Strip-mining the grassroots (pt3): The DNC's 'Grassroots Campaigns' canvassers

(This is the third in a series of posts, cross-posted from DailyKos, about a particular breed of ground operations that is increasingly popular among progressive organizations -- including the DNC and MoveOn. I'll argue -- and I'm not the first to do so -- that this model of 'grassroots' activism is unhealthy for the progressive movement -- that it saps vital energy and does not effectively advance our cause.)

My first post described the DNC's subcontracted fundraising campaign -- originally run in the 2004 election -- which uses canvassers employed by Grassroots Campaigns, Inc (GCI). Despite its 'beat Bush' banner, this was a base-building operation, not a tactical electoral strategy -- in other words, it essentially just paid for itself.  Now that the campaign has relaunched, it's important to reconsider the ongoing implications of the enterprise. In my second post, I sketched out a typical canvass interaction: the GCI canvasser does not carry voter registration forms, has no knowledge of local or state politics, and is not equipped to turn potential volunteers into active participants. In this post, I'll describe how the canvassers are recruited and trained to be effective salesmen. My question is: effective to what end?

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Strip-mining the grassroots? (pt 2): the DNC's 'Grassroots Campaigns' canvassers

(This is the second entry in a series I'm reposting from my diary at DailyKos. I'm writing about a particular breed of ground operations that is increasingly popular among progressive organizations -- including the DNC and MoveOn. I'll argue--and I'm not the first to do so--that this model of 'grassroots' activism saps vital energy from the progressive movement and does not effectively advance our cause.)

In my last post, I wrote about the canvass fundraising campaign that the DNC launched in 2004 through a subcontracted outfit, Grassroots Campaigns Inc (GCI). The campaign successfully added three quarters of a million names to the DNC membership. These people gave money under the pretense of 'beating Bush'--but the money they gave mostly went to pay for the operation itself. I questioned whether these means justified the ends.

In the comments, people noted that this is a tough reality about most canvass fundraising campaigns: they don't directly raise money for the cause--they are about establishing relationships with new donors, and building the base. Indeed. The 2006 DNC canvass operation has recently launched. Hundreds of city streets will be manned with GCI's canvassers every day from now on--for millions of people, they will embody the Democratic Party. But what kind of relationships are they building?

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Strip-mining the grassroots?: DNC fundraising in 2004, 2006, and beyond

(This is the first entry in a series I'm reposting from my diary at DailyKos. I'll be writing in the next few weeks about a particular breed of ground operations that is increasingly popular among progressive organizations -- including the DNC and MoveOn. I'll argue that this model of 'grassroots' activism is unhealthy for the progressive movement; that it saps vital energy and does not effectively advance our cause. I'm not the first to have made this argument, but the story has not yet gained traction. I think it's crucial to the Left that it does.)

In 2004, the DNC launched a campaign unlike anything the party had done before -- thousands of canvassers hit the streets of all the major cities, raising money to 'beat George Bush.' "It's the greatest thing I've ever heard," Terry McAuliffe said of this novel enterprise. Others were not so impressed. "Political panhandling,"it was called in Dkos. "Astroturfing." You probably saw the canvassers yourself, at your door or on a busy sidewalk. But in the frenzy of that year, the massive operation blended in among the noise.

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