This is kind of an old post, but I wanted to clarify what I said a little bit.
I canvassed for almost three months, taking only about two weeks off the entire time, and often working a six day week. Many others worked for a similarly long period of time. After a while, one day blends into the next, one hour into the next. And during any given day, after you have been standing out in the 95 degree heat and sun for four hours, it's hard to keep moving and stay excited. It was extremely hard for anybody to stay motivated enough to do a genuinely good job. Many canvassers slacked off, sitting on benches, not really being enthusiastic when trying to stop people, etc. One of the reasons I was a superior canvasser was that I was able to keep up my energy level more than most people, constantly running around, talking to people, and not stopping until the day was over.
I wish I could say that this was entirely or mostly motivated by my desire to elect Kerry-Edwards. That was why I took the job, and why I was proud of my work. But during any given day, I knew that whether or not I got another $100 contribution wasn't going to decide the outcome of an election four months away, and my paycheck might be a week or two away. So if the election or the pay was the only motivation I had, I probably would have spent a lot more time resting on a park bench.
The competitive aspect was immediate and real- I knew that if I had a good day I'd probably do better than everybody else, and at least wouldn't look bad. And if I had a bad day, I'd be embarrassed about it. The results would be felt by me, personally, by about 4:45pm that day.
Besides competing with other people, it usually was fun. Getting contributions from people was a real challenge. I'd walk/run from one person to another, thinking of it as an opportunity to raise my score. People who didn't have that "eye of the tiger" didn't do as well. It's not that I wasn't devoted to the campaign, but it wasn't possible for me to constantly dream of a Kerry-Edwards inauguration for 6 hours a day, six days a week, for three months.
When my political motivation came out was when I was actually talking to the people I canvassed. If I hadn't been an impassioned believer in our cause I wouldn't have been able to do a good job. Some people came onto the job for the money and didn't care about the campaign; it showed, and they couldn't canvass effectively. So when I talked to people on the street about how we had "one chance, only one chance, to stop George Bush", that wasn't about raising my score, it was what I actually believed. Raising my score and beating everybody else was what gave me the energy to stop that person in the first place; my passion would take over from there.
My main point with this is that all people are motivated by complicated and different things, and few people are saintly enough to be able to do canvassing full-time over months, solely for their desire to help the country, with no other motivation. I have done door to door canvassing for an afternoon or day as a volunteer, but most people won't even do that. Any effective campaign or business organization needs to recognize that hardly anybody can constantly be a selfless Che Guevera style New Man, doing hard work over a long period of time with no personal motivation.
Actually, we weren't doing door to door fundraising, we were talking to people walking on the streets. A few people we spoke with sounded like real jerks with attitudes once they realized we wanted money from them; they were the exception, and you sound like you are one of them.
It's great that you're motivated enough to give online, but most of the people we spoke with had never given before, or had given before but weren't planning to give again.
You say that the party would have been better paying volunteers to do voter registration, whatever that means. But it's not like the money paid to me and the other canvassers came from the party budget. It was raised by us, and whatever was left after expenses added to the total resources of the party, so that it could be spent on things like voter registration in swing states. It may have been unfortunate that so many unprofitable offices opened that not much money actually got to the DNC, but that was a poor business decision, not a problem inherent to the fundraising model, and certainly not the fault of the canvassers. We did our jobs.
And it appears that the real purpose of the operation was to build the party's fundraising base for the long term, not the short term, because Grassroots and the DNC chose to spend the money expanding their donor list as much as possible, rather than maximizing profit.
Ohh, and I'd say that the contribution I'm most proud of wasn't one of the big ones, it was when I convinced a Republican to give me $20 and join the Democratic Party.
But realistically, that couldn't and shouldn't have been a goal of the canvassers in New York. And running that kind of operation in place like Miami would have required far higher quality control in the recruitment process. In the regular Grassroots offices, if you made quota sometime in the first few days you were hired, if not you were fired. Evaluation was very simple. But when you're expecting people to be able to talk about complex issues, you're going to need a far more complicated (and expensive) recruiting process. Any swing state office operating this way would have been understaffed and there's no way it would have been financially self sufficient. But that probably would have been better than the spectacle of canvassers in Miami banned from carrying voter registration forms.
Yeah, that's me, the Jeweler. Somebody even made up a theme song for me ;). I still don't know if I actually was #1 in the office, there were a few other outstanding canvassers there, and everybody had their up and down days.
As far as where the money went (apologies if I ramble, I'm tired):
Yeah, I knew that most people who donated thought that 100% of their money would be going to swing states like Florida. And I knew that it just wasn't true. I wasn't telling anybody that I was a paid canvasser unless they asked- if I told everyone that I was getting almost 1/3 of the money myself that I wouldn't have broken quota more than a few days. I sort of felt bad about this, but I justified it to myself by thinking that I brought in enough money that wouldn't have been donated to more than make up for my commission.
I also knew that on top of my commission of nearly 1/3, Grassroots had to pay the directors, rent the office, pay all other expenses, pay for the lousy canvassers who got fired after three days, pay for the hq in Boston, etc. So I guessed that maybe only about half or less of the money raised in NYC was sent to the DNC via Boston.
But that doesn't include the financial effects of offices outside big liberal cities like New York and Boston. I'd heard stories about those offices, even in relatively wealthy liberal suburbs of NYC, where canvassers struggled to raise their quotas of $140 or even less per day. And those canvassers were still being paid the minimum $50 per day, and they still had directors that needed to be paid, office space that needed to be rented, etc.
To maximize revenue for the DNC, it was probably a mistake to set up those offices. Maybe only three to five Grassroots offices should have been set up in the whole country, but there were a lot more. Those offices clearly weren't profitable, and I suppose it's possible that the profitable offices like New York might have been subsidizing them. I still have trouble believing that not a single penny of GCI money made it to the DNC- they couldn't have been that inefficient, could they?
But supposing that GCI really did spend all the money from the profitable offices on the unprofitable ones, I'm not sure if that was necessarily a waste. Getting those lists of donors from the smaller towns and cities did have value for the future, even if it did nothing for the 2004 campaign. It wasn't really honest- people contributed to me because we both believed that (at least a big part) of their money would be going to the DNC for regular campaign operations, not so that GCI could open up offices in random towns across the country to expand their donor list. So I almost feel scammed personally, if that's really what happened.
But I'm not sure if this really damaged the party or our election prospects for the short or long term. The impression I got from my donors was that most of them wouldn't have contributed, or wouldn't have contributed as much, if I hadn't spoken with them. So it doesn't seem like much money was redirected from the DNC to a "wasteful" GCI operation. As far as the image of the party, I guess that depends on the location. I know one of the posters said that canvassers in Miami weren't allowed to carry voter registration forms- that's disgusting on multiple levels. But in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where I worked, there really wasn't anything anybody could have done except contribute financially. And out of the probably 200+ people who worked in the New York office that summer, I doubt more than 5 would have gotten a poltiical job in a state like Ohio or Florida if Grassroots hadn't hired them. So I'm really not sure how the operations in New York and Boston and Washington hurt the party.
It's possible that a better combined model might have worked in a large city in a swing state- say Miami. The canvassers might have registered voters and spread our message, while paying for themselves when they took contributions from the true believers. I hope that model is tried in the future, but it would have been pointless in New York in 2004.
As for the directors, yeah, that was really bad. I know that full time workers on political campaigns normally do have horrible hours for low pay, but it still didn't seem fair that I was making more than twice as much as people who were working twice as long. I knew one director who lived in Long Island because his salary was so low. He had to take the train in every morning and back every night, so he was maybe home for 6 or 7 hours per night. I still don't know how he did it, but I really admire that he did.
Ohh, and I remembered I wanted to respond to one more thing. One of the posters to part 2 wrote about the canvassers doing all these horrible things. I worked in an office for almost three months, and I didn't see any of that. Nobody was smashing kids' fingers on doors, or throwing clipboards at people, or anything like that.
The two worst things I heard about canvassers doing in all my time there were this: one canvasser, on one of his first few days, told people that he actually supported Nader. He was promptly fired. Another canvasser, who had been there for months, stopped at a bar and canvassed drunk on one of her last few days. For her, it ended up being her last day because she was fired.
As far as abuse went, it was almost all in the other direction. I had one crazy man spit on my face, another ran up to me in his underwear and told me that he wished a skyscraper would fall on top of me. I was training this girl on her first day and somebody threw ketchup on her. One (little) guy got pushed in front of truck by a very angry woman; luckily he was ok. One girl I was canvassing with was groped on Times Square. On and on. New York City had plenty of angry Republicans.
The abuse was actually one of the worst parts of the job. Most of us could take it and just laughed most of it off, but some of the more extreme incidents, like those I described, were genuinely horrible.
Hey, I just wanted to respond to a lot of the stuff I've seen here, especially some of the comments from the earlier posts. I'm not going to respond point-by-point to everything, but I will tell my story with GCI, which is a lot more positive than everything I've seen here.
I worked for Grassroots as a field manager and canvasser the summer after my freshmen year of college. I was 19 then, I'm 21 now. I kind of got the job by accident; the recruiter came to my College Democrats meeting, and I took him out to dinner because he didn't have anyone else to eat with and I felt bad. I was planning to work a non-political job that summer, when he offered me a job. I was kind of reluctant to take it because I didn't think it would pay as well as my other job, but I wanted to help the campaign, and this would allow me to do it while living at home.
I was surprised to find that the job did pay well. Very well. I worked in the New York City office, which was the highest grossing and highest canvasser-averaging office in the country, but even there I stood out as one of the best, if not the best, canvassers. I was making about $1,000 per week, which is not bad for a 19 year old living at home with his parents. It was a lot of fun, and I made some of my best friends there. The job clearly didn't work for everyone, and most people left after a few days. But for the people who stayed for the whole summer, they enjoyed it and made a lot of money. Even the people who did relatively poorly (~$400 per week) still were happy with the position.
So for the person who described it as being near slavery (or whatever you said), you probably either sucked as a canvasser or worked in a lousy office. In NYC, I was working from about 9:30am to 4:30pm, and making $200 per day. That wasn't a bad deal at all.
9:30AM? Yeah, 9:30AM. Because I didn't go to the trainings for about an hour or two like Greg Bloom describes. I didn't have to, both because I was a veteran and because I was so good. A lot of the description Greg gives about the job is how they told it to us in the first day of training, and is how it was officially supposed to go, but it wasn't how things actually worked. For example, I don't know anybody who tried the "clipboard handover" trick after their first week. I never did it at all, because it felt weird and it didn't work. Or, for example, I adjusted the amount of money I asked for based on my impression of the person I was talking to. If I was talking to a college student (which I avoided- they were unprofitable), I would ask for maybe $20 or $40. When I was talking to people in suits on Wall Street I asked for a thousand dollars. Generally, I felt that a lot of the official instructions and canvassing lessons were pretty bad, and most of the veterans just ignored it and canvassed their own way to raise more money.
The job actually did seem kind of bad for the directors, and seeing them and their jobs made me never want that. They had to be there by about 8am and didn't get to leave until maybe 9pm, and they were paid about $450 or so per week. That was a really bad job, and I'd never want it. I really did admire the amount of work they put in.
And yeah, the job is about fundraising. I didn't mind that, and liked that. It gave me a clear purpose. I wouldn't have taken the job if I was told I would be registering voters or "talking to people" in New York City, because in NYC that was a waste of time. We needed money from New York so we could send it to places like Florida.
And about the money- yeah, a lot of the offices were barely self-sustaining or even money losers. But the New York City office was very profitable. Later in the campaign, they closed most of the offices, except I think NYC, Washington, and maybe Boston. If Grassroots didn't send much cash to the DNC, it wasn't NYC's fault, it was the rest of the country. We had the highest daily individual quota in the country ($200), and most of us didn't have any trouble making it. I averaged over $600 per day.
So I guess my point is, Grassroots really was good in a lot of ways. It's not knocking on people's doors to register them to vote, and it's not "talking" to friends and neighbors, or whatever all that stuff is. I've done that stuff, and it's important, but I also find it kind of boring. I wouldn't have wanted that for a full time summer job. Maybe doing that makes 40 year olds feel better, but I wanted more action, and Grassroots gave it to me. While I was working, I wasn't doing the job for the money, and a lot of the time I wasn't even doing it for the campaign- I was doing it to "raise my score"- the whole thing became like a giant videogame and I wanted to be number one, I wanted to beat all my 20 and 21 year old friends and come out on top for that day. It was a challenge: "that person looks like a $50, no she's a $200", it was kind of like Duck Hunt I guess. It really was a lot of fun, and I wouldn't have done things any differently.
So Suozzi is backed by Wall Street Republicans, and (facing meltdown in the Republican Party) is potentially supported by the longtime Conservative Party chair. What does this tell us?
And the important thing for me is this: even if Suozzi is a genuine, loyal Democrat, he's being supported by all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons. I wouldn't normally be opposed to a Democratic primary, but Spitzer is being challenged because he was the only Dem with the courage to take on Wall Street. Before this, the message other Democratic politicians would get out of Spitzer's AG tenure is that being tough on corporate crime was a career booster. Now the message is that if you're tough on corporate crime, the criminals will donate millions and create a primary opponent. Even if Spitzer crushes Suozzi that message is still being sent. Don't think other Democratic politicos won't notice, or that lobbyists won't bring up the Spitzer story if they're being too "anti-business". It's a shame. Suozzi should never have cooperated with any of this, and he's already done a lot of damage.
Hackett needs to be the candidate. And imagine if he's in Iraq, running in absentia. How perfect would that be? The Republicans couldn't run one negative ad without looking like what they are. And Hackett could maybe film his commercials in Iraq, or maybe release a Cops-style documentary showing a day there.
Can you explain how anything at Cornell justifies what happened at the YDA convention? I'm personally offended that you've used an internal matter of my chapter to explain or distract away from the shameful behavior of some YDA state delegation leaders. And I'm saddened and angered that a friend of mine, a good person, was prevented from voting with her state because she genuinely supported Alex de Ocampo. Cornell has nothing to do with that- and I think you know it. These sort of tactics ought to have no place anywhere within the Democratic Party. You should be ashamed of yourself.
She told me this was an internal poll, but she may have been confused it with the CBS poll. And if it isn't the CBS poll, I'm still really glad internal polls are showing this. And yeah, this is hearsay. But I trust my source.