Understanding the history of Dem politics can give insight on how to best develop and use tools because some things never change. As Kate Donaghue fervently points out, the really important stuff is local and person to person. There is no substitute for shoe leather. There was a lot of talk about the efficacy of blogs and organizations like MoveOn. Successful groups encourage and facilitate the Kate Donaghue preferred method of interaction. Having worked on Deval’s campaign (and many others), I can tell you that talking points, blogs and tools are simply supplements to basic grassroots organizing. It’s always about a few people getting involved, having meetings, providing some minimal form of organizational structure and then spreading the word. Politics is local, and the people who volunteer are the most important part of the mousetrap. Politics should be about the people who get involved, caring about them, nurturing their involvement, utilizing their unique skills, rewarding them and giving them latitude to make decisions about how tools are used. Campaigns and organizations that don’t value volunteers (or abuse and mistreat them) are a real problem and hurt the party by discouraging continued involvement.
The new machine will always be dealing with an old machine. The lines get blurry sometimes as to which is old and which is new. As an example, I attended the Obama caucus in Springfield. One of my good friends was a candidate for the national convention. He has put his career on hold just to travel and work on the Obama campaign in NH, OH, PA, SC, etc. He’s logged more hours and shoe leather on the campaign than anyone else I know. He lost his bid to be a national delegate. Why? Because even in what is supposed to be a grassroots campaign, the old machine exists. Caucuses heavily favor politicking and do not value or reward volunteer actions and participation. In Springfield, the two people elected Obama delegates used Deval’s name and distorted perceptions of their involvement in that campaign (talk about how fast the new becomes old). I know both well, and I congratulated them on winning. But what was the cost of their winning? How many people were turned off and will never attend a caucus again? When the party comes up with a method for rewarding actions instead of words, we might actually see long term participation. It’s all well and fine to discuss ways to use new tools, but the structure needs to adapt as well. How many people at that caucus became disillusioned as a result of watching the most committed volunteer get bypassed by the political machine? John Walsh and Doug Rubin, I applaud your attendance at the party and I hope you are listening.
Ultimately, every one of us who continues to be involved will become the old machine facing a new one on the horizon. The next version ##.0 mousetrap is just around the corner. We need to embrace the next version and never think the current version can’t be improved upon. Maybe we can spend some time talking about the real problems we face in getting people involved and keeping them involved. What do you think?