I’m delighted of course, that Deval Patrick and Tim Murray won the election, along with our other democratic candidates but I am very disappointed that Deval and Tim (and our democratic candidate for State Rep.) lost in my town, and the majority of towns in my House district of 1st Middlesex. We’re the red strip of border towns on the Boston Globe map. In most of the towns it was a close race, but in my town we had the dubious honor of losing by the greatest margin. In fact, in the Boston Globe my town is further dishonored by being one of the worst towns for the ticket. Ouch.
Needless to say we have some work to do in my (red)neck part of the map. What happened? The good news is that the margins were much closer in this election than in 2002. More folks voted, and voted democrat and that’s a great thing. I just think, no, actually I know, that if we had more volunteers we could have won. Not just come close. Won. In my town alone, the margin was 323 votes. That’s it. Out of 5,100 registered voters (all parties) only about 3200 showed up. I don’t think that it’s out of the realm of possiblity to pick up 324 votes from the balance of potential voters who chose not to vote. We didn’t have enough volunteers and we just flat ran out of time.
So where do you go for volunteers? The first stop is the Democratic Town Committee. You’d think a group of 14 – 20 active volunteers could really accomplish something. Here’s the rub though: unlike the other towns in my house district, we did not have a majority of members supporting Deval Patrick before the primary. You’d think though after the primary that we could count on more help, and I honestly thought that after the primary people would get to work. Hell, people even told me that after the primary that we’d all be working together. Awesome. But it never happened. Why? There was a variety of reasons given. Too busy. Too shy. Summer vacation. Here’s my favorite (actual quote) “I am not on the `unenrolled’ town committee, so I will not call, or contact unenrolled voters.” Now mind you, a candidate cannot be elected dog catcher in this state without reaching out to unenrolled voters, so really this is just another excuse to not do the work.
In my town, on any given day from the time after the caucus until primary day, and on through to election day, we had 2 (two!) volunteers (Myself being one of the two) working full-time (phone banking, canvassing) and a few others who helped with stand-outs but not with those other tasks. We also had people willing to hold signs on election day, but by then the deed is done. Holding signs is an important part of the overall strategy, but it doesn’t ID voters. By election day if you don’t have your voters ID’d you’re done. Two weeks before the election I knew what was coming.
Last night was our first town committee meeting since the election. When we discussed the outcome of the election and what we could do differently next time, there were many people who were absolutely amazed that the ticket didn’t win. Amazed! How could it happen? These were the same people who were for the most part MIA. The same people who ignored my phone calls. Ignored my e-mails. Ignored my many, frequent, incessant calls for help. Unbelievable.
I was diplomatic. I was cordial. I did not in any way, shape or form want to insult anyone, but I made it very clear that we lost our town because we didn’t do the work. You can’t just hope for the best, as Deval says, but not work for it.
I’m not trying to make excuses, and as the co-coordinator for my town, and district coordinator of my senate district I know the responsibility lies with me and I accept that. I have some work to do. My plan is to learn more about effective organizing with the dual goals of not just having more volunteers, but to build a stronger democratic organization on my local level in the process.
That’s my local rant – on a senate district level, we had essentially the same issues, but on a larger scale. Pre-primary we didn’t get any help from any of the city committees. Many people were with other candidates (and not working for them either). I get that. We had a few people here and there helping out, but for some that just meant they would put up a yard sign. Helpful, but like I said before, signs don’t ID voters.
After the primary it was better. The unions and Neighbor to Neighbor were fantastic, but the Democratic City Committees, with the exception of Gardner were completely missing in action in my district. We had plenty of chiefs, but not enough indians. We had to scrape for phone bankers every night and canvassers every weekend. Once the campaigns were coordinated, we had the help of a very talented, energetic Field Coordinator (originally with the Murray campaign) who made miracles happen on a daily basis. In the smaller towns in the district we had the same issues with a lack of involvement from the local town committees. In some areas we had State Rep. races going on as well. In at least two towns we had committee members actively supporting Republican candidates. In one case it was a Town Chair who was foolish enough to endorse said Republican candidate in the local newspaper. Yikes.
Bottom line: We did better in this region this year, but we still have much room for improvement. The challenge is to keep those folks who were involved in the campaign around and engaged, and to also reach out to our allies who are involved in other causes. We have many goals in common and it just makes sense to join forces.
What are you doing? What works in your area? What else can local activists do to recruit and keep volunteers?
I welcome your suggestions.