Tag Archives: community organizing

Governor Headline Latches On To The ACORN Story

The wingnutosphere has been in high froth the last week or so about ACORN, the community organization dedicated to helping low-income Americans.  The freak-out concerns a series of videos showing ACORN employees engaged in nefarious schemes (it took lots of shoots for the right-wing activists to get the footage they wanted, incidentally).  This has led to the Census Bureau distancing themselves from ACORN and the Senate to block HUD funding for the group.  It’s interesting in and of itself that the right has decided the source of all ills in America is a relatively small non-profit community organization and not the banking and financial interests who destroyed the economy and took hundreds of billions in bailout money for good measure (lots more on this here).  But never one to miss a pile-on, the Governor has requested an investigation of ACORN:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently has been captivated by recent news stories about a conservative filmmaker who exposed misdeeds at ACORN, the national organization that serves low-income residents and has been involved in controversial efforts to register Democratic voters.

The Republican governor sent a brief memo Wednesday to Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown asking him to investigate ACORN’s activities in San Bernardino. Two conservative activists have posted videos of their visits to ACORN offices around the country in which they posed as a prostitute and a pimp seeking advice.

In San Bernardino’s ACORN office, a volunteer who claims to be a former prostitute is shown offering advice to the two activists on how to set up a brothel using underage girls from El Salvador. She tells them that they would be breaking various laws, but also explains ways to get around those laws. At one point, she claims to have connections to various Democratic lawmakers in the state Legislature and Congress.

It’s amusing that the Governor has honed in on the San Bernardino case.  Because that would be at least one instance where the guerrilla filmmakers – and now, the Governor – got totally played.  John Santore explains:

Most critically, it is clear that Fox News has made virtually no attempt to verify the authenticity of the tapes before broadcasting them — something no self-respecting journalistic organization would dare do. Consider the case of the San Bernardino ACORN office, which was featured in the most recent video to be released. The words of ACORN employee Tresa Kaelke appear to be damning. Not only does she offer assistance to Giles and O’Keefe, but she claims that she murdered her former husband following a period of domestic abuse.

On September 15, Beck and Sean Hannity both broadcast Kaelke’s assertion. Beck, who had reported breathlessly on the supposed confession during his radio program, added on Fox, “She never spanked her kids, but she did shoot her husband dead.” Later that night, Hannity played the same clip before commenting, “Specifically, now, she goes into this scenario about her husband and the killing of him.”

The following morning, on September 16, Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson repeated the allegation, saying, “She killed somebody? Despite this, some lawmakers want to keep funding the group.”

The problem, of course, is that Kaelke was deliberately lying. The San Bernardino Police Department itself has now confirmed that her claim regarding her husband was untrue. A department statement released on September 15 reads: “The San Bernardino Police Department is investigating the claims made regarding the homicide. From the initial investigation conducted, the claims do not appear to be factual. Investigators have been in contact with the involved party’s known former husbands, who are alive and well.”

Furthermore, Kaelke has claimed that when she made the statement, she was seeking to mislead the undercover videographers, whom she was suspicious of. “They were not believable,” Kaelke is quoted as saying in an ACORN press release. “Somewhat entertaining, but they weren’t even good actors. I didn’t know what to make of them. They were clearly playing with me. I decided to shock them as much as they were shocking me.”

But none of these simple facts stopped anyone at Fox from running with the story. Any cub reporter would have thought to actually call the San Bernardino police before effectively alleging that ACORN was staffed by murderers. But such an act never occurred to people like Beck, Hannity, or Carlson. (In her defense, Carlson later added that the husband was still alive, “according to ACORN,” but ignored the police report.)

Some of the other allegations have shown what may be wrongdoing, if the tapes are legitimate and not doctored (they are certainly edited for effect, and we know they were in some cases obtained illegally and therefore inadmissable as evidence).  It may even warrant an investigation.  But Schwarzenegger is specifically riffing off the San Bernardino incident, in which the main offense described there has been proven to be a lie.  This apparently doesn’t matter.  I’m wondering what other provable falsehoods have led to the Governor urging a criminal investigation.

This is at least not as embarrassing as Tim Pawlenty, who ordered agencies in Minnesota to “cancel all state funding for ACORN,” when there… is no state funding of ACORN in Minnesota.  But it’s pretty weak nonetheless.  And par for the course for a headline-chaser like Gov. Schwarzenegger.  But if he wants to get in line with far-right extremists with an obvious racial agenda who want to demonize people of color and the organizations that provide help for them, go ahead.  It did a lot for Pete Wilson.

Friday After XMas Open Thread

Everybody at the post-Christmas sales today?  Yeah, you and nobody else.  Here are a few links to give to you and yours.

• This is really a terrible tragedy in Covina, where a man dressed in a Santa outfit opened fire on a Christmas party at his ex-wife’s family’s house, eventually pouring lighter fluid on it and burning it down.  Nine bodies have so far been recovered at the site, and the assailant, who had $17,000 and a plane ticket to Canada on him, instead drove to his brother’s house in Sylmar and took his own life.  Stunning and horrible.

• On a markedly more hopeful note, here’s an LA Daily News story (which made the front page) about state Obama 2.0 organizers who joined together to engage in community service projects throughout the past week.  If nothing else, Obama has inspired a generation of activists who will pay deeper attention to their local communities, and I think it’s just the beginning.  A national Day of service is planned for January 19, the day before the inauguration.

• Another in a series of less-than-meets-the-eye reports about the California housing market shows home sales way up but the median price way down.  Close to half of the sales were on foreclosed properties, accounting for the price decrease.  This also makes it extremely difficult to sell a non-distressed home, because the competition on price is so great.

• The latest apportionment study by Election Data Services projects that California may not lose a Congressional seat as previously feared.  The state has seen an increase in growth relative to the other states lately.  I would add that growth by region is probably different than projected models, given the shock to the housing markets.  Most of the areas growing the fastest in the state, like the Central Valley and the Inland Empire, are among the worst housing spots in the nation, and their populations relative to the coasts may suffer as a result.

• High-speed rail officials are optimistic about their chances to secure federal funding to finish the projected cost of voter-approved Prop. 1A.

The String Theory of Community Organizing

It started with yarn. A lot of little balls of colored yarn.

Last week, a lot of us in the Southern California Obama campaign gathered for the first time since the election for the mega “Change is Coming” event at LA Trade Tech because we wanted to learn what we could do next.

As one of the team building exercises, the organizers had someone at each table grab a ball of yarn and string it to another table across the room to someone else they had met through the campaign. Soon the room was a tangle of blue, yellow, green and orange strings. It’s the picture you see to the left.

At the end of the meeting, we were all asked to adopt a local food bank. Our group in the northern part of CD36 settled on the Westside Food Bank, those in the southbay and the harbor area adopted The Food Bank of Southern California, His Helping Hand Food Pantry in Lomita and Harbor Interfaith Services in San Pedro. Between the two groups, by reaching out to our Obama networks, our neighbors, Facebook, and Community Organize (a new networking site developed by the leadership of the California Obama campaign), we collected over 8,000 pounds – FOUR TONS – of food, blankets and toiletries, donated a thousand dollars, and recruited dozens of volunteers to sort and box the proceeds.

To get an idea of what this new interconnectivity means, check out these comments from some of the organizers:

Jill Gilligan (Redondo Beach)

Hi – I just left the Sprint collection site in South Torrance after helping Linda Greene and the Mira Costa team unload their haul. I had already brought in 4 bins and nother zillion bags of food from my two sites, and Linda had even more than I. I was in tears. I feel like I have known Linda my whole life and we just met in person half an hour ago. Thanks to the kids from Mira’s Young Dems, my kids, my friends, and all of the Fighting 36th. It was a great experience.

Linda Green (Manhattan Beach)

My thoughts exactly, Jill! What was a good idea turned into a great success in no small part to the awesome volunteers and incredible generosity of our communities. Really enloyed workig with Jill (Redondo Beach) and Robert (Harbor/San Pedro) and happy to say our teams were able to collect 4,255 lbs. of food and personal care products today! SPECIAL THANKS to the awesome volunteers including Mira Costa High School’s “Young Dems Club” and their prez Sam Hein who rallied the troops and worked with a huge smile all day. And to the S-Club members at Mira Costa who manned the tables and collected food donations! Congratulations to our CD36North team and good luck to the other food drives taking place this weekend. YES WE CAN…AGAIN!!

Robert Brandin (San Pedro)

Hello Everyone,This is the report for CD36Harbor. It is a beautiful day here in San Pedro. This morning the team went to our adopted food bank to check on things. We were delighted to see their Christmas party was going on. There were hundreds of people with their families enjoying the sunshine, the services and activities provided by the good souls at our adopted food bank, Harbor Interfaith Services (www.harborinterfaith.org).

Both their facilities were in full swing. The food pantry on 9th St.served more than 200 families. They left with groceries, most with a turkey, some toys, and a peppermint stick for the kids (the average age of their clients is 6yrs). On 10th St, at the homeless shelter for abused women with children; it was a block party. Janice Hahn arranged for the permit to block off the street for the first time ever. Here there was games for the kids (jumper and all). The tables and chairs began filling up for the big meal to come. Very cool.

The team managed to collect about 750 pounds of food, blankets, and things babies’ need. We used our lists from the campaign. First we “refined” the lists, called, then followed up with an email. It worked well. San Pedro High School seniors, from Mrs. Karin Bruhnke’s government classes (many of whom worked our phone banks) collected 250 pounds for us.

For me, the best thing was not so much the supplies we were able to donate, it was the experience of doing it. Working with folks like Tahia Hayslet, the benevolent and caring executive director, or Shirley , her right hand, to all the others who took the time to care enough to do something for someone less fortunate. These contacts are valuable assets . Again it is proven to me that engaged people, working together ignites the desire to get involved and take action. This is good.

So what’s next? I vote for something that has immediate impact. Something enduring. Any ideas?

On the Community Organize site, there are a dozen other food banks happening today all over Los Angeles and California. I can’t wait to hear how their day went.

And lastly, that site’s membership has gone from less than 50 to just shy of eight hundred.

In a week. A week

Welcome to the “string theory” of community organizing.

For more photos of today’s food bank sorting party, go here and here

California’s Sleeping Giant – The Enormous Organizing Opportunity

Here’s a great article about how California’s field operation helped Barack Obama win the Presidency.  It hasn’t been much remarked-upon in the traditional media, but I was fairly involved in this operation and I’ve mentioned some of the details before.  

The Obama campaign’s directive to the California operation was simple: keep up a presence but don’t spend money. Fewer than 20 paid staff members were hired in September (compared with 100s in battleground states), a handful of offices opened and a minuscule budget approved. So it may come as a surprise that the California team actually pulled off what can only be called a field operation coup: on election day, California volunteers got on their own phones and managed to make an astonishing 2 million calls into battleground states — a number that outstripped the calls made by all other Obama phone banks in all other states, combined. They called from coffee shops, from houses, from parks. They called from baby groups, from pajama parties, from book clubs. In the end, the state logged a total of 10 million calls between Obama’s nomination speech and his victory speech. It was a milestone achieved with very little drama, and one that is noteworthy not only because it is unprecedented, but because it nearly took the national campaign by surprise. How it was done may also provide some insight into what lies on the horizon, on the grassroots front, going forward.

10 MILLION calls.  Consider also that 4 million of them were in the last week of the campaign, as Chicago realized what a gold mine of volunteering and activism they had in California.  In addition, in the last couple weeks the campaign was using predictive dialers that increase the contact rate from 15-20% to around 90%.  And that, of course, only includes the volunteers inside the state; hundreds if not thousands went out into the swing states to canvass and organize there.

Read the whole article for a real inside look at the process.  There is no question that this could be scaled up to use inside California.  The tools are already in the hands of the organizers.  And what’s more, they were trained to be self-starters:

I have seen it reported that the campaign’s field success can be attributed to its vaunted email database of volunteers and donors. My experience tells me that would be inaccurate. While the campaign certainly generated heat by sending out mass emails, the real magic lay in the staff’s ability to carry out one of the earliest promises of Barack Obama himself — individual empowerment. Tapping key volunteers and asking them to reach out to their friends requires personal contact. Yes, that job was made infinitely easier by the advent of Facebook and email, and the campaigns remarkable use of its web site. However the real structure was not created by, nor can be reflected in, a database of names housed by a centralized campaign.

Yesterday, I heard that phone banks are forming in California to call voters in Georgia on behalf of Jim Martin, the Senate candidate who is in a tight run-off race there. I checked around, curious to see if the campaign was officially involved. The answer came back, no. Yet voter files are being sorted, lists are being cut, call sheets printed, data entered. Calls are being made. The idea that a muscle once flexed, can take on a life of its own has intriguing, almost science-fiction-like possibilities. Whether it signals something remarkable in the annals of grassroots politics, or is another false start, like my mother’s idea of ‘Home Headquarters’ in 1970, remains to be seen.

I’m part of one of these weekend phone banks for Jim Martin, tomorrow, in Venice.  The details for that one are here.  In addition, there are phone banks in Santa Monica all weekend.  Contact Deirdre Lightfoot at dlightfulwon-at-gmail-dot-com for more information.

There is really no limit to how these organizers can be used in California – to gain a 2/3 majority, to push progressive ballot measures, to elect a new Democratic governor.  It could change the face of California politics for a generation.

Echoes Of Failure: Feedback

I received a lot of feedback on my piece about the disappointing California election results and I want to thank everyone who participated.  A few points:

• The CDP has a version of Neighbor-to-Neighbor called Neighborhood Leader.  The program asks for a commitment from the activist to talk with 25 friends on multiple occasions throughout the year.  I don’t have metrics on it, which would be nice to know, but my suspicion is it needs to be expanded.

• There is a lot of back and forth about the extent of the ground game here in California.  Many have written in to talk about the field operation in key districts and field offices throughout the state.  Some have said that I overlooked this element, including all the doorhangers and phone calls made inside the state.  Others have told me that the calls tried to shoehorn too many messages into one (I did have experiences calling for multiple propositions and a candidate at the same time, which ends up shortchanging all of them) and that the results on the ground in general were unfocused.  And the insistence from some to talk about field elides the point.  Even if I grant that every targeted legislative campaign had the most aggressive and far-reaching field program in American history, the facts are that most of these campaigns lost, and so it’s time to come to terms with the fact that the type of organizing done in the state isn’t working.

• Some have suggested that Democrats, in fact, did not underperform the Presidential ticket in House races, but I think a lot of this is fun with statistics.  Yes, House Democrats in California may have done better than Barack Obama, but that would be because a substantial number of them had token or no competition.  Like 30 out of 53.  While on the chart at the link, it appears that California exceeded the Presidential numbers, the proof is in the lack of pickups despite a 24-point blowout at the top of the ticket.

• Other local organizers have the right idea.  I’m going to reprint this comment in full:

We ran a very intensive and very grassroots effort in Monterey County with more than 1000 volunteers (5 fold increase over 2004) that was by and large successful, got some newcomers into office and saved some progressive incumbents from conservative challengers.

We did all of this without CDP help.

We were offered use of the CDP voter database which in many ways was quite inadequate when it came to mapping and would have costed us money.  We were also offered 1000 doorhangers on Thursday before the election (we have 80,000 Democrats in Monterey County).

Instead we commissioned our own slate mailers and door hangers and mailed and hung 80,0000 and 30,000 respectively in conjunction with the local unions.  We used the VAN through CAVoterConnect for free with great results for us. We were able to manage our volunteers with it and we used it for all of our phone banking and Neighbor-to-Neighbor activities.

Here is what the CDP could have done – and can still do for future campaigns:

Support the VAN and help all local parties get access.  Help integrate State VAN with Obama VAN.

Conduct more capacity building, especially in how to run county-based campaigns, along the lines of Camp Obama but applied to state and local races.

Provide a template for door hangers that local parties can buy into instead of having to go out and design their own.

Work toward a more modular – bottom-up campaign.

Vinz Koller/ Chair/ Monterey County Democratic Party

I particularly want to emphasize the VAN, the California VAN is for some reason not integrated with the DNC’s Votebuilder program, which doesn’t make much sense to me.  There ought to be an effort to clean up all that idea in the off-year to get it ready for 2010.  Votebuilder is simply easier to work with and can be managed by volunteers.  And since there will be off-year elections this year, it can be test run.

• I don’t think I ever blamed the Obama campaign for draining the state of resources, but let me say again that I don’t.  In addition to many of the best volunteers leaving the state, many of the top organizers, including most of labor, left as well.  And Obama’s election was crucially important for a variety of reasons so you can’t blame them.

• Therefore, the biggest thing California Democrats can do to reverse this disturbing trend of the “political trade deficit,” sending money and organization elsewhere and never importing anything, is to argue for and pass the National Popular Vote plan, which would force locals to organize their own communities in a Presidential election.  If the Electoral College were offered as a system today, it would be found to be an unconstitutional violation of the principle of “one person, one vote” as determined by the 14th Amendment.  It shrinks the pool of competitive states down to a geographically significant battleground, and has made California irrelevant – again – as it has been for Presidential races for a generation.  A disruptive change like the National Popular Vote would go a long way to changing how campaigns are conducted in Presidential years in California.

Echoes Of Failure: The 2008 California Election Roundup

Back in 2006, I and a lot of other grassroots progressives were angered that California showed little to no movement in its Congressional and legislative seats despite a wave election.  You can see some articles about that here and here, when I explained why I was running as a delegate to the state Party.  And frankly, I could rerun the entire article today, but instead I’ll excerpt.

I’ve lived in California for the last eight years.  I’m a fairly active and engaged citizen, one who has attended plenty of Democratic Club meetings, who has lived in the most heavily Democratic areas of the state in both the North and South, who has volunteered and aided the CDP and Democratic candidates from California during election time, who (you would think) would be the most likely candidate for outreach from that party to help them in their efforts to build a lasting majority.  But in actuality, the California Democratic Party means absolutely nothing to me.  Neither do its endorsements.  The amount of people who aren’t online and aren’t in grassroots meetings everyday who share this feeling, I’d peg at about 95% of the electorate.  

I mean, I’m a part of both those worlds, and I have no connection to the state party.  I should be someone that the CDP is reaching out to get involved.  They don’t.  The only time I ever know that the CDP exists is three weeks before the election when they pay for a bunch of ads.  The other 23 months of the year they are a nonentity to the vast majority of the populace […]

Only two Democrats in the entire state of California were able to defeat incumbents last November: Debra Bowen and Jerry McNerney.  Both of them harnessed the power of the grassroots and used it to carry them to victory.  They also stuck to their principles and created a real contrast with their opponents on core issues.  The only way that the California Democratic Party can retain some relevance in the state, and not remain a secretive, cloistered money factory that enriches its elected officials with lobbyist money and does nothing to build the Democratic brand, is by building from the bottom up and not the top down.  By becoming more responsive to the grassroots and more effective in its strategy, we can ensure that California stays blue, which is not a given.  This is a long-term process that is in its third year, and will not happen overnight.  But it’s crucial that we continue and keep the pressure on.

In 2008, we experienced that most anomalous of events, a SECOND wave election in a row.  Barack Obama won the biggest victory at the top of the ticket in California since WWII.  And yet, the efforts of downticket Democrats yielded only minimal success.  This is despite a decided improvement in the party in terms of online outreach and voter registration.  So something is deeply, deeply wrong with how they’re conducting campaigns.

I’m going to lay out the good, the bad and the ugly on the flip and make some suggestions as to what we must do to improve this for the future.

The Good

This wasn’t a wipeout at the downballot level.  The voters agreed with the Calitics endorsements on 8 of 11 ballot measures, with 1, Prop. 11, still too close to call.  We did manage, at this hour, a net gain of two Assembly seats, which could expand to three if Alyson Huber in AD-10 has some luck, and a gain of one Senate seat if Hannah-Beth Jackson holds off Tony Strickland in SD-19.  It is true that those numbers, 50 in the Assembly and 26 in the Senate, would be high-water marks for this decade.  And we came close in a few other seats that we can hopfully capture in the future.  In the Congress, we have thus far gained no ground, but a couple seats, CA-44 and CA-03, look well-positioned for the future, and with Bill Durston set to run for a third time, his increased name ID and the closeness of partisan affiliation in that district should make it a targeted seat at the national level.  

Voter registration was the driving factor here.  In red areas, Democrats did the leg work of registering thousands upon thousands of voters and making uncompetitive seats suddenly competitive.

The Bad

They forgot to turn those new voters out.

What shortsighted CYA masters like Steve Maviglio and Jason Kinney fail to understand, apparently, is the concept of opportunity cost.  When you have Barack Obama on the top of the ticket winning 61% of the vote, it is simply inexcusable to have gains that are this modest.  Maviglio doesn’t tell you that AD-78 and AD-80 were gerrymandered to be Democratic seats, so essentially we got back what was expected in the Assembly, and with a 106-vote lead, who knows what’s in store with SD-19.  The concept of a wave election is that such energy at the top of the ticket will necessarily trickle down.  And that’s what I based my initial projections on, that Obama would make “out-of-reach” seats suddenly competitive.  But he didn’t.  And there are two reasons for that: ticket-splitting and voters that stopped at the top, causing a significant undervote.  I don’t have numbers for Obama at the district level, so it’s hard to be sure about ticket dropping, but the ballot measures are generating about 600,000-800,000 less votes than the Presidential race or Prop. 8.

If you want a further analysis, djardin did a great analysis comparing Barbara Boxer’s share of the vote in 2004 in Assembly districts, when John Kerry was on top of the ballot, against the vote share from the Assemblymembers who were built for the district in 2008, with Obama.  The numbers are astonishing.

District Candidate       Boxer Vote      2008 AD Vote

*78 Marty Block                      57.9%               55.0%

*80 Manny Perez                   57.5%               52.9%

*15 Joan Buchanan               52.6%               52.9%

30 Fran Florez                 49.8%               48.3%

26 John Eisenhut                 48.6%              48.3%

10 Alyson Huber                 48.1%               46.2%


In most of these races, the AD candidates are slightly underperforming the 2004 Boxer vote.  The exception is Joan Buchanan in Assembly District 15.   Buchanan may have been helped by demographic changes in the district.

It’s simply ridiculous that any district candidate would underperform the Boxer vote, after four years of incredible registration gains and a 61% performer at the top of the ticket.  It’s inexcusable, and nobody inside the party should be feeling good about missing out on the second wave election in a row.  These moments don’t happen often.  And these failures are what lead Yacht Party leaders like Mike Villines to crow about how “Republicans will still be empowered to protect Californians from higher taxes.”  He knows that he keeps dodging bullets and doesn’t have to worry about a backlash for his party’s irresponsibility.

These expectations are not unrealistic and this is NOT about gerrymandering, regardless of what fossils like George Skelton say.  Alyson Huber, Linda Jones and John Eisenhut had virtual parity in terms of registration in their districts.  Fran Florez had a much higher Democratic share.  Obama should have carried them to victory.  Thanks to him, Democrats took multiple state houses and made gains all over the country, in far more difficult circumstances.  There are systematic barriers to a progressive wave here right now.

So what is to account for this?  It’s important to note that the problems we saw with the No on 8 campaign should not be viewed in isolation.  They are a symptom of the poor performance of the consultant class here in this state.  No ground game?  Check.  Maviglio is crowing about the fact that they had a lot of volunteers on ELECTION DAY.  That’s too late.  Based on what I’ve heard, the CDP dumped all their door-hangers on the local parties, who had no volunteers to hand them out and instead relied on the Democratic clubs to do it.  That’s dysfunctional and disorganized.  Furthermore, that makes clear that no money was put into field – door knocking, phone banking, etc.  Instead, the consultocracy again relied on slate mailers and a modicum of TV ads, hoping the IE campaigns, which spent over $10 million, would take up the slack.  There was a low-dollar donor program, and it netted something like $200,000, which doesn’t pay for two days’ worth of spots, and it didn’t start until 8 weeks out.

There’s no sense of urgency, no notion of the permanent campaign.  Did ANY CDP messaging mention the yacht tax loophole?  Did they exploit the Republican budget, which was unnecessarily cruel?  Was the drive for 2/3 used as a banner across campaigns to frame a narrative on the election?  Were any issues put to use?  No.

Part of this is what I call our political trade deficit.  We export money and volunteers and get nothing in return.  The energy and effort put into the Obama campaign locally was impressive, but it didn’t translate into anything locally.  

California is a state that was expected to vote heavily for Obama. California donors accounted for perhaps 20% of his record-setting $640 million-plus. In the final days of the election campaign, Californians provided even more for the Democratic nominee: They volunteered.

Even though California was not a swing state, Californians still mattered. Some took leaves from work to knock on doors and traveled to the battleground states of Virginia, Colorado, Ohio and others. They even have a name, “bluebirds,” people from blue states who flock to Republican strongholds and swing states to help Obama’s campaign.

Jack Gribbon, California political director for Unite Here, the unions that include hotel and restaurant workers, oversaw an independent campaign focused on the swing area of Washoe County in the battleground state of Nevada. Knowing that Las Vegas and Clark County, in which the city is located, would probably vote for Obama, Gribbon sought to help swing the more conservative Reno-Sparks area toward the Democrat.

Using multiple voter lists, Gribbon targeted 16,000 voters, most of them with Spanish surnames, many of them Democrats and some of them newly registered.

It’s incredible that Californians can be so easily motivated to contribute to a national effort, which requires a lot of work on their behalf, picking up and moving across the country, but they cannot be tapped for a local ground game.

But I don’t blame Obama on this.  He’s trying to win an election.  It’s not his fault that he’s more charismatic or more of a volunteer magnet than the California Democratic Party.  The point is that the party has to supplement this, by working in off-years and early in the year to build a grassroots base.  And there’s a blueprint for this.  It comes from Howard Dean.  This was part of his memo after the election:

Governor Dean’s first step was to assess our Party’s strengths and weaknesses and put in place a strategy to address those issues.  Dean developed a business plan to rebuild the Democratic Party, modernize our operations and expand the electoral map.  The emphasis was on lessons learned and best practices, and it included the following key components:

·  Rebuild the Infrastructure of the Party – After assessing the needs on the ground, we hired full-time permanent staff in all 50 states, trained staff and activists, introduced new measures of accountability, and developed a unified technology platform. Over the past four years we’ve held 140 trainings for candidates, campaign staff, organizers, Party leaders and activists in all 50 states.

·  Upgrade and Improve the Party’s Technology/Modernize the Way We Do Grassroots Organizing –  Over the past four years the DNC has made significant investments in technology, creating a truly national voter file, improved micro-targeting models and developed 21st century campaign tools that merged traditional organizing with new technology.

·  Diversify the Donor Base – Shifting the emphasis of Party fundraising to include both small donors and large donors, the DNC brought in more than 1.1 million new donors and raised more than $330 million from ’05 – ’08. The average contribution over the last three years was $63.88.

·  Amplify Democratic Message and Improved Outreach – Created a national communications infrastructure to amplify the Democratic message and reach out to groups we haven’t always talked to and expand the map to regions where Democrats have not traditionally been competitive – including the South and the West.

·  Professionalize Voter Protection Efforts – Created a year-round national, state and local effort to ensure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote.  

Those are the bullet points, but the details are important.  Training and deploying full-time staffers throughout the state is very desperately needed.  They could implement a version of the Neighbor-to-Neighbor program that proved so successful nationwide.  The DNC voter file is an amazing tool that I have had the opportunity to use.  California, a leader in technology, ought to have the most comprehensive online database of its voters in the country, which we can use for micro-targeting and outreach to distinct communities.  And finally, this is about PERSONAL CONTACT AT THE STREET LEVEL.  Two years after I campaigned for delegate on a platform of making the party present in people’s lives year-round, not just at election time, that is still not a part of the picture.  This is why everybody walks away to go volunteer and donate elsewhere.  They have no connection to the state party, no interest in the state’s issues, and are in many ways contemptuous of the efforts of state politicians.  They haven’t been drilled on why the government is unmanageable thanks to the 2/3 rule, and they haven’t internalized the urgency of why that must be dealt with.

The silver lining is that these thousands of California-based volunteers, who learned organizing on the Obama campaign, could actually be channeled and put to use by the CDP if they chose to do so.  The role of the next state party chair in this effort is crucial.

Quite simply, what has been tried isn’t working.  In two election cycles with massive gains at the national level, in California we have crumbs.  Something is deeply wrong.  Something is broken.  And that must be fixed.  

Backlash: 2,000 People Show Up To Obama HQ Opening In L.A.

The general election has begun.  On a random Thursday night, when most political junkies were watching POW McCain’s cottage cheese and lime Jello speech at the RNC convention, in a town notoriously hard to get anywhere in on time, 2,000 people showed up at the opening of Barack Obama’s first campaign office in Southern California.

There were a couple speeches from locals (Eric Garcetti, Harb Wesson, Mark Ridley-Thomas, and a couple others) at the beginning, and they handed out a few yard signs and bumper stickers, but basically, this was an office opening.  Just a walk-through of the building.  And the campaign sent only one email out about it, with just 24 hours advance notice.

Two thousand people.



Practically every local TV station in L.A. was out there, including a NEWS CHOPPER.  It basically turned into a block party, with supporters waving signs at passersby on the street.  But there was also some positive work being done.  Most of the people who turned out to the event signed up to volunteer, whether by phone banking or traveling to Nevada.  It’s a large enough office to handle a lot of volunteers at once.  And they are organized and ready.

I was able to talk with Mitchell Schwartz, who will be the California Field Director for the next two months.  He said the goal of the office was to win California, and then help Nevada.  So there will be legitimate actions taken here to increase turnout, which bodes well for the propositions and downticket races, even though the Obama campaign will strictly be trying to identify and turn out Obama voters.  The CDP is running a coordinated campaign for downticket (they had their opening in Santa Monica on the same night, which kind of shows how the two entities aren’t really working together).

What’s more, Schwartz told me that there are going to be up to 10 field offices opening in California over the next week or two, including 3-4 more in the SoCal area (East LA and San Bernardino are likely to get one, among other locations).  There will be places to work.

There was a genuine excitement last night.  I think what we’re seeing on the ground post-Palin is a real determination to get to work.  There is a backlash to the conservative culture war backlash they are trying to ride to victory.  The community organizer slur in Republican speeches on Wednesday continues to be a rallying cry for Democrats, spawning viral videos and major media coverage.

For community organizers, the Republican vice presidential candidate didn’t just drag their profession through the mud, she mocked the entire belief that Americans can’t collectively work to solve problems.

“I think it demonstrated that they don’t take common people seriously,” says Gonzalez. “They put all their trust and faith in themself and other electeds… just elect me and I’m gonna fix your problems. Who believes that?” […]

“I think it was a cute line that she felt like she could deliver,” says Gonzalez. But, “it invites a contempt for organized Americans, and I think that is incredibly dangerous and short-sighted.”

The denigration of community organizing really hit a nerve, and I think now there’s a common opponent, one that’s bigger than McCain and more visceral.  “We’re going to show everyone what community organizing is about,” said one attendee to me.  I think  Jon Stewart summed it up best, as per usual:

So to everyone out there trying to make a difference in your communities, FUCK YOU!  You stupid asses!  You jerk-offs!  You know what you are?  You’re a thousand points of bullshit, that’s what you are.  By the way, if it seems odd that the GOP was denigrating community service, the night after making “service” their slogan… you’re confused.  Those Republicans were not praising service with those signs, they were demanding it from the waitstaff.

(Never underestimate the ability of Republicans to keep two contradictory notions in their head at the same time.  Indeed, in last night’s address, John McCain appeared to flip back to advocacy for community service and community organizing.  They are for service, except when it’s done to help scary black people.  That’s basically it in a nutshell.)

This is no joke.  The Obama campaign raised $10 million in one day this week, after a fundraising email explicitly mentioned the slur on community organizing.  That speaks volumes.  People are energized and fired up.  The spirit of 2004, as Van Jones termed it at the DNC last week, is back.  We almost carried a weaker candidate over the line that year because everybody worked together and did whatever they could to win.  And now we’re seeing that to the nth degree, with better organization and more energy.

Go out and get involved.

NOTE: Because I never gave it out, the Los Angeles HQ is at 3619 Motor Ave. in the Culver City area.

Taco Trucks And The Future Of California

UPDATE by Brian: Video from current over the flip.

I know that we’re going to have a historic new Speaker today, and tomorrow the Governor is going to prevent a revised budget that will set the course for the next few months in the Legislature.  But for the moment I want to talk about taco trucks.

Los Angeles County has enacted rules basically banning the taco truck, the rumbling restaurants on wheels serving Mexican food to lunchtime office workers, day laborers and others throughout the city, particularly in East LA.  The previous order by the County Board of Supervisors was to force taco trucks to move every hour or face a $60 fine.  Most trucks paid it as the cost of doing business.  Now the supervisors have upped that fine to as much as $1000 and possibly jail time.

Make no mistake – the taco trucks are being harassed because restaurants don’t like the competition.  As one truck owner said, “We are hard workers and we pay taxes… we are poor people feeding other poor people.”  In a rare moment of perceptiveness, Dan Walters noted that this is a “new chapter in an old and dreary story of political interference with the economic aspirations of low-income and/or immigrant Californians.”  The restaurant lobby is maybe not as powerful in LA as in San Francisco, but it obviously had enough juice to eliminate their competition in this case.  Walters folds this into a stupid argument about how all business should be unregulated, but in this case he’s right – if you want to offer the opportunity for the new and struggling in our society to experience upward mobility, barriers like this are really restrictive and unnecessary.

Taco trucks are about more than a meal in Los Angeles – they truly are a culture, and one that has migrated onto the internet.  The Great Taco Hunt, a blog dedicated to the LA taco scene, has a loyal following.  People will drive many miles for a decent taco here, and given the traffic that’s a real commitment.  So some residents are fighting back.  Save Our Taco Trucks has also 6,000 signatories to a petition to rescind the law, which goes into effect on Thursday.  Tomorrow, they’re holding a final event at Tacos El Galuzo to raise awareness about the ordinance and share one last legal taco.

You can see the stirrings of how politics will be waged in the save-the-taco-trucks movement.  There has been a wave of local organizing this year, around the Presidential race, around the budget, around proposed education cuts and park closures, and even around hyper-local issues like the taco truck.  This is a new era for California, where technology reduced barriers to communication and allows those with like interests and concerns to find one another.  When the Board of Supes takes down this silly ordinance – and they will – they will have seen the power of modern organizing.