candidates and community organizing

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Mon Feb 11 16:43:54 CST 2008


[ed: Peter continues the discussion.]

From: "Peter Dreier" <dreier at oxy.edu>


I agree with David's view that it is important to build strong organizations
as part of building a movement. Young people (and older people, too) often
confuse mobilizing and organizing. The weakness of the anti-war (Iraq)
movement was in part its emphasis on occasional mobilizing (protests) but
not much organizing.

But I think David is partly wrong about the role that organizing in general,
and the labor movement in particular, is having in this election.

First, the point of the article I wrote with Kelly Candaele was to describe
how Obama is incorporating strategies of community organizing into his
campaign. Some of the media are focusing on Obama's personal charisma and
even warning that his personal appeal is messianic, as though Obama were Jim
Jones and his followers were about to drink Kool-Aid. (Some of this spin is
coming from the Clinton campaign). But, in fact, as my article points out,
Obama is building on existing social networks to create a tight-knit
volunteer effort that they hope will outlast the campaign and become a
building-block for ongoing organizing work, based on real concerns and
issues, not naïve idealism. Whether this happens remains to be seen, but it
is what they are aiming for, and they've hired some experienced labor,
community, and enviro organizers to help carry it out, based on the training
offered at the various Camp Obama training sessions. Indeed, in many of his
speeches, Obama talks about how "change comes from the bottom up, not the
top down," points out the history of movements for justice in changing the
country since the Boston Tea Party, describes the need for a grassroots
movement to overcome obstacles to justice (and to overcome the power of big
business to get health care reform, etc), etc. This is not Kool-Aid. This
is organizing.

Second, regarding unions. The labor movement is split in this election, not
unified as David implied. SEIU and UNITE HERE have endorsed Obama, although
much too late, because they were waiting to see if Edwards would catch fire.
AFSCME and other other unions went with Clinton. It isn't clear how
important any of the labor endorsements have been in the Dem primaries so
far, however. Since Edwards, Obama and Clinton
were all pro-labor and all endorsed the Employee Free Choice Act, some
version of universal health care, etc., it wasn't a battle between good and
evil for most union leaders and members. So the union endorsements and
mobilization didn't have as big an important as they will in the Nov.
election, when it’s an anti-labor Republican (McCain) vs. a pro-labor
Democrat.

Let's not underplay the importance of unions both as a force for progressive
change in general and an electoral force, even given the low level (12%) of
unionization. Organized labor still has a significant capacity to marshal
resources—both money and members—to influence the outcome of elections,
especially when the choice is clear. Union members are more likely to vote,
more likely to vote for Democrats, and more likely to volunteer for
campaigns than people with similar demographic and job characteristics who
are not unionized. In the November 2004 presidential election, union members
represented 12 percent of all workers but union households represented 24
percent of all voters. Despite John Kerry’s tepid campaign and upper-crust
demeanor, union members gave him 61 percent of their votes over George W.
Bush. In the battleground states, where unions focused their turnout
efforts, they did even better. In Ohio, for example, union members favored
Kerry by a 67 to 31 percent margin.

When voters' loyalties were divided between their economic interests and
other concerns, however, union membership was a crucial determinant of their
votes. For example, gun owners favored Bush by a 63 to 36 percent margin,
but union members who own guns supported Kerry 55 percent to 43 percent,
according to an AFL-CIO survey. Bush carried all weekly church-goers by a 61
to 39 percent margin, but Kerry won among union members who attend church
weekly by a 55 to 43 percent split.

Among white males, a group that Democrats have had difficulty attracting in
recent Presidential elections, Bush won by a 62 to 37 percent margin. But
again, Kerry carried white males who were union members by a 59 to 38
percent difference. Bush won among white women by 55 to 44 percent but Kerry
won white women union members by 67 percent to 32 percent.

Had union membership reached even 15 percent of the workforce, Kerry would
have won by a significant margin.

Peter

________________________________________________
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

"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great
moral crises
maintain their neutrality" -- Dante

Discussion list for COMM-ORG wrote:
> --------
> This is a COMM-ORG 'colist' message.
> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
> --------
>  
> [ed:  thanks to David for continuing the discussion.]
>
> From: "David Koppisch" <DavidK at RHD.ORG>
>
>
> The Democratic Primary does raise, for me, very important questions 
> about institution-based organizing vs. movements centered around a 
> charismatic individual. Clinton's edge so far clearly has much to do 
> with the fact that she is connected to, has been part of, "institutions" 
> (e.g. the Democratic party and unions historically aligned with the 
> party, etc.) - hence her polling strength with older people and working 
> class people. Obama's support comes largely from the unaffiliated (more 
> educated, higher income and those registered as "independents". If 
> Clinton prevails it will be due largely to the fact that organized 
> power-institutions usually prevail over movements centered around a 
> charismatic leader. Not always, of course. In fact, in the recent 
> mayoral race here in Philadelphia, a candidate won with the support of 
> the unaffiliated and trounced the organized party and union structures.  
> So, it happens, but this is rare. In my organizing work I often get 
> frustrated with movement types and unaffiliated liberals who distrust 
> the existing organized institutions (understandably so) yet 
> underestimate their importance in building and maintainining power and 
> seem uninterested or unable to build alternative power structures. They 
> believe naively that a charismatic leader or candidate (with strong 
> "netroots" support) who is "right" should be able to sweep away the 
> organized power of long-standing institutions or political structures. I 
> fear that if Obama fails, such unaffiliated liberals will be scratching 
> their heads again and not learn the lesson: social change will not 
> happen without the long-term work of organizing powerful sustainable 
> democratic institutions. I fear that young voters -- not experienced in 
> the long-term work of building organizations that inevitably involves 
> losses along the way -- will get turned off again because their 
> candidate didn't win in their first try. I predict folks will all go 
> back to their corners and sulk for another 4 years and then repeat the 
> same exercise in frustration. I hope I am wrong. I hope, that whatever 
> the outcome (and I am one of those strange people who'd be happy with 
> either Democratic candidate) that those of us who call themselves 
> liberals or leftists or as committed to social change will engage in a 
> conversation about, then in the actual work of, building organized power 
> for the long haul, as opposed to sitting around waiting for a savior.
>
>
>
> Discussion list for COMM-ORG wrote:
>   
>> --------
>> This is a COMM-ORG 'colist' message.
>> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
>> --------
>>  
>> From: "Peter Dreier" <dreier at oxy.edu>
>>
>>
>> In California,  Hillary Clinton's lead over Barack Obama is narrowing. 
>> The Los Angeles Times today even says the primary is now dead even.  The 
>> same is true in other states where Clinton was leading, but where now 
>> the race is very close. Although some of Obama's momentum no doubt comes 
>> from voters watching the debates and from high-profile endorsements 
>> (like Ted Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey, and, yesterday, 
>> Maria Shriver), it is also due, in large measure, to Obama's grassroots 
>> campaign, which has recruited  organizers from community groups, enviro 
>> groups, unions, and other activist organizations. They, in turn, have 
>> enlisted tens of thousands of volunteers and trained them in the skills 
>> of community organizing. Kelly Candaele and I examine this phenomenon in 
>> our article, "The Year of the Organizer," in The American Prospect: 
>> http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=the_year_of_the_organizer
>>  
>> Obama was a community organizer in Chicago for three years.  Hillary 
>> Clinton wrote her senior thesis at Wellesley in 1969 on the legendary 
>> organizer, Saul Alinsky, even interviewing him several times.  John 
>> Edwards spend much of the past two years working with ACORN and labor 
>> unions to promote campaigns to raise state minimum wages and adopt local 
>> living wage laws. The mainstream media still doesn't understand how to 
>> report on grassroots community organizing, and the growing effectiveness 
>> and sophistication of the nation's community organizing groups.  
>> Hopefully, this election year will raise the visibility of community 
>> organizing and even inspire more young people to think about organizing 
>> as a career.  Just think what it would mean to have a former community 
>> organizer in the White House. As we write in our American Prospect 
>> article: "Obama knows that he will have to find balance between working 
>> inside the Beltway and encouraging Americans to organize and mobilize to 
>> battle powerful corporate interests and congressional in-fighting. But 
>> if Obama wants to be a champion of change, he'll need to redefine the 
>> role of president as organizer-in-chief."
>>  
>> Peter
>>  
>> _____________________________________
>> Peter Dreier
>> Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics
>> Chair, Urban & Environmental Policy Program
>> Occidental College
>> 1600 Campus Road
>> Los Angeles, CA 90041
>> Phone: (323) 259-2913
>> FAX: (323) 259-2734
>>  
>> "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great 
>> moral crises maintain their neutrality" - Dante
>>  
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