Saturday, August 13, 2005

Run Everywhere, Build Everywhere 1.1: Budget Version

In "Run Everywhere, Build Everywhere" on BOP News, Ian Welshmakes the case for fielding more candidates and providing them with more support--in order to accomplish long-term goals.

In its broadest strokes, this strategy is called Party Building. There are different tactics to expand the base and extend party infrastructure. One of the most cost-effective tactics is the largely abandoned tradition of Precinct Captains. In other words, Precinct Captains are the way you "Build Everywhere, Run Everywhere...for FREE."

Much of what Ian discussses in Run Everywhere, Build Everywhere" boils down to political will, organization, and setting and enforcing effective policies--much more than to a need for money.

Why? Because much of what Ian describes below is *supposed* to be done by the county-level branches of state Democratic parties.

The way to make this happen for free is to go back to the precinct-captain structure. Local commitees (in theory) recruit, support, and train precinct captains for every precinct in their jurisdiction. A precinct captain *walks* his or her precinct (smallest geopolitical unit, for our non-US readers, which generally corresponds to one polling place on election day); identifies (and records) the party affiliation of voters (which is critically important to field ops in states like Virginia where voters do not register by party); registers and ID's new voters; recruits volunteers; and mobilizes those volunteers for local political events. Precinct captains also staff the polling place in their precinct on election day (which constitutes filling all day shifts for pollbook watchers for the 1-3 voter lists, depending on the size of the precinct; plus all-day shifts of greeters for every entrance to the polling place who give out sample ballots; plus, ideally, phone bankers who remind ID'd voters to vote; and, equally ideally, a knock-and-drag team who goes door to door, reminding ID'd voters to vote, and taking them to the polls). In exchange, the precinct captain is an informal liaison between precinct residents and the party structure, and if a resident has a problem with a pothole, a schoolboard issue, or their social security...or wants to get the State Party Chair as the keynote speaker for a highschool graduation...that resident knows to go to the Precinct Captain for assistance. Why is this free? Precinct Captains are unpaid volunteers.

Apparently, in some mystical golden age of US campaign politics, Precinct Captains once were the norm. In Texas and Virginia, where I have worked in politics, the Democrats no longer seem to actively recruit or train precinct captains. There are handfuls of nominal precinct captains who have held the same position for decades, but no longer walk, and no longer even fully staff their polls on election day. As a result, we're losing.

(In fairness, there are also Precinct Captains who still actively run their precincts. There just aren't enough of them. And bless them for the work they do.)

Precinct Captains: essential, zero-cost, effective. And we (the Democratic party) don't do it. Because it means getting our hands dirty talking to real people, letting people into the party, and fraternizing with the grassroots. We'd rather write a check to a direct mail firm once a year and lose comfortably from inside the air-conditioned santums of our members-only, closed-club offices.

If anyone reading this says, "Hey, *I* could be a precinct captain," well, you're right. And you can make a huge impact on your local elections as a result. Tell your local Democratic Committee (which may be a ward, city, supervisory district, or county committee) that you want to be a precinct captain. If they won't help you out, go to your state party. If they don't give you any support, just DO IT. Walk your precinct. Talk to your neighbors. Keep your own lists. And, keep your eyes out for trainings from groups like Democracy for America, which will give you the tools and support and information that you should be getting from your local party--whether you are or not.

If you live outside of NJ and VA (which have elections every year and thus have major state elections this year), that is all the more reason to become a precinctp captain *now* and get a head start on putting your precinct in order for the 2006 elections.

Don't wait for the local Democratic Party to start to win. This whole mess turns around when real Americans take matters into their own hands and start participating in Democracy, whether the entrenched power structure wants us in or not.

Cross-posted at BOP News