the failure of organizing

colist at colist at
Fri Nov 5 18:43:43 CST 2004

[ed:  Terri, Brian, Doug, Helen, Robert, and Peter continue the discussion.]

From:  tmcnichol at

Dear Randy,

Thanks for validating my heartsick feeling of the real messge
of this election--hatred. Last week after listening to a radio
broadcast of a 'religious rally,' I got the feeling as though
the South is taking revenge on the North in a gun-less, yet no
less ugly way.

I listened to a broadcast of a rally on the radio and because
I been following the election so closely I like to hear both
sides. This one proved more chilling than even my imagination
could ever begin to take me. On "Focus on the Family" a Dr.
Dobson was talking about Ted Kennedy sneakily pushing through
his Hate Crimes bill while the public was 'sleeping.' He then
went on to say that we are not dealing with hate crimes in
this country. The danger is that good pastors will be arrested
from their pulpits on the charge that their sermons based on
Romans or Leviticus. Now that is chilling. And the cheers he
elicited more so. 

What disheartened me more than the outcome of the election was
that all eleven states had to continue the ban on gay
marriage, and that it was intolerance that sent the voters out
in droves--not America's lead in global efforts, not wars, not
even the economy.

Randy, I shared your post with the Appreciative Inquiy list
because I felt it so important and I did so without your
permission first. Sorry for taking such liberties and I hope
you don't mind. I also shared it with the chair of the
advisory board to the NJ Human Relations Council of which I am
a member. 

This is a VERY important discussion you are calling for and
the work for the next election has to begin right now, just as
you said.

Thank you so much for your post.


Terri McNichol
Ren Associates
707 Alexander Road, Bldg. 2 Suite 208
Princeton NJ 08540
Telephone +1.609.371.5354
t.mcnichol.1 at


 From: "Brian A. Kane" <bak.ia.pico at>


A key principle of organizing is to start where people are at, not where you
think they should be.  Maybe gays should have the right to marry, but that
issue is divisive and no one could win this election with that on their

Bush had huge weaknesses, that's why the election was so close.  Once again,
however, the Democrats failed to nominate someone who could really compete.
Kerry didn't provide a credible alternative to Bush on Iraq, for example,
and had no plausible leadership record.  No one could really say what he'd
be doing in a year, 'cause even he didn't know.  People were left
wondering - do we vote for a leader whose policies we aren't sure of, or do
we vote someone who has no real leadership credentials?

It's easy to blame faith-based and other organizing groups for this, but
that's just a lot of liberal BS.  Acorn and many other groups raised and
spent tens of millions on registering and mobilizing people.  I think it
would be worthwhile to figure out exactly what kind of turnout that
produced, but you can't take the focus away from a bad choice at the top.

Brian Kane


From: DougRHess at

 A few thoughts on Randy's article.

1. In case it needs stating,  there is good research (as opposed to the lousy 
kind that would get laughed out  of Stats 101 classes but Scalia still 
references in his writings on gays)  showing that gays are all across the income 
spectrum. Thus, it's not a  middle-class issue. Some racism in the gay community 
and wrinkles in how  anti-gay politics play out in different parts of the 
country or even different  parts of one city, however, leads to the issue being 
portrayed as whiter, thus,  "middle-class" to some. (Of course, many middle 
class people would be surprised  to learn that this is their issue!)

2. I was surprised by the large  percentage of people who voted against these 
bans. As a gay man, I found it  heartening. (I also found it weird that they 
passed medical marijauna but banned  gays. "Ok, kids. A little pot is ok, just 
don't be gay.")

3. The largest  organizing effort in the country is still through the 
religious institutions.  Republicans courted Catholics very carefully. They even had 
a link on Bush's  campaign page just to go to Catholic issues. The Bishops 
who've gone from  teaching "vote your conscience" to "let me tell you what your 
conscience should  be in detail" really need a tongue lashing. Liberal 
Catholics unite!  ;-)

4. Bush seemed in the exit polls (the corrected ones) to get a  slightly 
higher percent of the black vote and a much higher percent of the  latino vote 
this time around then last time. Amazingly, he still got 23% of the  GLBT vote! 
(About four percent of the voters said they were GLBT, although many  gay 
people may not self-identify on an exit poll, even anonymously.) Sad stuff.  

5. However, we should keep in mind that people earning under  $100,000 still 
voted for Kerry, albiet just barely, and those above voted for  Bush (in large 

Less Than $100,000 (82% of voters)  Bush:49%   Kerry:  50%

$100,000 or More (18% of voters)   Bush:  58%    Kerry:  41%

6. I do agree that some "deeper" organizing needs to take place and hope  
that the millions spent on the election will be redoubled and invested in  
sustaining employment and training for organizers, and local leadership and  
cultural/educational events.  
A potential model for this is to look at some of the tools of social  
marketing (sounds nasty but it's saved lots of lives). The kind of  education and 
communication work that social marketing entails has helped  spread knowledge 
about HIV, smoking, etc. One method that is sometimes used in  HIV prevention 
envolves working with community leaders (informal leaders not  formal, see below) 
or community members who held a place in society that made  them a central 
node among the network of the population involved. These  people were trained 
over the weekend in talking about HIV issues with  others in their community. In 
the United States as well as in many developing  nations, this method was 
used to target young men for safe sex  education by seeing barbers as community 
leaders or central spots for  interacting with many young men. They were 
trained in how to bring the issue up  and were given materials. 
A study in one small city in the United States, I think it was in West  
Virgnia, went to gay bars in the area and staff to identify patrons that they  
thought were popular or somehow central to some social crowds (I think I'm  
recalling this right). These people were then trained on the issue related above  
and the evalution of the program showed some success.
The analogy to community organizing would be to find people who play some  
kind of informal or secondary leadership roles and work on discussing politics  
with them and how they can improve political discourse in their network. 
People  don't need to be convinced that gay is this or that, they just need to see 
that  these issues are manipulations by disengenous and hypocritical leaders 
who  ignore what's really important.

Doug Hess
Ph.D. Student, 
School of Public Policy & Public  Administration,
George Washington University


From: "Hartnett, Helen P" <helenh at>

 I would also agree that hatred won. I also agree that new strategies
need to be considered. I appreciate everyone's comments and think about
Donna's ideas regarding the use of volunteers who may increase personal
contact and comfort as a means to think about refueling the fight for
social justice.

I believe that the idea of hate was also couched and viewed as the idea
of safety. Protection became the ideal, one which translated into
protection of personal economic status, personal minority status (who is
more oppressed), and personal religious beliefs. I think that all of
these ideas about protection of PERSONAL/INDIVIDUAL ideas prevented us
form seeing the social aspects of our lives and the ways in which
oppression operates systematically, like the "bird cage" as Marilyn Frye

Until we can find ways to help us all see the connections in our lives
both locally and globally we will continue to split on these issues.
Thinking about public education campaigns and the ways to connect people
I think are a great beginning.   

Helen P. Hartnett, PhD
School of Social Welfare-University of Kansas
helenh at


 From: Robert Ogilvie <rogilvie at>

 Donna has hit the nail on the head in my opinion.  Volunteers mobilized 
people to get out and vote in this election and they were organized through 
the institutions that attract a much, much larger following than any other 
in the country - Churches.

The bad news is that the Republican party has a huge lead in church based 
political organizing.  The good news is that there are many more 
congregations and church goers who would consider themselves to be liberal 
or moderate than conservative, and a huge amount of these churches have 
masses of volunteers engaged in social service provision.  It is now 
incumbent on Democratic organizers to build a larger base by incorporating 
this population.  In my book - Volunatarism, Community Life and the 
American Ethic I talk at length about how to build community through 
voluntary service provision.  The next step - which I don't talk about - at 
least not in that book - is to mobilize these people for the cause of 
progressive social change.



"Peter Dreier" <dreier at>

Comm-Org folks:

What happened on Tuesday? First, I recommend Harold Meyerson's column in 
today's Washington Post 
( and 
Neal Peirce's syndicated column, pasted below. (It will appear in 
various daily newspapers starting on Sunday). My own analysis in four 
parts: who voted,the issues, the campaigns and the candidates, and next 
steps for progressives.

The results from Tuesday are mostly bad, but there are silver linings 
and lessons to be learned. Yes, as Randy says, it was a "failure of 
organizing" in terms of mobilizing the liberal/progressive base compared 
with how well the GOP and its allies mobilized the white, conservative, 
evangelical base. But remember, they've been cultivating this group for 
many years. It didn't happen overnight. In my Organizing class I use 
FACTOR IN AMERICAN POLITICS (1994), which recounts how the Christian 
Coalition built itself up from nothing. Karl Rove did an incredible job 
at building on this work, and did so under the radar screen of most 
reporters and pundits.

1. Who voted and who stayed home? Last Tuesday, 59% of eligible voters 
went to the polls. This is the highest overall turnout since 1968. But 
it is dramatically lower than other democracies.  The 59% who voted are 
not entirely representative of all eligible voters. The non-voters are 
more likely to be young, poor, and minority -- groups that are most 
likely to vote Democratic.  Turnout increased among all demographic 
groups. Although the Kerry campaign and its allied 527 groups (Americans 
Coming Together, the America Votes coalition, etc) did an impressive job 
at voter registration and turnout, especially in swing states -- better 
than liberal/labor groups have done in decades. But, they were 
out-gunned by the Bush forces in the "ground game."

Exit polls  ( and  
show that white evangelical/born-again Christians accounted for 23% of 
the total vote last Tuesday, and that 78% of them voted for Bush. Among 
evangelicals who attend church at least weekly (8% of the total vote), 
96% voted for Bush. This is an incredibly large and stable captive 
audience for the Republicans. Progressives' base -- African Americans 
(11% of the vote, 88% margin for Kerry) and non-Cuban Latinos, union 
members (12% of the vote, 61% for Kerry), the poor (voters with incomes 
under $15,000, 8% of the total, went 63% for Kerry; those with incomes 
between $15,000-$30,000, 15% of the total, went 57% for Kerry), the 
helping/teaching professions, etc -- are less geographically stable and 
less connected in terms of organizational affiliations. (Overall, voters 
with family incomes below $50,000 - 45% of the total turnout -- voted 
for Kerry 55-45%. Voters with family incomes over $50,000 -- 55% of the 
total turnout -- voted for Bush, 56-43%. Even more dramatically, voters 
with family incomes under $100,000 - 82% of turnout -- gave Kerry a 
slight edge, 50-49%. Voters over $100,000 -- 18% of the total -- gave 
Bush the edge, 58-41%. This was definitely an election with a clear 
class dimension to it.

The long-term decline in union membership is a major factor in the gap 
between how well the Kerry and the Bush forces did in mobilizing their 
bases. Union membership -- 35% in the 1950s, 25% in the 1970s -- is down 
to 12% today. Union members are more likely to vote, more likely to vote 
for Democrats, and more likely to volunteer for campaigns (phone 
banking, door-knocking) than people with similar demographic and job 
characteristics who are not unionized. Union members represented 12% of 
all votes on Tuesday; union households represented 24% of all voters on 
Tuesday. The labor movement poured enormous resources (money, staff, 
members) into this election and worked well in coalition with community 
groups like ACORN, environmental, women's rights, consumer, and civil 
rights groups. Had union membership been at 1970s levels, Kerry would 
have won by a landslide. There's no quick fix to this. We won't see a 
significant increase in union membership with federal labor law reform. 
(See Dorothee Benz's insightful article about this in Fall 2004 issue of 
Dissent magazine). And we're not going to get labor reform out of this 
Congress and President.  But its important to start laying the 
groundwork for such reform.

2. The issues:  The exit polls are clear about this. Bush made this 
election a referendum on gay marriage and terrorism. Kerry tried to 
focus on the economy, health care, and the war in Iraq.
    o 49% of voters are "angry" or "dissatisfied" with Bush, while 48% 
are "satisfied" or "enthuastic" with Bush.
    o 70% of voters are "very concerned" about the availability and cost 
of health care and another 23% are "somewhat concerned." 
    o 54% percent of voters think that Bush pays more attendtion to 
large corporations than to "ordinary Americans." 
    o 52% of voters think the economy is either "not so good" or "poor," 
compared with 47% of voters who think the economy is "excellent" (only 
4% do) or "good." 
    o 43% of voters think the job situation in their area is worse than 
it was four years ago, compared with 23% who think it is better.
(34% think it is the same).
    o 53% of voters think the war in Iraq is doing "somewhat" or "very" 
badly and 46% of voters "somewhat" or "strongly" disapprove of the US 
decision to go to war with Iraq. But...
    o 55% of voters think that the war in Iraq is part of the war on 
    Even on what the media call "moral values" (by which they really 
mean opposition to gay marriage and to abortion), Tuesday's voters are 
far from monolithic. 
    o 55% of voters think that abortion should be legal in all cases 
(21%) or most cases (34%). In other words, a pro-choice majority.
    o 60% of voters believe that gay and lesbian couples should be 
allowed to legally marry (25%) or form civil unions but not marry (35%). 
Only 37% oppose any legal recognition of gay/lesbian relationships.

3. The campaigns and the candidates

So, what happened?
    The voters who think "moral values" were the most important issue
in this campaign (22% of all voters) voted 80% for Bush.
    The voters who think that "terrorism" was the most important issue 
in this campaign (19% of all voters) voted 86% for Bush.
    The voters who thought that taxes, education, Iraq, the economy
and health care were the most important issues voted for Kerry, but 
(except for health care, 8% of all voters, 80% of whom voted for Kerry) 
not by the same wide margins.
    Kerry's base was less enthusiastic about Kerry than Bush's base was 
enthusiastic about Bush. Among the 69% of voters who were enthusiatic 
"for" their candidate, 59% voted for Bush. Of the 25% of voters who 
mainly voted "against" a candidate, 70% voted for Kerry. Bush inspired 
his voters; Kerry voters were more likely to be voting "against" Bush 
than "for" Kerry.  Kerry voters were more likely to think that "he cares 
about people like me," "he is intelligent" and "he will bring about 
needed change." Bush voters were more likely to think that Bush was a 
"strong leader," "is honest and trustworthy," "has clear stands on the 
issues," and "has strong religious faith."
    Karl Rove was successful in portraying Kerry as a flip-flopping 
ultra-liberal with a controversial military record, tying the unpopular 
war in Iraq to the popular war against terrorism, and mobilizing 
conservative voters at record high numbers. Plus, Kerry's patrician 
demeanor didn't make him the best salesman for the Democrat's strength 
on issues.
    The majority of the major media (not just Fox News) made it easier 
for Rove to accomplish this. The New York Times and other mainstream 
media allowed the Bush admnistration and its allies to get away with its 
lies about WMDs and the Osama-Saddam connection. They allowed the Bush 
campaign and its allies to fabricate issues such as Kerry's war record 
(allowing Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to dominate the news for more 
than a week in October). They gave Rove a free hand at setting the 
agenda around gay marriage, even making Kerry's reference to Mary 
Cheney's lesbianism in the last debate a controversy out of nowhere.  T
    The Democrats made lots of strategic mistakes and were out-organized 
by the GOP. The Bush forces were brilliant at encouraging conservative 
voter turnout by reaching out to evangelical churches and by putting 
ballot initiatives in 11 states opposing gay marriage. 

4. Silver linings and next steps.

    The liberal forces had a parallel strategy to the anti-gay marriage 
ballot measures, but only in two states. In Florida and Nevada, 
progressive and liberal-labor groups sponsored statewide ballot measures 
to raise each state's minimum wage by one dollar. In both cases, they 
won overwhelmingly. In Florida, by 72-28; in Nevada, by 68-32.  Florida 
voters approved, by a 72% to 28% margin (4.95 million to 1.96 million), 
the statewide ballot initiative to raise the state minimum wage by one 
dollar an hour, to $6.15/hour (and index it to inflation) -- sponsored 
by ACORN with a broad coalition of unions and others liberal groups -- 
despite the united opposition (and heavy spending) by the state's big 
business community. This margin was much higher than the very slim 
margin for Republican Mel Martinez over Democrat Betty Castor for 
Florida's open US Senate seat  Martinez won by a margin of slightly less 
than 1 percentage point - about 68,000 votes out of 6.85 million cast. 
Bush beat Kerry in Florida by slightly more than 300,000 votes.
    Obviously, many Floridians, including many middle class voters, who 
voted for Bush and Martinez also voted to raise the minimum wage. 
Florida saw a significant increase in turnout among low-income and 
working class voters, as well as African American and Latino voters, in 
Florida -- thanks to a grassroots voter registration and GOTV campaign 
by the coalition of liberal and progressive groups -- but it wasn't 
sufficient to beat Bush and (probably) Martinez.
    Many voters (though NOT a majority) may agree Bush on abortion, gay 
rights, and terrorism, but most voters (and even more non-voters) do NOT 
agree with Bush on his running of the economy, the widening economic 
divide, the growing number of working poor, the increasing job 
insecurity, the 45 million w/o health insurance. This should offer hope 
for liberals and progressives.
    Liberal/progressive groups should be laying the groundwork for a 
national campaign to raise the FEDERAL MINIMUM WAGE to at least the 
poverty level: $9.50/hour (which translates into $19,000/year - the 
official poverty level).  Kerry was too timid proposing $7/hour.  If the 
minimum wage level in 1968 had risen with inflation, it would be $8/hour 
now. Start off bold; compromise down the road to $7.50.
Despite the significant increase in voter turnout among the have-nots, 
the overall turnout rate among poor, working class and minority voters 
(in Florida, Ohio, and other swing states) was still much lower than it 
should and could be, especially when compared to turnout rates among 
more affluent voters, including evangelicals (whose churches did a great 
job of mobilizing voters).
    The issue of the "working poor" and widening inequality is now a 
mainstream issue. Ironically, welfare reform helped. Pushed off welfare, 
folks are now working in the low-wage economy. Moral values? "Make work 
pay." "No one who works full time should be in poverty."  Let Bush try 
to oppose this. Let the guy in the White House who gave the richest 
Americans a huge tax break say that a nurses aide with two kids making 
$5.15/hour shouldn't be making $9.50/hour, $19,000/year.  Members of 
Congress should be vulnerable to pressure to give Americans a raise. Let 
the 435 members of the House and the 33 Senate members -- esp. the 
Republicans -- try run for re-election in 2006 opposing the minimum 
wage.   Business groups will argue that raising the min. wage will kills 
jobs, esp. for small business. They'll trot out their hired-hand 
economists.  There's plenty of empirical evidence that that it won't -- 
that the ripple ("muliplier") effects of raising the min. wage are 
positive for jobs and the economy. Plus, with 45 million Americans w/o 
health insurance, raising the min. wage is one way to help people 
survive who work in low-wage jobs w/o benefits.
    To those suffering from post-election depression, I recommend Rich 
Perlstein's book, BEFORE THE STORM. If you think Democrats are depressed 
now, think about how depressed the Republicans were in 1964 when LJB 
beat Goldwater in a landslide and the Democrats won huge majorities in 
Congress. (One of Goldwater's volunteers was a young Arizona attorney 
named William Renquist whose assignment was to keep Hispanics from 
voting).  Almost every pundit in the country wrote the conservative 
movement's obiturary. Goldwater's right-wing supporters were viewed as 
fanatics, out of touch with mainstream America. But, the GOP's right 
wing regrouped. With the help of conservative millionaires and 
foundations, they created new organizations, professorships at 
universities, and think tanks to help shape the intellectual climate. 
They recruited a new generation of college students and funded their 
organizations. They identified potential political candidates, 
cultivated and trained them. They took over the atrophied apparatus of 
the Republican Party. They helped change the political agenda. In 1980, 
they elected Ronald Reagan.
    Mike Harrington used to say that progressives have to be 
long-distance runners. We're in this for the long haul. We lost a big 
battle on Tuesday, but we won a few skirmishes (ie Florida minimum wage; 
California's tax on the very rich to fund mental health services), there 
is still a war to win -- a war of ideas, a war of position, a war of 
strategic and tactics. The next two years will be brutal and painful in 
terms of Bush's foreign policy agenda, domestic agenda, a war on the 
poor and workers, and Supreme Court appointments. It is time to take to 
the streets as well as to regroup for another round of voter 
mobilization, organizing at the local and state levels, and preparation 
for the 2006 Congressional elections, only two years ago. We can try to 
checkmate the worst part of Bush's agenda while building for the 2006 
elections, the 2008 elections, and beyond.  This is no time for 

Peter Dreier

   For Immediate Release
   Normally for relase Sunday, November 7, 2004

    © 2004 Washington Post Writers Group


   By Neal Peirce

         Progressives are being hard put to find an iota of silver lining
in the election returns.  The "most important election of our lifetimes"
has handed an enlarged mandate to an aggressively conservative
president.  Voters consolidated right-leaning Republican majorities in
Congress.  Social conservatives were energized as 11 states' voted to ban
gay marriages.
         More younger voters did turn out, and did give John Kerry a
majority of their votes.  But there's some disappointment in the left's
efforts to register more low-income and minority voters and actually get
them to the polls.  Despite significant increases over 2000, the turnout
among have-nots in such key states as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania still
lagged far behind voting participation of affluent voters and, it appears,
the evangelicals mobilized through their churches.
         None of this means that Internet-based fund-raising and
organization, popularized by the Howard Dean campaign and embraced by a
range of the left's "527" and related political action groups -- MoveOn,
ACORN, the NAACP, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and
ACT (Americans Coming Together) -- didn't do a lot to level the playing
field with a Republican campaign awash in cash.
         But for now the progressives have to face bitter domestic
prospects: what they expect to be more tax and regulatory favors for the
affluent and big corporations, a renewed wave of conservative appointees to
the courts (and almost surely the Supreme Court), watered down worker and
environmental protections, and -- to reduce the monstrous deficits
triggered by tax cuts and the Iraq war -- a potentially historic wave of
cuts in housing and other social benefits for the poor.
         Is any or all of that changed by President Bush's pledge, in his
acceptance speech, to seize his second term as an opportunity to "earn" the
trust of those who voted against him?  Progressives are sure to be
skeptical, bracing themselves for a repeat of the first Bush term formula
of aggressively conservative economic and social agendas, the now-familiar
Bush strategy to vanquish opponents rather than seek common ground.
         For the left, the big message of the 2004 election has to be one
virtually unthinkable in the last century: that the best opportunities for
progressive policy breakthroughs exist not at the federal, but at the state
and local level.
         And election day 2004 actually produced a model: despite
determined opposition by Gov. Jeb Bush and major business interests,
Floridians by an overwhelming vote -- 72 percent -- raised their state's
minimum wage to $6.15 an hour, $1 over the federal level.  By one estimate,
that means a $434 million a year increase for Florida workers.  A similar
measure won in Nevada.
         Peter Dreier, professor of urban policy at Occidental College and
a lead analyst-advocate of progressive causes, says increases in the
country's long-lagging minimum wage levels are precisely the types of issue
able to attract massive middle-class support even while drawing more
low-income, working class, African-American and Latino voters to the polls.
         "We're the richest country in the world but we have more
inequality and poverty, less job security, less health insurance, fewer
guaranteed paid yearly vacations than any other industrialized nation,"
Dreier notes. These are issues, he suggests, that political organizations
and unions can raise, appealing widely to the middle class as well as
low-income people.
         Kristina Wilfore, executive director the Ballot Initiative
Strategy Center in Washington, echoes the point: "The progressive movement
has failed to understand the states.  But with the presidency, Senate, and
House becoming more conservative, progressive planks will only succeed
through state ballot initiatives or actions of the state
legislatures.  Tuesday's initiative results showed how effective activists
at the local level can be, even overcoming huge odds by knowing how to
appeal to voters in their own communities."
         Last Tuesday's voting produced some cases in point.   To pay for
mental health services, for example, California voters approved a tax on
people with annual incomes of $1 million or more -- about as pure a "Robin
Hood" measure as one can imagine. Colorado and Oklahoma approved measures
to expand health care through tobacco taxes.  In Maine and Washington, tax
cut measures were defeated (for a change!).  Colorado approved setting
goals for public utilities to adapt more wind, solar and biomass power --
an important initiative for growing alliances of environmentalists and
community activists.
         Not all states, of course, allow ballot initiatives.  And when
proposals helping the disadvantaged but costing the affluent reach
legislatures, they're often easy prey for lobbyists.
         Still, the progressives who saw their hopes dashed in this week's
presidential and congressional elections don't need to be totally
depressed.  Voter-driven economic populism, a new and serious focus on
state-level action, and starting early and seriously to register the
toughest-to-mobilize new voters: the keys to a more promising political
future are at least in sight.

Peter Dreier
E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics
Director, Urban & Environmental Policy Program
Occidental College
1600 Campus Road
Los Angeles, CA 90041
Phone: (323) 259-2913
FAX:    (323) 259-2734

colist at wrote:

> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
> This is a COMM-ORG "colist" message.
> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
> [ed:  thanks to Donna, Amy, Helen, Carol, Rick, Bill, Nia, and Charles 
> for the continuing discussion.  Some of these posts also include 
> discussion of Peter's message.  Let's keep talking.]
> From: "donna hardina" <donna_hardina at>
> Randy,
>    Thanks for the opportunity to talk about this. I'm still pretty 
> stunned.
> Just got back from doing "Election Protection" in Arizona which raised 
> some
> issues for me - NAACP, Working Assests, LULAC, and People for the 
> American
> Way put alot of money into recruting upper and middle income folks to go
> into the swing states and poll watch in precincts with a history of 
> minority
> voter intimidation. The process was not particularly well organized - 
> for a
> time we had 9 poll watchers including 4 lawyers in a heavily Latino and
> Democratic precinct - a Democratic party lawyer who lived in the precint
> literally yelled at us about moving people into polling places in 
> which we
> could be more useful. Most of the additional workers were people of 
> Latino
> heritage from the local community who were recruited at the last 
> minute to
> help. Seems as if the emphasis should have been on empowering the 
> community
> to fight for their rights rather than bringing in affluent people in for
> protection - although I think it was really good to have the lawyers
> available. The community did appreciate our being there - however, in 
> light
> of the results - perhaps there were better ways to allocate resources.
> Obviously a long term strategy is needed.
> Another point I think we need to consider as organizers is that one of 
> the
> reasons that the Rove strategy produced massive conservative voter 
> turn out
> is that it relied on the use of volunteer labor rather than paid staff.
> Volunteers were able to mobilize families, friends, and neighbors - 
> people
> with whom they shared personal connections and experiences. Shouldn't 
> we be
> focusing on building a sense of connection and community to mobilize 
> people
> for progressive social change? I would be interested in hearing from 
> others
> about how to do this.
>                                                Donna
> From:
> Amy Hubbard <amyshubbard at>
> Randy,
> Thanks for your comments.  I felt better after reading them.  Just a 
> short comment about gay rights being a middle-class issue.  You might 
> as well have also said that it's a middle-class white issue because 
> that's where most of the support is.  Of course, you'd be right about 
> that but I just wanted to add that after I moved into my neighborhood 
> two years ago (a lovely place in a corner of DC that unfortunately is 
> gentrifying rapidly) I was struck by the number of black gay 
> households in the neighborhood.  People may joke about the white gay 
> couples that are moving in but I don't see the overall numbers of gay 
> people in the neighborhood changing.  What's changing is that the new 
> households are out to their neighbors (and probably out to their 
> families as well).
> As an outside observer (racially and orientation-wise) I may have this 
> wrong, but it appears to me that the black churches have a powerful 
> hold over community and family life and these churches don't want to 
> know about their gay members.  Thus gay rights will usually be seen as 
> a white issue.  (There's also some anger there about white gays being 
> able to hide their sexual orientation and get benefits from being 
> white while blacks will never be able to hide their race -- so *don't* 
> compare gay rights to the civil rights movement!)  I don't know what 
> it will take to change that and I'm not suggesting that organizers 
> avoid it for that reason.  But it does remind me that sometimes white 
> activists talk about the importance of building coalitions across 
> racial lines without acknowledging that there are some fundamental 
> differences over social issues.
> --- which of course, you *didn't* say and, of course, I'm not telling 
> you anything you didn't already know but your comments reminded me of 
> other folks who have said things like that.
> Amy Hubbard
> ************************
> From: Helen Schaub <has8119 at>
> Randy,
> Thanks for this.  I think you are exactly right.
> One of the things we did when I was at Mothers on the
> Move in the Bronx is write a statement of principles
> and values with our members.  It included a line about
> respect and equality for everyone, regardless of
> sexual orientation (among other things).    It was a
> first step, but it allowed us to have the conversation
> with our members.  We read the values statement at the
> beginning of meetings, and spent some time in
> organizational retreats going through different
> scenarios about how to put it into practice...
> The National Organizers Alliance put out an
> organizers' training curriculum on wedge issues a
> couple of years ago which poses some scenarios on how
> to deal with this as well.
> Helen Schaub
> 1199 SEIU New York
> ***********************
> From: "Carol McCullough" <cmccullough at>
> Hi Randy,
> I really appreciate your thoughts on the failure of organizing when it 
> comes to dealing with wedge issues and the wider self-interest our 
> organizing must foster in order to get past those issues.  It brought 
> to mind two other concerns that I have been faced with in my 
> experiences with organizing.
> The first is the racism towards "foreigners" that I have seen in my 
> day to day dealings with groups and, in particular, the police that 
> the groups work with (not so much with Latino folks as with those from 
> the Middle East and also those from India, Pakistan, etc who run shops 
> and motels frequently in trouble with the law).  Crime and safety are 
> big issues with many of the groups that I deal with, and the attitudes 
> toward "foreigners" (who have often been in the states for decades) 
> are pretty difficult to move people past so that they can deal with 
> the real root problems.
> Another issue that I am reminded of is one that came up in my first 
> experiences in organizing.  I started out as a worker in a union 
> organizing campaign.  The ILWU worked with those of us at Powell's 
> books to form a union.  BUT that was not the real goal or the only 
> result.  The process created UNIONISTS, not just union members--people 
> who became activists as a result of the experinece and in turn went 
> out and fought for other workers' rights.  I went on from that 
> experience to work as a union organizer and was completely 
> disillusioned by the business unionism approach that was just 
> interested in getting the numbers and not at all interested in 
> creating unionists.  Given that not that many unions are even really 
> doing that much new organzing, the fact that a lot of the organizing 
> taht does take place is so superficial points to why there is such a 
> crisis with workers' rights in this country.
> I'm not sure what my point here is other than the fact that I agree 
> with you that moving people from a narrow self-interest to a broader, 
> enlightened self-interest is definitely where I have seen organizing 
> (including my own) fall short.  I am very open to suggestions that 
> people might have.
> Carol McCullough
> Neighborhoods Resource Center
> Nashville, TN
> *******************
> From: "Richart Keller" <richart.keller at>
> Randy
> Thank you very much for that thoughtful commentary.
> Like you, I think that a central message of the election (and, I would 
> add,
> of a lot of divisiveness which has been growing in this country, 
> nurtured by
> talk shows and other strident in-your-face discourse) is that we need to
> take a new approach to organizing--starting by honest and respectful
> listening and understanding.  I would add to your list the Listening 
> Project
> technique as another tool which has been very effective.
> Perhaps most important, though, is that as individuals in our daily 
> lives we
> practice (and model) substituting love for fear, understanding that 
> each of
> us has a piece of the truth, and that each of us has a lot to learn.
> I believe that solidarity is not the goal--the beloved community is; as
> attributed to A.J. Muste:  "There is no way to peace; is the way."
> Rick Keller
> Providence, RI
> *************************
> From: "Spears, Bill" <SPEARSB at>
> Randy,
> I (as well as many if not most of your readers I am sure) agree with
> you. Your last paragraph emphasizes building from the ground up.  It is
> my belief that the Bush phenomenon is not lead by the "Bush Dynasty" but
> a reflection of the mood and values of the country and the Bush
> administration is a reflection of that.  I hope that this victory
> encourages those of us that believe that love, inclusion, and
> communication are a better way of living than fear and exclusion to do
> more.  I have heard over and over "this country is deeply divided."  The
> polictical campaign we experienced is a symptom of our willingness to
> promote the differences in groups rather than promoting the
> similarities.  I believe it is our job to look for ways to unite our
> communities.  To do this we need to be willing to reach out to those who
> we have not seen as our partners to see how we can make them partners.
> By the way if you can find the entire Kerry consession speech (rather
> than the snipit that was played in the news and websites) I think it
> promotes working to merge the divide.
> Bill Spears
> San Antonio, TX
> *************************
> From: "Nia Wellman" <nwellman at>
> "It's not that Kerry lost, it's that hatred won."
> I think you are right--I think that is partially why I have been 
> wandering
> around in a fog.
> I think I would add that gay rights are not a middle class issue for 
> another
> reason, besides the fact that it drives the factory worker to vote 
> against
> his class.  The gay or lesbian who is middle class has the option of 
> moving
> away from his or her community, exploring his or her identity, and being
> true to his or her sexual orientation.
> The gay or lesbian who is from a working class or survival background is
> still gay or lesbian, but lives his or her life in silent fear that 
> someone
> may discover his or her secret.  Of course everyone knows, but no one 
> talks
> about it to the individual, so the individual is left with the false 
> sense
> of security that pretending is working.
> To say that gay rights is a middle class issue is like saying that 
> domestic
> violence only occurs in poverty-stricken homes.  The reality is that 
> people
> with more economic resources have more ways to camoflauge or cure their
> problems.  The upper class woman may have other means of escaping a 
> domestic
> violence situation than resorting to a safe-house or shelter.  So it 
> is that
> middle class gays have the added advantage of being able to move away 
> from
> their own communities (if necessary) and become who they truly are,
> sometimes only possible outside of the shelter of family and home 
> community.
> For me as a lesbian, and a Christian, this whole experience has been very
> humbling.  I have organized around many issues, but never around gay 
> rights
> and/or the church.  Perhaps it is time for a change.
> Nia Wellman
> ***********************************
> From: Charles Heying <heyingc at>
> In response to Peter's and Randy's post consider the following:
> In Oregon, Gore won by 6000 votes in 2000, Kerry increased the margin 
> of victory to 70,000 votes in 2004. At the state level, dems won all 
> the major state level positions, retained all national incumbencies, 
> changed the margin in the state senate from 15/15 to 18/12 dem over 
> rep., and came close to winning a majority in the house.  At the local 
> level, Portland elected a mayor who developed a real grassroots 
> principled campaign that began with a limit of donations to $25/person 
> in the primary and $100/person in the general election. He spent 
> $70,000 to his opponent 's nearly $1 million and yet he won the 
> election 63% to 37%. His opponent was a respected local council member 
> and there were no major scandals.
> Second observation - Portland was one of 33 test markets for the 
> progressive talk radio Air America.  The AM station carrying Air 
> America zoomed to the highest rated station in the region with a 
> market share several times its nearest hate radio competitor.
> Whats the point of this?  A question?  Does anyone know how dems did 
> in other test markets of Air America?  Obviously, these are areas 
> where the progressive message should be popular but if they are also 
> areas where the margins of victory increased, does this tell us 
> something about media dominance and civic engagement.
> (what follows is one response I received from posting this question on 
> COMM-URB list)
> colorado is another progressive talk show test market. dems won the
> legislature; "state political leaders reacted with stunned disbelief 
> as they
> contemplated democratic majorities in both the colorado house and the 
> senate
> (denver post)" for the first time since 1976. voters also approved ballot
> issues on mass transit, tobacco tax and revewable energy.
> Take care, Charles
> colist at wrote:
>> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
>> This is a COMM-ORG "colist" message.
>> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
>> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
>> Your maybe-less-humble-than-angry-and-scared-moderator here.  It's the
>> day after, and I have been trying my best to just go about my work and
>> pretend that there was no election yesterday.  But no one will let 
>> me. All day I have been receiving messages either bemoaning the 
>> election of
>> George Bush or trying to find "bright spots" in this miserable
>> aftermath.  Eventually, I decided I had to either stop checking my
>> e-mail or let it rip.  Guess what I chose?
>> I promise you, however, that this is about community organizing.  
>> Because
>> it fundamentally is.  It seems my reaction to this election is different
>> from most of my friends' and colleagues'.  I am not that bothered by
>> the re-election of George Bush, even if it was probably mostly the
>> result of out and out disenfranchisment engineered through the State of
>> Ohio Secretary of State's Office in collaboration with the Ohio
>> Republican party.  No, John Kerry, Mr.
>> I-oppose-abortion-but-support-choice, I-will-give-you-tax-cuts-too,
>> I-don't-want-national-health-care-either,
>> I-like-guns-as-much-as-the-next-guy, etc. etc. was hardly a choice worth
>> cheering for.  And I am almost relieved I don't have to live down the
>> embarassment I felt after I voted for Clinton the first time and vowed
>> to never compromise my principles again except that my wife, the love of
>> my life, said she would refuse to talk to me if I didn't vote for Kerry.
>> What bothers me most about this election is not that Kerry lost but that
>> hatred won.  Eleven states--even one of the blue ones--voted to outlaw
>> gays (might as well call it that) by overwhelming margins.  Why isn't
>> that the big headline?  And especially why isn't that what we are
>> talking about?  Because that is where we failed. And as much as I would
>> love to blame the Republican right for promoting hatred, it is much more
>> a failure of community organizing and community education. Elections
>> happen only every few years, and we organize for them for a few months
>> every few years, at most.  But the issues that drive campaigns go round
>> the clock, and hatred is one of the deepest issues we face.
>> What went wrong that community organizers can win an increase in the
>> minimum wage in Florida but they can't stop a gay ban in Oregon?  Or
>> Ohio, Or Michigan, or the eight other states where it passed?  Because
>> if our organizing was effective enough to have stopped the gay bans in
>> those states, we wouldn't have had to settle for a compromise candidate
>> to begin with.  So we need to understand this.
>> What I will say next is meant to provoke, to start a discussion.  
>> Because
>> if we are going to stop things from getting even worse, we need to begin
>> now, rethinking not just our political organizing strategy but our
>> community organizing strategy.
>> Let's start with homophobia, one of the primary driving issues of this
>> election.  It brought out the right in droves, and wiped out whatever
>> gains had been made by the massive voter registration drives led by
>> community organizers and groups like MoveOn.Org.  You and I both know
>> that many of the people that community organizers and democratic
>> organizers brought out to vote were the same people who voted for gay
>> bans.  Here in Ohio, for example, at least 49% of the voters went for
>> Kerry (for all we know it was 51%), but only 38% opposed the gay ban. 
>> No wonder we needed a compromise candidate.
>> We all know that gay rights is one of those wedge issues in community
>> organizing.  And it points to one of the most severe weaknesses in our
>> community organizing models.  For faith-based organizers, the power of
>> religious ideology prevents even bringing the subject up except in a
>> very few progressive congregations.  And even for neighborhood-based
>> Alinsky-style organizers, the subject can split a community organization
>> faster than you can say 'failure.'  Every good organizer knows you
>> focus on the issues that everyone agrees on and that is how you build an
>> organization.  So organizers avoid the tough polarizing issues.  And
>> yet, those are the very issues that need to be confronted if we are
>> going to be able to run truly progressive candidates who will not have
>> to pretend to be conservatives (or actually are conservatives). 
>> Community organizers, who are working on the ground in those
>> communities, are the only people in the position to do the work. Only
>> when community organizers are able to build organizations on the basis
>> of not just narrow self-interest, but broad human rights principles,
>> will we stand a chance of turning the right wing tide.  Not until.  As
>> an example, one of the frightening findings of the exit polls from this
>> latest election disaster is the strong proportion of Latino/a voters who
>> chose Bush on the basis of conservative cultural values.
>> Accomplishing this requires a new model of organizing that combines 
>> issue
>> work with community-based education.  It requires broaching those issues
>> of reproductive rights, gay rights, women's rights, animal rights, and
>> others that may directly challenge the cultural values of the people
>> with whom we work. There are models out there--the Highlander popular
>> education process, learning circles, and other community education
>> strategies that respect community culture at the same time that they
>> challenge it--that we may be able to integrate with self-interest
>> community organizing.  We may be able to find ways to partially insulate
>> community education from on-the-ground organizing.
>> Ah, but you say, issues like gay rights are middle-class issues,
>> irrelevant to the poor and working class communities that community
>> organizers work in. And yet it is the taught hatred of gays that causes
>> the unemployed factory worker to vote against his class interest and
>> choose Bush.  Middle-class issues become poor and working class issues
>> when the right uses them to mobilize the poor and working classes.  So
>> *we* have to make them poor and working class issues too.
>> Us academics have a role to play in this.  Our work with organizers,
>> finding good accessible information to build community education
>> processes, can provide the support necessary and save the organizer's
>> time.  We can also put ourselves on the firing line in community
>> settings so the organizer doesn't have to.  But us academics have to
>> learn and practice a different form of pedagogy in those settings,
>> because community folks won't pretend the deference that our students
>> normally will.  Here is where organizers and academics need to work
>> together.
>> So we have our work cut out for us--to build a progressive culture from
>> the ground-up, establish a community-based respect for human rights, and
>> help everyone understand the connections between the concrete issues and
>> the abstract ones.  Or four years from now we will all be moaning about
>> the election of someone maybe even worse than Bush.
>> Randy Stoecker
>> moderator/editor, COMM-ORG
>> randy.stoecker at

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