I have to admit that Howard Dean’s email today about the pace of fundraising, and what the DNC is doing with that money, got me more excited than I expected. Hearing that the priority is hiring organizers and getting them on the ground in states like Kansas is tremendously encouraging. I don’t recall ever hearing anything like this from Terry McAuliffe, which doesn’t really surprise me, but it’s the right direction to be going. Building power on the ground, and making a long-term committment to organizing is the only way the party is going to recover, and it recognizes a central problem that we had in the last election. The Republicans had people in neighborhoods, and we had MoveOn-organized phoneathons from solid blue states to swing states. I’ve become progressively disillusioned with MoveOn, partially because of the way they spin things (I was especially frustrated with their perception of the fillibuster “victory,” and the lame Star Wars-based ad), and because I thought, even at the time, that it was glaringly obvious that wasting a lot of time, energy, and money on phonebanks was not a winning strategy. As sincere as all of those efforts were, scripts do not convince people to get out and vote particularly well, and can never be subtle enough to make people switch their votes in large numbers.
What organizers can do is far different. There are, and will continue to be, huge limitations to organizers who come in from the outside to organize communities they aren’t from. But they can identify people who have power or contacts and aren’t using them, or aren’t using them effectively enough. They can encourage people who want to get involved to make the jump by providing them with opportunities. There’s a notable passage in Grassroots, a pretty good book about the ’88 New Hampshire primary, where one veteran of ’84 talks about how she considers her box of file cards on her contacts the treasure she can bring to a campaign. The first priority of organizers should be to find people like these, whether they are leaders in quilting and book clubs or in local party organizations, and train them to be leaders. The Democrats will succeed if our new organizers make themselves obsolete. I’d like to think that this can happen; I am wary of what happened to Dean’s “Perfect Storm” in Iowa. In any case, this is an approach very different than purly raising money for ad buys and long distance phonebanks. I’m glad that something different is happening in the party; we needed both the fresh air and the reality check.