CC: Tim Kaine, DNC Chair; John Walsh, Chairman Massachusetts Democratic Party
Subject: An open letter to the Democratic Party
Well done! This week you proved that by empowering volunteers to take the campaign and make it their own, Massachusetts Democrats could win an election on the ground. During the past year you mobilized thousands to communicate, engage, and recruit among our friends, family, and neighbors. You gave us the tools and young and old we got to work. But, and yes this is a big but, I hope it doesn’t stop here. In 2006 you told me “Together we can” and in 2008 we all chanted “Yes we can!” And we did. But then we didn’t. In both cases Democrats won, but you failed to keep many of those who volunteered engaged.
The 2006 campaign was the first time I volunteered. I listened to then candidate Deval Patrick speak at UMass Amherst and I knew immediately I had to do more than just vote. I needed to get others to support my candidate. And I did. After the election I was left wondering: what now? And for me nothing happened. Nothing. During 2008 I took it up a notch, visiting our neighbor to the north (New Hampshire) in support of then candidate Senator Barack Obama. We participated in rallies, held signs and canvassed. It was one of the best political experiences of my life.
And then it was over. I sat around waiting for someone or some group to engage me. I received a few e-mails from Organizing for America, but for whatever reason at the time OFA didn’t appeal to me. I’ll take some responsibility for my inaction, but I was a newbie! I didn’t know where to go or who to speak with to stay engaged in the political process. It’s true that there are a thousand doors to politics, but that can be almost as debilitating as it is helpful. So I sat around waiting to “be the change.” Now, my experiences might be the exception to the rule, but I don’t think so. I’m sure there are others out there who have had similar experiences.
Then one evening in early September 2009, I received a call from a member of the Young Democrats of Massachusetts inviting me to an event. Since that first meeting, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy working with a great group of dedicated young people making the Young Dems a better organization. We have traveled across the state from Northampton to Fall River and from Worcester to Lowell meeting with Democrats, both young and young at heart. They are excited and looking for a way to get more involved. And we do what we can to help them get connected. I’m thankful to be part of such a wonderful group of activists. It’s been a very fulfilling part of my life. But it isn’t just young people. People of all ages are interested in being more engaged they just don’t know where to begin! So as much as it is on each individual to take some personal responsibility and walk through that door, it’s on the party to help illuminate the path to the door.
Here’s the problem as I see it. We spend so much time each cycle recruiting thousands of volunteers. We keep spinning our wheels on a redundant task. We need to stop engaging people only to wave good bye the first Wednesday of November. Across Massachusetts we’ve done something different this time. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked extraordinarily well. Through Chairman John Walsh’s leadership the party engaged volunteers in a new way. He called this strategy organizing version 2.0. He saw the writing on the wall. Cold calling voters is not the most efficient use of time. Instead we need to engage voters by utilizing our own social networks. Who’s more likely to get through to a voter: a volunteer in Boston cold calling; or me skyping my friend in East Longmeadow, visiting my mother in a neighboring town, and e-mailing my friends and co-workers in Massachusetts? You know the answer. It was brilliant and it only recently occurred to me just how powerful a strategy John et al. developed. It seems that each election cycle the top down strategy gets deconstructed a bit more. And 2010 was no exception. We empowered volunteers to speak to their friends, family, and neighbors in a way that we have not experienced before. Make no mistake; it’s very much a strategy for success in 2012.
Please don’t take this as an attack on your efforts. I know, or at least have an idea, how very hard you and your staff work. This is more a plea. Help me help you. Let’s engage this new group of volunteer activists before they walk out that door. Let’s reduce the work load every election cycle, by not having to recruit the same people we did last time. Let’s prevent them from walking out that door. We’re about so much more than just winning elections. Democrats are the party of progress and we’ve got a great platform to support. We’re about advancing the Commonwealth and our country to make it better for the next generation. I hope you’ll look at this suggestion as the evolution of your strategy. Let’s call it organizing version 2.1. You’ve made this an open source campaign and now I want to tweak it, make it better, make it more my own. It’s what you’ve wanted all along.
You have my e-mail and plenty of you have my phone number, let’s not wait two weeks, two months, or two years this time. We all want another “date with the Dems.” We’re not desperate, but we’re interested. We liked you enough to “friend you” on Facebook and click the “like” button on your status updates. We had a few dates and it’s gone great so far. So let’s get together and continue to develop the strategy and help move Massachusetts forward, together.
John H Kleschinsky
Resident of Everett, MA
And Membership and Outreach Director,
Young Democrats of Massachusetts.
P.S. these words and feelings are my own and do not represent the organizations I work so hard to advance.