In my years there, labor laws were so far off our radar as directors, since it was a campaign and our employees were activists, etc etc, that something like this would have been truly a surprise. Shocking.
But from what I know now, having spoken with many people inside and outside of PIRG/Fund with years of experience running canvasses, there is a great amount of anxiety that the Fund would bring exactly this upon itself.
It concerns me too, a little bit, that the canvass model could be really threatened, but I also think that this is appropriate and maybe even necessary.
It's 'strange' that you allude to Greg's post so non-specifically. You make it seem like he's making accusations or passing on unchallenged accusations about senior management salary in general. Greg is not asserting that the entire operation is scam - in fact, he occasionally even corrected or at least questioned the accusations of the LA employees and others in the comments.
In the meantime, the state PIRGs themselves might not be kicking Doug any money, but Telefund and GCI are for-profit organizations owned by him. Telefund and GCI both do work for PIRG organizations, and also use resources of PIRG organzations to attract other clients. There are very few people involved in the budgetary decisions of these organizations. Even on the major non-profit boards where budgets are approved and clients like Telefund are signed off on, Doug pulls all the strings. He got rid of people who would resist a long time ago.
FYI, I was on one of those boards that you say are so effective in monitoring the money flows. I saw budgets, but mostly just to rubber stamp them. I never saw where the money really went or how it broke down. I know of maybe three or four people who did; I could be wrong, but I highly doubt the 'circle of access' goes far beyond those people. And I like those people, but I'm not sure that they ever act or speak independently of Doug. Not any more.
So is this 'ludicrous' and 'not worthy' of discussion, or would you just prefer not have to consider the possibility?
artfunk seems to have beaten me to the point, and gotten a whole lot more specific about it, too. But I was going to say...
I almost feel sorry for the model...this is not the model's fault, and it's getting a bad rap. It's the fault of the people at the top who are implementing it, who are so rigid and heartless and irresponsible about what it's really supposed to be about. And yes, I hold Phelps personally responsible for much of it; and I also think it's the responsibility of alumni like myself to call for it to be remedied.
So maybe this was a problem all the way back in the 80s, before I came on. It does seem to me that there was some kind of 'tipping point,' maybe in the late 90s, maybe just before we started street canvassing--that would explain how all these union drives have been breaking out everywhere. Maybe it was because by then, everyone who really cared and took their responsibilities seriously had just given up and left. Then it was just Doug and his "team," who were only too willing to let Telefund and GCI tip everything way too far...
gobears, you're right--I don't agree with Old Yeller's comment at all, and it escaped my attention until you and Matt had already replied. (I did go back now and give it an unfavorable rating.) I take the canvass very seriously, and believe that it can be a real force for positive political action. That's why this discussion is so important to me. If there's a possibility that all or even most of this hard work is actually being squandered, I want to know for sure, and I want something to be done about it if it's true.
I also want to see a discussion about positive models, and I think that after all this, Greg owes it to us to spend some time looking into positive canvass models that are more effective and respectful of their workers ($20/hr is pretty much ridiculous though).
Let's say that three years ago, I was a canvass director in California, and one of my canvassers came up to me and said: "I don't understand. How are we actually helping anything? And is there someone on top who is profiting off of this?"
I would have said pretty much exactly what you wrote. And that would have been a fine answer to give.
But that's not what's going on here, and I don't think it's a valid response.
I'm not sure what my reaction would have been if, three years ago, I suddenly came upon this post. I know it would have been really hard to process, and I guess having taken part in this discussion for so long, I might have lost some perspective on that. So I'm sorry if my tone was off. But I really am frustrated with your response.
Every piece of actual information you shared with us was acknowledged in the post--even the fact that Environment California was actively involved with passing the bill. You're repeating that information as if it is new to the discussion and can "answer" the questions, but you're ignoring the series of questions that remain.
Your implication that the callers' accounts are "strange" seems to imply that there is something potentially untrue about them--but you don't get specific about their stories, except to mention that yes, those briefings (which they mentioned) do occur and you found them informative. And then you also call "strange" the "idea that anyone is raking in money off PIRG or Fund fundraising." That is exactly the word Greg used himself. It is a strange idea, and if it's true then it's sad, and outrageous. This post is trying to take the rap that you laid out here and acknowledge that a) neither you, me, him or most anyone else knows for sure, and b) there are enough questions out there to give cause for some pretty reasonable doubt. You were simply reassuring us that there's nothing to worry about. Really? There's nothing to worry about in any of these posts?
Yes there are advocates on staff. Yes they work on legislation. Yes they publish reports. Yes Dan Jacobson was involved somehow in the passage of the bill, and yes Environment California was a player. Yes this is all on the websites. And yes, james, this is all acknowledged in the post.
By pretending otherwise, you're insulting our intelligence and demonstrating my post's point about the institutional incapacity for critical thinking.
But look, many of the people who spat the rap in these threads in the past are now emailing me and asking how they can help push for these questions to be answered and problems resolved. They stuck around long enough to move beyond the knee-jerk response and start asking the questions themselves. Will you?
Matt you sound like a great canvasser and I would have loved to have you on staff.
I do think it's revealing that you had to do "research" to be able to do your job as good work. When you say that the canvassers had incorrect information and "bizarre factesque conclusions," I don't believe that this is their fault. As a manager of many canvass offices, I know how much information is withheld from the staff, at all levels, and this is very much symptomatic of the larger problem.
Also - thanks for bringing up the x-factor: students (of which this organization was built upon). The student chapters originally hired lobbyists themselves (and money from the student chapters continues to fund state lobbying efforts), and lobbyists were accountable to the students. This is an important part of our legacy - and I am concerned about what this split has done to student power in the organization. It seems like another step down the path of removing and isolating student chapters from the actual work that is done. (I actually don't know, and would like to know, whether the students have a voting presence in ECal, as they do on the CALPIRG board.)
Unfortunately, even in my day, the big pink elephant in the middle of the room is that the student boards in PIRG have just become a sort of rubber stamp which allows the entire operation to continue to carry a "grassroots" banner. This is actually a whole other post, but I do want to mention it because up until this point it has been largely neglected from the discussion, and if anything it's what I feel most passionate about.
There are a number of possible ways to hold the company accountable to its staff.
Open letters can pressure clients and funders to ensure that the campaigns being run for them are being run responsibly. There has recently been some talk over at ChangingGrassrootsCampaigns, a listserv that a number of concerned alumni and others have been using, about how such a letter might be crafted and who would sign it. You can join the listserv here - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CGCI/ - or you can contact me at lockse@gmail and I will keep you updated.
There have already been some minor progress that we've pushed forward. We understand that GCI's MoveOn 2006 management was at least marginally less --- although many of the people now talking about writing letters are Call for Change vets, so clearly there are still big problems. Even more notably, GCI now pays its canvassers at least minimum wage, after its DCCC/Madison debacle. I think in a big way this blogging effected that change. It's just a minor step forward, of course.
I think the first major step is a comprehensive audit (financial, managerial, and programmatic) by an independent party.
I'm also of the opinion that this problem is so large - so many people come through the system, and it has such major contracts, that the "start another organization" tack is a nice sentiment but somewhat beside the point. The PIRG/Fund negative externalities are what concerns me.
They will attack you personally. They'll say that you're making up conspiracy theories, that you're a loser with too much time on your hands.
They'll assert that there's "great work" being done by PIRG people--which, as it happens, I believe that there is. Some. And I think that, to some degree, you do too. The question you are asking is how much, and at what cost. But that is a matter of weighing ends and means--which, as you know, we simply don't do.
So I think it's more likely that they will ignore you. And let's be honest, you're walking right into that by writing a post that's over 6000 words. Although mine was pretty manageable and they're ignoring me too.
But maybe there are a handful of people out there who are finally asking the questions themselves. Then it will have been worth it.
From me to you, ahimsa, you've made it awfully difficult to have a conversation, even though you're pretending to want one now. But you're still making major assumptions about me. I would never think to "go outside" if I had not already tried to go inside. And I would never think to write a post like this if I did not know that my experience - being ignored and dismissed after voicing criticism internally - had not shared widely, and by people with far more experience than I. Respect your elders, indeed. You don't realize yet who, exactly, "we" are here - but I'm in no need to rush to correct you, since every comment you make digs the hole a little deeper.
You see, to answer your bafflement at our strategy: no, we don't expect the Fund or GCI to weigh in here. But you're misunderstanding blogs, and I think you might also want to revisit your Alinsky.
When Greg started posting, I was defensive against him myself--I was so uncomfortable that this would become a public discussion, and I even tried halfheartedly to argue against him. But I soon saw that every time Greg posted, the response was anonymous, thuggish, and ultimately weak. And with every weak argument against "Strip-Mining the Grassroots," with every attempt to cover over GCI's MoveOn 2004 disaster, my own awareness of the problem came into clearer focus. Every time someone tried to change the subject, insult the people who were having the conversation, reduce the arguments to "complaints" about the job, even question our motives, the fragility of the power structure was revealed just a little bit more. It became so very clear that this power is contingent upon questions that are not asked - and every time a question was asked and an anonymous PIRG defender came on to beat some chest, another layer of the armor that has been built up around this system chipped away.
So first your reaction was patronizing, then it's personally insulting, and now you're pleading with me: "Please stop talking about this in public. These people are good people, why are you doing this to them?" Some of them are very good people, and I'm sorry to know that they will inevitably take this personally. I loved my job. And I know more about the history than you do. I'm even using that "alumni network" as we speak, working with people with more experience than you or I, who believe in both the mission of the PIRG and in the values of the progressive movement. These are all reasons why I made this post. Respect your elders, ahisma - but we, too, are your elders. At a certain point, I hope you stop questioning my motives, and start thinking about the questions that I've asked in this post.
What ahisma is doing here happens all the time in PIRG. I'd like to think I was never as venomous and wildly assertive as he has been, but I too silenced my share of dissent. Someone speaks out for one reason or another; they are dismissed, patronized, insulted and finally they are shoved aside. But there's something else that he's unintentiaonally revealed about the modern PIRG movement, I was planning to talk about this soon but now is a fine time.
Liese obviously never did anything else besides canvass (and I'm pretty sure 4 or her inflated "8" years is just being a student volunteer...)
Talk about historical perspective. I believed in student power when I was board chair. That's why I became a Campus Organizer for three years, that's why I represented PIRG to lobby with Greenpeace in London against BP. "The new kind of citizenship" that Ralph Nader wrote about in Action for a Change is what drove me--he was writing a manual for students to organize in order to facilitate:
the development of the mechanics of taking a serious abuse, laying it bear before the public, proposing solutions and generating the necessary coalitions to see these solutions through -- these steps metabolize the latent will of the people to contribute to their community and count as individuals rather than cogs in large organizational wheels.
For a decade or more now, the students have been just that, cogs. Closer to props than participants. That was probably when the PIRG mission shift began - when the element of student activism was hollowed out and minimized. (I also just want to note in this discussion right now that when we talk about PIRG, we are not talking about all PIRGs. MPIRG, for instance, is still student-run and steered, to my knowledge. There are a handful of organizations that are a bit more independent in varying degrees...maybe it's too bad that their name get dragged into this.) After being trained in an environment that has gone so long without any sense of democratic participation, who can be surprised at ahisma's attitude? Once I leave, my stake in organization is nothing. Once I voice criticism, I'm no one.
Only, that's not actual truth...that's truthiness.
Nader is also writing here, see, about 'on-the-job citizens' who have intimate knowledge of the inner-workings of the major organizations. People like that can play pivotal roles in bringing serious institutional problems to light and calling for reform. Even the bottom level workers (like Greg, at one point) might have knowledge of major negligence and even fraud; for someone like myself, who was overseeing thousands of committed progressive people, there's an even greater responsibility to speak up. Sure, I know that former co-workers are going to insult me and patronize me - they're going to shout that we are wrong, and I figure the shouting will get louder yet. But that's because they have no other way to respond but shouting, except to ask the questions themselves. From the course of the conversations I've had with fellow alumni today, that's already beginning to happen in a major way.
In the meantime, one last note to the blogosphere: if your understanding of how progressive politics works is limited to elections and the media, then yes, you are going to think about this discussion as a waste of your time. Sorry if we are boring you. Maybe MyDD just isn't the right venue for these discussions (if that's true, it's really disappointing). But if you aren't in fact bored, if you find this discussion to be fascinating - necessary, even - please email me at email@example.com. Whether you're a PIRG vet or otherwise, even if you're anonymous, we hear from new people every week.
I was the board chair of MASSPIRG, and I was one of the founding directors of Grassroots Campaigns Inc. I have eight years of PIRG experience. I hope current PIRGers will participate in the discussions but please read the post and think about what it is that I'm saying here before responding. Otherwise, it just continues to reflect poorly upon the organization that I still claim some allegiance to.
GCI is hands-down the most successful recruiters in the field. But they're running the Fund model in a short-term campaign environment, and they can't really understand the consequences of their actions when it just doesn't add up right. I mean it--they simply don't understand why they keep losing so many people. On some level, they know that there's a problem; I wouldn't quite say that they are actively trying to solve the problem, but they're not quite selling these positions as "community organizing" jobs any more. Beyond tweaking their recruitment, they simply don't get it. They refuse to accept that the problem could be with the model. And they refuse to accept that there could be serious negative consequences to their actions--that's just not how they have learned to think about organizing. They don't know any other way.
In order for them to begin to retain people, they're going to have to learn how to listen to their employees--but they're unwilling to do that, because that would mean they would have to admit mistakes, would have to be accountable to their employees, to their members. They might even have to become transparent. If that were to happen, the model might get dislodged from this awful place it's been stuck. But at this point, I believe that even that will never happen unless external pressure is applied.