the failure of organizing

colist at colist at
Thu Nov 11 18:29:47 CST 2004

[ed:  Doug, Steve, Randy and Charles continue the conversation.]

From: DougRHess at

In a message dated 11/9/2004 11:43:39 AM Eastern Standard Time, 
colist-request at writes:
As I understand it, the strategy this year was to build a huge margin in 
the Cleveland area that would offset losses elsewhere--parallel to 
Philadelphia in relation to Pennsylvania. Here it worked. There it 
wasn't enough
The margin of Bush over Kerry in Ohio is less that Bush over Gore was in 
2000, so considering that such a gain wasn't true in many states, Ohio 
was a success story, or the start of one.  Ruy Teixeira's website
 has some good analysis on the numbers. It really wasn't the evangelical 
vote (since it hasn't been measured before, we don't know) but the gain 
in women and non-college voters that made the biggest difference.
Worrying about people calling themselves liberals is like the label 
feminists. I'm sure if you listed a dozen feminists ideals from the 2nd 
wave of feminism, many women would agree with them, but they wouldn't 
say they were feminists when asked that. Likewise, the percent of the 
population that is willing to allow legal abortion is much higher than 
the percent willing to call themselves "pro-choice." People will accept 
the rights of gays one by one when presented to them, but they'd never 
say they're "pro-gay rights."  See a trend?
Doug Hess
Ph.D. Student,
School of Public Policy & Public Administration,
George Washington University
Home address:
2114 N St., NW Apt. 23
Washington, DC 20037


Steve Wilke-Shapiro <commdevelopr at>

The most notable of Martin's points to me is the differentiation
between organizing and campaigning.  Certainly both major parties put
strong organizations in place (permanent staff, "seasonal" staff, and
temporary volunteers).  Fundamentally, though, an election is not about
the organization, it is about one person in a voting booth selecting
another person to represent him or her.  

By far the vast majority of voters, while they may be registered as
either Democrats or Republicans, are not "organized" in any sense of
the word.  They don't attend regular meetings, they don't help set
party policy, they don't necessarily have common goals, too often they
don't even vote!  One's official party affiliation is becoming less and
less of a valid predictor of one's vote.

On the other hand, a community organizer is primarily focused on
building and strengthening relationships between people to increase
collective influence and power.  Factions of people with a common
interest can organize to influence politicians - significantly more so
during the election cycles.  Even this type of organization is
fundamentally different than a political party, whose goal is to elect
a particular person to a particular position.

During "off" years, communities typically organize to confront
politicians rather than support them (though political consequences are
certainly often threatened).  

Perhaps what I am trying to say is this: a political campaign is more
about implementing tactics for achieving political dominance
(convincing more people to vote for a specific candidate) than about
strengthining interpersonal relationships and building social capital
(the fundamental tactics of community organizing).  This is why you see
candidates move to the wings during the primaries, to the center during
the campaign, and back to the wings during their terms.  It's not about
building a lasting organization.  It's about getting into office and
maintaining the post.

The public maintains a general confusion enhanced by the politicians
and media) about the meanings of radical and conservative.  Regardless
of whether one agrees or disagrees with the actual policies, the
current administration is a radical administration, not a conservative
one.  In community organization terms, it appears that the
right-leaning factions on a broad variety of issues have effectively
organized to spend political capital throughout the levels of

To look at a national election through the organizing lense might lead
one to focus effort on ineffective tactics when it comes to winning
actual votes.  Dean built an organization but did not win the
Democratic nomination.

My thoughts for tonight - time to go to bed.

Steve Wilke-Shapiro


Thomas Seals <tseals1 at>

I am a social work student. I want to respond to Martin Tangora. If what 
the community wants is to oppress other people are you going to help 
them? Could it be that social justice has nothing to do ideally with 
political parties?

I think Democrats are more in line with social justice than Republicans 
generally, but they are all functioning within a system that requires 
oppression to exist. Where else are we going to get workers who will 
work for less than they deserve? At the heart of our government is the 
idea that we can steal, cheat, and kill anyone who has what we want.

The motive I hear Randy speaking to is social justice. If that needs to 
be taught, then it needs to be taught.

Randy Seals
IU School of Social Work


Charles Heying <heyingc at>

This is my reply to Martin.

We have a situation here on campus.  The University, without consulting 
students or faculty, essentially privatized student financial aid 
services by contracting with a private corporation to offer a card that 
was both a debit card and a student id card.  Unfortunate thing about 
these cards is that students are penalized if they don't use them to 
access their financial aid funds and they are charged a fee every time 
they use them.  And its a whamo fee, and surprise, surprise - the 
university gets a kickback on each transaction.

To keep this short, students must activate the card on a website. As you 
would expect, the default is set to accept the debit card.  When a 
sample set of students were tested to determine if they could figure out 
how to opt it, 100% failed to do so.  Hearing it described brings 
immediately to mind the Kerry Bush voting machine animation that was a 
hit on the internet.  It gets much worse.  There are hidden fees, the 
Universtity is going to pay a bundle to electronically retrofit for 
these cards. And they were going to try to force it on the faculty.

So some faculty (yours truly included) starting writing letters and soon 
the university decided to wait on the faculty card rollout.  
Simultaneously students began organizing.  They sent letters around to 
faculty asking to speak to our classes about the cards.  The intent of 
their campaign was to educate students to opt out and to get enough 
students to do this that the system would lose money and be dumped.

I invited the students to come to my classes. They had done their 
research, they were informed, and they were pro-active.  While they made 
it clear they wanted students to make their own decision and even 
pointed out that there were some advantages to the system, they made no 
bones about where they stood. They were very effective organizers. I 
don't know if they are going to win, but the University has been put on 
notice and the issue is moving to AAUP and the faculty senate.

So here's the point of this minor tale.  Organizing is about taking a 
position. It is about taking a stand against stupid, immoral, and 
hateful things.  It is about persuading people that these things are 
stupid, immoral and hateful.  The good old union organizers didn't come 
to communities to poll people about where they stood with regards to 
forming a union. They came in with an agenda, no excuses, no whimpy 
concerns about whether the "people" really wanted them there.  They 
understood very well that it took a long struggle to change workers from 
their habits of fear and deference.  They were there to win that 
struggle by organizing actions that liberated people from ignorance and 
fear.  Is it arrogant to come into a community with the idea that we 
know more than they do? I don't give a shit what you call it.  If we 
don't think we have something more to offer than what they've got, what 
the hell are we there for.

You don't see fancy dressing preachers of mega-churches or well-educated 
shinny-faced conservative organizers worry about pushing their agenda on 
regular folks.  They use every persuasive tool in their bag to make 
their case - no apologies thank you.  And they win because the 
self-immolating left is too timid to go out to the same folks with a 
more compelling alternative and because we eat up this crap that we have 
an "elitist agenda."  Fuck it, of course we have an agenda.  Its to 
liberate folks from the fear and ignorance that are imposed by 
structures of power and oppression.  And if we don't have any idea of 
what those are or how to get people to fight against them, we shouldn't 
be there.

Thanks, Charles


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