It was one of those great spring thaw days last February, sunny with temps in the 50s, when a neighbor knocked on my door to ask me where I stood on the casino proposal in Milford. I wear my politics on my sleeve, with multiple lawn signs and bumper stickers every election cycle and a local access cable TV show called “All Politics Is Local”, so I think he knew what to expect. I told him that I opposed the idea, not just in Milford but in the entire commonwealth. I also told him about ORGANIZE!, a voter organizing software package I had been working on for the past year, that it was in beta test and it would be free to use as long as people were helping me kick the tires. He told me about an upcoming meeting of activists called Casino Free Milford to be held at town hall in a few weeks.
When I attended the meeting, Milford residents John Seaver and Steve Trettel were moderating discussions and asking people to volunteer for tasks they felt capable of doing. One of those tasks involved a trip to town hall to obtain a copy of the registered voter database – I assured them that I had that covered. I recruited a sub-committee that night to assist me with the grunt work of organizing precincts into neighborhoods and doing data entry on voters. We began meeting weekly in one of the conference rooms at the Milford Library, first to train my committee members in my software and then to do updates and other organizing work.
Over the spring and summer, we worked on the database, identifying voters who were elected officials or appointed members of the town government, tagging people with their position on the casino if we had it, entering phone numbers, email addresses, Facebook and Twitter handles, anything else we had. When people volunteered for certain activities, we added tags for that – willing to canvass, make phone calls, donate, put up a lawn sign, etc. We worked it, hard.
Other sub-committees worked their assignments – public relations crafted our message, fundraisers wrangled donations large and small, outreach talked with local business owners to get their support, lawn signs and bumper stickers were purchased and distributed, the list goes on and on. I did several episodes of my TV show with leaders from Casino Free Milford, and we got our message to the voters, that there was another side to the casino debate, that the risks were higher than the rewards and the Foxwoods people and supporters weren’t talking about the risks at all. I was able to borrow video equipment from Milford TV for our events, videos from those events went out on the local access channels in town. John and Steve were seemingly everywhere, appearing on any media that would have them – the local radio station, editorials and LTTEs to various newspapers, other cable TV shows besides mine, the presentations by Foxwoods at the high school concerning water and sewer, traffic, etc. They were tireless, and not afraid to go toe-to-toe with Foxwoods or anyone who was supporting their efforts.
Being head of a sub-committee gave me a seat at the table for our weekly core meetings. I can’t count the number of evenings where I was scheduled to be in two places at once, but I did my best to be at the core meeting. I watched as our message took shape, reporting my own small piece and taking suggestions to make the software better as the summer wound down into autumn. I added reporting features, new search features, the ability to export and import data in spreadsheet format, an audit trail for every database update. We saw the data take shape, and we saw that we had a 2-1 advantage over the pro-casino side – we kept our mouths SHUT about that! Our public face was cautious optimism, that we were confident we would win in a close vote, but that turnout was going to be key, and we never stopped urging our supporters to get out and vote.
By the time the referendum was scheduled, we were ready. We activated an army of door-to-door canvassers and got them out every weekend from late September until Tuesday, 11/19. We produced walkbooks from the database, including name, address, age, voting history scores (both overall and strictly local elections), and much, much more. We made a book for each neighborhood in the system, with a map of the neighborhood on the front cover, a canvassing script and data entry instructions on the inside cover, and voter registration and absentee ballot applications in the back cover’s pockets. The PR team provided glossy brochures highlighting our message, and we created a tag on the database to tell whether we handed the flyer to a voter or if it was left for them because they weren’t home. We held multiple training sessions and turned our canvassers loose, with most of the neighborhoods getting two passes if not more.
We identified thousands of our voters and we called or talked with each and every one of them on the last weekend before the vote, reminding them to turn out and get their like minded friends in town to do the same. We had dozens of people at each polling location on Tuesday, holding signs and thanking everyone who showed up for voting, with cheers going up every time we got a thumbs up from someone driving in. We had people giving rides to the polls, we had poll watchers checking the turnout stats, and we had momentum – we had it all!
At 7:30 PM, Steve Trettel and I gave an interview on local access cable, live from Milford Town Hall, here’s the clip on YouTube:
And here’s a YouTube clip of events at our thank you party, which morphed into a victory celebration when I sent in the results from precincts 5, 6, 7 & 8:
I can’t watch that second video without being overcome by the emotion of the moment. I hope that feeling never, ever fades. It was a great day, and a great victory for the people of Milford. I’m proud of the voters – they refused to believe the hype, and saw through an offer which could only be described as too good to be true. On Wednesday afternoon, the Foxwoods office downtown stood empty, a lone worker scraping the paint off the windows in the afternoon sun. Scott Butera, the CEO of Foxwoods, said that Milford voters didn’t truly understand what a resort casino actually is. He’s wrong – we understood all too well that a resort casino is nothing but a gigantic money-sucking edifice that provides nothing of value, bleeds you dry and then moves on to its next target. Goodbye Foxwoods, and please remember what they say about doors hitting you on the way out.
Beacon Hill should take note – we worked together on this. I, with my Obama, Warren and Markey bumper stickers, worked alongside others with Romney, Brown and Gomez bumper stickers. We’re going to continue to work together so we can have good government that responds to us, not corporate sleazebags like Foxwoods. Our first post-referendum meeting is tonight. Mark my words, this is the start of something big!