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September 18, 2006

To Canvass or to Create a Community?

Ezra Klein blogged about the Democrats' ineffective GOTV strategy. Basically, he quoted an American Prospect article by Dana Fisher, The Activism Industry.

According to Fisher and Klein, it is unacceptable to rely on paid activists to create your grassroots base. Canvassing can yield an uptick in membership, money, or voters at the polls; but since it is a one-off event, it does not build depth to your base. Apparently, the solution is to rely on the left-wing equivalent of Christian fundamentalists: volunteers who create communities of faith.

As a former union organizer and a former paid canvasser, I think this is all hogwash. Activism should involve a combination of paid staffers and volunteers. Instead of only teaching staffers the art of door to door selling, paid activists should be developed into truly grassroots community organizers. This does not mean they should follow union-style organizing techniques. Instead, they should learn from Saul Alinsky, Ernesto Cortes and the Industrial Areas Foundation.

Then again, the IAF doesn't get everything right. Their reliance on the grasstops to create a unified citizens' voice leaves out a lot of people. But I still think it's a helluva lot better model than using people solely for financial or political gain.

The thing is that the Democratic party and the progressive movement will never get ahead by relying solely on winning campaigns. We've got to develop relationships with each other - starting with our neighbors - if we're going to change the corporatocracy that rules this country. I've been inspired by independent political activists in Chicago - where 100 years of synergy between business and politicians has upheld the most robust political machine in the country. Though Daley is still in office, and the machine won the primary election for City Council president, there are cracks in the system. And if people can crack through Chicago's system, then it is possible anywhere in the country.

Posted by cj at September 18, 2006 6:15 PM


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