Saturday, October 28, 2006

On the campaign trail


Tools of the door knocking trade.

A few disjointed observations is all I can manage after a long day walking a precinct in Tracy for Jerry McNerney (CA-11).

Working on an election campaign provides a legitimate excuse to talk with our fellow citizens. Nobody in the exurban subdivision I tromped around today seemed distressed when I showed up with my clipboard on the their doorstep. Of course I was polite and didn't harangue. Juan Cole recently made some interesting comments on the gift of legitimacy that this election has created for criticism of the Iraq war even though the Democrats are not coherently running on a peace platform.

Mostly political discourse in the United States is dictated by the ruling party in Washington, and the mass media and press are most often nervous about getting out in front of the elected officials. But in an election season, the press is suddenly allowed to cover at least a narrow range of dissident views intensively-- that is, the views of political opponents of the incumbents. Since the vast majority of incumbents in the mid-Atlantic and Southern states are Republicans, the upshot is that a Democrat point of view is suddenly getting aired and reported on. And the Dems are mostly pretty critical of Bush's Iraq War....

The spike in US casualties in October may be part of the nosedive in support for the war among evangelicals [and others], but I think it is mostly that the usually closed US political information system has been temporarily opened up by election season.

Certainly at doors in Tracy, people seemed open to the notion that there is something wrong being done to U.S. service personnel.

Though a lot of people are still stunned by how successful Republicans were at getting out their vote in 2004, we need to remember that progressive grass roots organizations and unions (notably, in California, the United Farm Workers) invented organized voter identification and GOTV programs. Matt Stoller of MyDD gave a shout out to that history the other day and shared a few observations on how he thinks the progressive movement is doing at reclaiming electoral capacity:

Speaking abstractly, the right has a top-down centralized infrastructure that's more mature than ours. We have a legacy of political disagreements that translate into less efficient yet equally centralized infrastructure. They have little capacity for locally based decision-making, we have a great capacity for local organizing when we decided to use it. They own the media. We are building our own media. They are more experienced and have more savvy about how to manipulate the political system. We are smarter, younger, newer to politics, and we have the passion and energy of a new movement instead of the vicious cynicism of a dying movement.

In other words, they are just not that good, and we are just not that bad. And we are getting better at a far faster rate than they are. In fact, there's good reason to think that in lots of pockets all over the country, there's some incredibly innovative work going on with progressive organizing and campaigning.

That seems about right to me. The McNerney voter turnout operation is one of those places we're getting better fast.

Lots of people have been writing good calls to action. Here's one, from Involved in Minnesota:

Campaigning is about doorknocking, lit dropping, phoning, marching in parades, going to bean feeds and other local civic and community events and meeting face to face with people. It is about everyday volunteers, average joes and janes like you and me, slogging up and down city and suburban streets and through rural areas door-to-door, in sunshine, rain, cold, daylight and dark, knocking on doors and talking face to face (or on the phone) with actual people, giving them a personal pitch about why we support someone. This is what wins elections. Yes, big media is important, particularly in statewide races, but it’s this hardgrinding work that gets people elected.... Campaigns NEED YOU! (I speak to all who read here.) It’s fun. You’ll feel like you’re accomplishing something. You’ll meet people who share your interests. You’ll get a feel for the electorate. And you’ll know a lot more about what’s actually going on in campaigns. No candidate wins without volunteers! Find a candidate you support and DO IT!

She's right and it's now or never. Hope everyone reading this is doing something between now and the election.

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