Towards a Progressive Model (pt1): GCI/PIRG/Fund, meet the Internet!

This is a new series that will focus on resolutions to the "crisis of leadership" that failed MoveOn PAC's 2004 Leave No Voter Behind campaign, and continues to fail its 2006 Operation Democracy campaign. As explored in the post-mortem "Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004," the crisis is located in MoveOn's subcontractor, GCI, which uses a campaign model based on the Fund/Public Interest Research Groups. This model is unaccountable to its participants and unresponsive to conditions on the ground; consequentially, its grassroots energies are burned through and, at the same time, it fails in its own objectives of political action. It bears repeating that we don't need to reinvent the wheel in order to run better campaigns -- the fixes to the model can be significant without being structurally radical. This post will propose one such change. To do so, I want to take another quick jump back into 2004 (after this, I promise to put the nasty business behind).

During the national training for Leave No Voter Behind, we heard many allusions to the spectacular Dean campaign of a year before. Grassroots Campaigns Inc's MoveOn Field Organizers (FOs) were supposedly carrying on in the spirit of that web phenomenon, as we would be using the 'cutting-edge web technology' of the MoveOn PAC WAC (Web Action Center) to create our massive grassroots army.

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Grassroots Campaigns Inc's Great War of 2004 (p5): Masters and Slaves continued

In late September of 2004, MoveOn PAC's Leave No Voter Behind campaign launched its swing state GOTV operations. The company that MoveOn had subcontracted to run this campaign, Grassroots Campaigns Inc (GCI), had lost almost a third of the campaign's timeline to delays. A week into the campaign, the campaign's central nervous system -- the 'cutting-edge' Web Action Center (WAC) -- crashed, never to fully return to true functional capacity. So, things had gone from bad to worse.

But LNVB still had 600 committed, energized organizers deployed across the country. The massive MoveOn membership was virtually begging to be organized into volunteer precinct teams. This post lays out a hypothetical scenario (assembled from the experience of dozens of organizers) of what could have been done given the time and the circumstances.

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Operation Democracy Comics, volume 1

[Cross-posted from the MoveOn Minute Taker blog. Check there for past Minutes!]

Let the record show that the MINUTE TAKER's participation in Operation Democracy remains suspended -- the new team appears to be inactive and Field Organizer J is out of contact. No sign of M, or S for that matter. But let the record further show that the readers of the MOVEON MINUTES have taken the matter, quite literally, into their own hands! Standing far apart and above from the volumes of reader mail that the MINUTE TAKER receives, yesterday a package arrived containing extensive illustrations of the highlights of Operation Democracy (pre-team collapse)!

Below, please behold the first issue of the MoveOn Minutes Illustrated! Loyal readers of the Minutes will recognize that this is a faithful rendering of the OIL FREE CONGRESS Media Event; let the record show that this cartoon displays both logistical AND emotional adherence to the record! Drama, surprise, a dash of eroticism, the eternal struggle of man against nature and traffic, inspiration, and tactical political maneuvering -- it's all there! Onward, Operation Democracy!

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Grassroots Campaigns, Inc's Great War of 2004 (p4): Masters and Slaves

So we've been talking about MoveOn PAC's 2004 GOTV campaign, Leave No Voter Behind. About how the company that MoveOn subcontracted, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc (GCI), was significantly delayed in getting its campaign off the ground, and about how its `cutting edge' internet-based computer system (the Web Action Center) collapsed barely a week in. About how, in order to make up for these setbacks, GCI forced its organizers to redouble their recruitment, at the expense of training their volunteers--which effectively `broke' its own campaign model, but succeeded in getting GCI re-hired by MoveOn for 2006. All along, I've been saying that this conversation is building to a constructive point - but before that can happen, it's important that I fully illustrate the rather bold claim made in the first post: that the result was, for many involved, `a soul-crushing experience.'

I want to make sure that when you read that 'half of the organizer staff didn't make it to Election Day,' you see more than a number. But so far, this analysis has been mostly macro -- largely because I didn't want our discussion to get bogged down in tedium and quibble. After all, campaigns are `hard work,' inevitably there are going to be some feelings hurt along the way, and as Zack Exley pointed out in the comments:

the problems you're describing are systemic to all politics...and really to the question of organization in general.

Indeed - but if we can identify a pattern to the problems, then we can think about a solution. So let's get micro. Here are four stories that are representative of the dozens of people I've interviewed - they are mostly about the relationships between the Field Organizers (FOs), who worked directly with the volunteers, and their supervising Lead Organizers (LOs). I've changed some details to keep things anonymous, but there is no invention here.

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MINUTES: Wherefore, Operation Democracy?

[Cross-posted from the MoveOn Minutes. Check there for past MINUTES!]

Let the record show that the MINUTE TAKER sent emails, and the MINUTE TAKER left messages. M did not respond to repeated queries; the MINUTE TAKER fears that M has been lost to the cause. Weeks went by without word from Operation Democracy of further efforts.

The MINUTE TAKER has no means to communicate with other XXX Democracy Operatives. The record must show that the Operation Democracy Action Center web site has been denying the MINUTE TAKER access to the XXX team page. Instead, upon logging in to the Action Center, the following message is displayed:

We couldn't figure out what team you were trying to work with. It's possible the team you were trying to work with no longer exists.

The team no longer exists? Let the record show surprise and alarm!

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