The great leap forward in organizing local groups

(Cross-posted at my blog, Planting Liberally)

With the dramatic rise of small political groups in the last few years (particularly Democracy for America) coalition groups, there is an increasing need to serve the needs of these groups, and to help them run more efficiently.

I see these needs being met in three "waves", and I think we are on the cusp of the second right now.  Follow me over the flip to see what's coming down the pike (as I see it)...

The first wave of efforts to serve these groups were a round of technical fixes, anchored by Civic Space Labs and Act Blue.  These efforts were, and continue to be, enormously successful.  They have provided free, easy to use tools that help small groups develop websites and donate to candidates on line.

The next wave of efforts is an attempt to make these groups operate more smoothly and efficiently offline.  The first inklings of such efforts are diaries on well-trafficked liberal blogs, especially DailyKos and MyDD.  Here are some examples:

In a short while, someone will put all of these great resources together in the form of a booklet or online resource center, and that resource will become incredibly popular among DFA organizers, Democratic committee chairs, and other similar groups of leaders.  Hopefully, a few good liberals will make a lot of money because of it.  Most likely, this wave will include a "second-and-a-half"-th wave wherein local organizers from across the country can swap resources, tips and ideas with one another.  To some degree, resources like the DFAMeetupHosts Yahoo group and the MassDemsGuide Yahoo groups are already making this wave happen.

The third wave will be, hopefully, a range of professional services to go the extra mile and really study these groups and offer critical assessments of what they are doing wrong and what they are doing right.  I don't want to say "consultants", because that word is to some degree damaged goods, but that's what they will be.  They won't be slick, jargon-headed business school types, of course; they'll be local organizers who have earned their opinions and expertise the hard way - by getting their hands dirty, succeeding at what they do, and earning the respect of their peers.

I think that this third wave will herald an enormous leap forward in the power and efficacy of these groups, and will be one of the best investments in a long time in the infrastructure of the liberal movement.  But where will the money come from?  No small political group, by itself, can afford the cost of a consultant; moreover, the benefits of a consultant are primarily non-financial from the group's point of view, and certainly are not enough to compensate the original cost.

Instead, I think the liberal investor class will have to, in the short run, finance the development of small political group consultants.  The good news is that the investors could pay for these consultants "at cost", without having to bear the usual consultancy expenses of marketing and that sort of thing.  The other good news is that these consultants could probably be relied on to donate parts of their generous salaries to other liberal causes, in particular the groups where they made their bones and the candidates near and dear to their hearts.

It's not too clear to me whether we could, or even should, get to this third wave of small political group development without going through the second; but that is how I imagine the next couple of years of small political group dynamics playing out.

Tags: community organizing, infrastructure, organizing (all tags)



Re: The great leap forward in organizing local gro

Consultants?  Nah... Call these people the new ward bosses.

by Matt Stoller 2006-04-17 10:11AM | 0 recs
Re: The great leap forward in organizing local gro

i prefer something like mentors.  but there's no doubt, in my mind, that there's a real need for these folks.

for example, in my neck of the woods, our DFA group has had a devil of a time generating good turnout and involvement.  we're starting to drag ourselves out of that with a pretty ambitious outreach effort, but the point is it took us maybe a year or so to come up with it, and it'll take us even more to get it going and to make it work.  if we had some mentors to chat with over the last couple of years, we probably would have been able to get this together much sooner, and may have had a more significant impact in last year's city council elections.

resource guides and organizer's email lists and all that are great, but really, there's nothing like the assistance of an actual human being in flushing out problems and tweaking your organization to make it more effective.

by myddaddict 2006-04-17 11:14AM | 0 recs
Re: The great leap forward in organizing local gro

For sometime now I've been wanting to put together a site that could serve as repository for activists with nuts-and-bolts resources.  In my mind I've envisioned it as an online Progressive University on grassroots activism 101, with many activists simply offering lessons learned on the ground and some insight on how those lessons can be applied elsewhere.  The major community blogs on the left, DailyKos and MyDD, of course, are great megaphones; but it seems that they've decided to define their role as Liberal Noise Machines to compete to the Right's propaganda monsters in the MSM and talk radio -- and, Kos and MyDD, are doing a great job; however, though there's an occasional nuts-and-bolts diary that's posted now and then, that is not the main focus of Kos and MyDD.  Furthermore, I find that there are many posters in both community blogs that do come to these sites looking for practical lessons learned sort of advice, which they simply don't readily find in the major liberal blogs at the moment.

Again, what in my mind I envision as an online Progressive University for grassroots activists would bring, for example, the lessons of Camp Wellstone (which I've attended) online; so that activists across the nation could apply and refine those "lessons learned."  This Online Progressive University (I have a URL, would bring "nuts-and-bolts" lessons to the next generation of progressive leaders and activists.

Of course, getting this off the ground is the first step.  I'd love to hear from anyone here on how we can make this happen, or even if there already exists such a body online.

If you're interested on reaching me, you can do so via the contact form of my blog: -of-vox-mia/

or simply send me an email at voxmiablog [at] gmail [.] com


by bedobe 2006-04-17 11:07AM | 0 recs
Re: The great leap forward in organizing local gro

sweet!!  sounds like a very good idea.

i know DFA put together a pretty good resource booklet about a year ago - it was in the neighborhood of 25 pages, and had literally tons of great tips.  they were thinking of putting together an online resource center, but i think they never really pulled it together because DFALink became a bigger priority.

by myddaddict 2006-04-17 11:19AM | 0 recs
DFA Training Manual

At the DFA Training in Stockton in March we (the participants) were all given a DFA Training Manual that was about 120 pages.  It's incredibly useful.  My understanding is that DFA is still tinkering with the material, but that what we got was close to the final product.

by Matt Lockshin 2006-04-19 12:12PM | 0 recs
Re: DFA Training Manual

oh that's too sweet.. i knew i should have been attending those things, but they always seem to conflict with something.

there's a ton of great resources out there, probably 75%+ of it developed at DFA (or by DFA'ers).  we may be further into the "second wave" then i think.

in my heart of hearts I tend to think DFA would be a natural choice for housing a really cool and interactive resource library, with mechanisms for glomming in miscellaneous blog posts like the ones i linked to above.  a resource wiki with decent metadata, or something like that.  probably, they're probably already working on it.

but then again, i'm biased since i got my bones with DFA.  maybe some other group would be better suited.. i'm not sure, and i don't care much.  probably, whoever's got the most money and foresight will get it together.

by Shai Sachs 2006-04-19 12:54PM | 0 recs
DFA "Night School" Training Modules

Since you mentioned DFA resources, here's a suggestion that I think is worth pulling out from a response by Fran for Dean from one of the DKos "Nuts and Bolts" postings:

DFA Night School
DFA is running a 4-week long series called "DFA Night School."  Each week they have a conference call / powerpoint presentation about a different topic - canvassing, messaging, volunteer recruitment, phonebanking.  If you are unable to participate in any of them, they put up the presentation with audio online afterwards.  

More info is at:

by BB10 2006-04-19 02:55PM | 0 recs
thanks for the front pager!

just to be clear: I originally posted this diary under "myddaddict", my old username.  then I decided to start a new account that matches my website name (Planting Liberally).. hopefully that doesn't bother anyone too much.  one way or the other i'm glad to get all the great comments.

by Shai Sachs 2006-04-19 12:55PM | 0 recs
Thanks for linking to my post

...over at Dkos on taking over local parties. I'm glad there is someone else plugging the need for small group development.

by gatordemocrat 2006-04-19 01:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Thanks for linking to my post

your piece on local think tanks was excellent, i'm glad it got front paged!  i've been turning that over in my head and will try to add some thoughts on next steps soon.

i know that heritage (shudder) has a bunch of resource guides for think thanks... perhaps we could steal some of those and turn them into quick DIY Think Tank guides.

i also know that in some places, people have started discussion groups or reading groups about a particular topic.. usually as a spin off of a dfa group or something like that.  those things are the breeding grounds of good think tanks, i'm sure.

but ultimately the problem is, a really effective think tank just needs money, period.  DIY will take you very far in some places, but what really makes a think tank shine is that it steadily pumping its products out into the press.  and that takes dedicated workers.  and that takes either a) incredibly, blood-sweat-and-tears devoted volunteers or b) paid employees.

just some thoughts anyway.

by Shai Sachs 2006-04-19 01:47PM | 0 recs

could you send me your email?  i'd love to put together an email list of people who are thinking along these lines.

mine is ssachs (at) plantingliberally (dot) org.

by Shai Sachs 2006-04-19 02:18PM | 0 recs
Excellent On-line Book
I've already mentioned an on-line book, "The Citizen's Handbook: A Guide to Building Community," in comments on several of the DKos "Nuts and Bolts" diaries, but I think it's good enough to warrant listing here as well:
by BB10 2006-04-19 02:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Excellent On-line Book

great thanks!

i'll work on putting all of this into some kind of online resource center.  looks like there's a lot of great stuff out there!

by Shai Sachs 2006-04-20 01:40PM | 0 recs


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