deserves, we need to be talking to the media for at least two weeks in advance.

(4) Political prep work  Pre-event outreach to officeholders and political activists at local and national level.  Again, this is a major effort, and to maximize its impact, we should let people know it’s coming.  We especially don’t want officeholders feeling that we are ambushing them.  We want to draw them into a conversation, and ultimately, a relationship.  So call before coming over.

Stage III.

Note: The following is presented as if there would just be one release. The original MyDD poll was rolled out in parts.  We might consider doing a mutli-part release, but the structure would not change, it would merely repeat.

(1) Release poll nationally.   Issue press relesease and post poll results online.  Preceeded by embargoed release to the media 24 (?) hours in advance.

(2) Local press conferences.   Hold local press conferences in all battleground districts.  Local organizers will be running these.  They may or may not want to invite officeholders to participate.  But it is vital that local organizations and experts are represented.  If we find that 80% of the people want to shift resources from fighting in Iraq to education, clean energy development and rebuilding infrastructure, then we need to have local activists and experts who can speak to those needs on local terms.  The highest possible priority should be placed on issue and constituency diversity.  This is very much a bridge-building, coalition-building process.

(3) National teleconference.   Hold a national teleconference for local media to add juice to the story.  (Implementation could vary.  We might want to videoconference instead.) This could be integrated into the local press conferences, it could be done on an embargoed basis the day before, whatever works.  Purpose is to beef up the significance of the local event, give press the option of quoting national experts, and generally expand the range of possible ways to play the story.

(4) National Press Conference.   National press conference is aimed at national as well as local media.  This could be a mid-afternoon event after all the local press conferences are over, so that its subject was not just the poll, but the poll and its roll out as well.  Or not.

Stage IV.

(1) Meet with officeholders.   In battleground districts with Democratic congressmembers, meetings with those representatives is an integral part of this process.  The process should be scheduled so that it occurs during a recess, and there should be early outreach to set up a meeting in advance.  This is one more reason why collaborating with local organizaitons and activists is vital.  Get people on board who already have clout and a relationship with the officeholder, as well as ones they don’t want to piss off.  We aren’t out to bash them, even the worst of the Bush Dogs.  Not with this action.  But, of course, we have laid the foundation for strong criticism in the future if they ignore what we’ve come forward with.

We should also try hard to get meetings with Republican congressmembers.  If we’re rebuffed, several options could be pursued.  “Hear the People!” demonstrations outside their offices, public forums with them invited-and an empty chair with their name on it onstage-along with their challengers, perhaps.

(2) Hold Local Public Meetings.   These can take a wide range of forms.  The best guidance is “don’t reinvent the wheel.”  Hook up with whoever is the best at putting these on.  If possible, events sponsored and/or co-sponsored by one or more of the locally recruited organizations should be shceduled  early in the process, to avoid last-minute conflicts and confusion.  Let them do the logistics, and reap the rewards.  Our intention in these meetings is to extend the story, and help empower what they are already doing.

(3) Follow-up with local press. A natural follow-up is to invite them to the local public meetings.  Also natural is to follow up as other polls are released that we can piggy-back on.  Especially with the use of cross-tabs on our polling, it’s possible to repackage our poll to make it relevant to subsequent polls throughout the entire period through the 2008 election.

(4) Follow-up with national press. Duh!

Stage V.

(1) Local Post-Mortem.   As stated above, this is just an example of an activity.  The purpose is to build an ongoing organizational framework.  The post-mortem meeting is invaluable for evaluating what worked, what didn’t, and how to continue building on it for the future.  Set standard of developing 3-5 followup organizing ideas, at least one that can be done locally without any national support or coordination, and at least one that requires national support or coordination.  Each group should commit to at least one of each, following further consultation.

(2) National Post-Mortem.   This will obviously start, informally at least, during stage IV.  But a formal national post-mortem, incorporating input from the local post-mortems, is an invaluable organizaiton-building tool.  It should be built into process from the beginning, involve a thorough online discussion, and in a written set of organizing guidelines or suggestions for the next go-round.  Proposals from district-level groups should be organized, evaluated in terms of popularity, feasibility, resources required, etc. and presented in a coherent comparative format for further discussion at the local level.

Stage VI.

Rinse and repeat the evaluative processes of Stage V.  Once we have launched, we can work on developing a variety of different follow-up projects and strategies in parallel. 


Let me be clear.  Although I’m a strong advocate of the power of using polls as I’ve just described above, it is meant primarily as a for-instance.

If you’ve got another vision that can accomplish the same sort of thing, unifying activists like yourself across swing districts to create a more powerful and influential voice, then I’m all ears to hear it,  The more ideas we can come up with the better.

Finally, yes. I know. What I’m talking about involves a lot of work.

Know what?  We’re people who do a lot of work anyway.  The only question is how well we’re going to organize, cooridnate and focus that work.  Like I said, if you’ve got a better idea, I want to hear it.