Kate Donaghue recently recorded some excellent knowledge for organizers who work in our modern environment of cell phones, text messages, and email. Voters today aren’t always at home; our voters and potential voters, especially, aren’t always at home. Much of our quest for voter engagement still centers on knocking doors and ringing phones, while many of our best persuadables live on the Web, on email, in blogs and Twitter and in SMS text messages.
The exceptional comment thread that Kate’s message elicited echoes a widespread vexation that echoed through our recent campaigns: we had lots of volunteers, but we didn’t always use them terribly well. Knocking on doors is great, but some people are better at it than others. It’s essential to find work for willing hands, and it makes good sense to find the best work for each volunteer .
Josh Marshall just ran several fascinating accounts from Obama’s Ohio effort. In one letter, a couple in their eighties describe the way they canvassed: they turned over their guest rooms and kitchen to out-of-state volunteers. “This year we had at one time four women sharing our two guest rooms,” the writer recalls. “One told her astonished husband she absolutely had to go to Ohio – this being the Thursday before the last weekend – and she lived in Seattle. She caught a plane to Detroit the next day, rented a car and arrived unannounced at headquarters.” This couple secured hundreds of hours of street contact for Obama in the final week of the campaign and planted seeds for future organizational impact — without leaving home. Too often this year, if you weren’t out on the street you weren’t of any use. And if you weren’t easily reached by the canvass methods of the 1950s, or if your favorite language wasn’t English, you were pretty much invisible to our campaigns.
Even if you believe that canvassers are all that matters, canvassers need to be recruited, fed, and housed. They need to be briefed, not simply so they know the script, but so they know what the campaign is doing and know that they are a part of it. They need to know that Something Is Being Done. They need to know that they are not out there alone; visibility can cheer up voters who are already convinced, and the relentless Republican drumbeat of Twitter tags like #masen would dismay the most enthusiastic worker. Relentless focus on metrics can be a good management tool, but metrics can be gamed. The real management metric is the one we get on the first Tuesday in November.
What we need right now is to capture the enthusiasm – and the knowledge – won from this exhilarating victory. We need to write stuff down, to capture what works (and what doesn’t). We need training manuals and memos so we’ll be ready next time. I think we can start by remembering what we need — not in the rosy glow we still feel, but in the memory of those final days when many of us were worried that we could still fall short, that disaster yet loomed for our candidates and, indeed, for our world. It will loom again.