Battle Plans: Election Organizing 101
‘How-To’ for Leftists and Progressives
Allergic to the Democratic Party
but Who Want to Back Obama
By Carl Davidson
Start where you are.
I’m assuming a neighborhood-based group. In you are not in a neighborhood based group, then join one or start one, around peace and justice issues.
Most of the people in your group will have little or no experience working an election. That’s OK, they’re going to use this election to train themselves. Also, the people in you group will know bits and pieces about the neighborhood, but not systematically, and most of the neighborhood won’t know them, either. That’s OK too, because you’ll use this election to gain more systematic knowledge, and get yourselves known, too.
Hold a meeting and make a plan. Assign someone to get precinct maps and registered voter lists. Assign someone else to find out how to become a deputy voter registrar, and then have a bunch do it. Have someone become a notary public, if no one is. Have someone else see what it takes to be a pollwatcher and election judge. Assign some people to volunteer for these posts and get trained for them. Have someone else find out who else is doing voter registration in the neighborhood. Check the churches and union halls, and introduce yourselves.
Next, divide up the precincts, and prepare for step one, ‘IDTV,’ identify the vote. You want to find out, on every block, who’s registered and who’s not, who’s against the war and who’s not, and who’s for Obama and who’s not. You make up some flyers with your take on things to take with you. The you TALK TO PEOPLE, call it the ‘mass line’ or whatever, but get outside your comfort zone. In addition to finding like-minded souls to join you, your goal is to divide the people on every block into three-those with you (pluses), those against you (minuses) and those in between (zeros).
Next step, RTV, register the vote. You don’t register everyone this time, but focus on registering the pluses and zeros who are not registered. Never tell anyone you won’t register them, though. Pay attention to younger voters especially. Do this door to door, set up tables, whatever.
Next step, ETV, voter education. Hold a public meeting, invite the new contacts, have speakers run out your view of things, and well as some with other views. Have friendly debates. Sell literature. Recruit to study groups.
Next step, close to election day, GOTV, get out the vote. By now the size of your group should be double or triple in its core. Make calls to all your pluses, then all your zeros, telling them where and when to vote. Make an election day team with ‘watchers,’ ‘runners’ and ‘passers.’ Watchers’ are in the polling place with a list of all your pluses, minuses, and zeros, and check them off as they come in. ‘Runners’ get on the phone or go to the doors on those who haven’t shown up yet, ‘passers’ stand outside the poll with little reminder cards, but mainly to make sure the other side doesn’t intimidate anyone into not voting. ‘Watchers’ are also trained in what to watch for to make sure no one is rigging the count.
Next, PTV, protect the vote. This is for pollwatchers and judges, of which you should have several. They stay with the count to make sure it’s reported properly. Finally, CTV, consolidate the vote. Have a victory party, bring speakers, literature, get new tasks to new members, preparing them for mass action to make sure whoever gets elected stops the war, and so on.
Here’s the point.
Your local group is now much larger. It’s more experienced. The neighborhood knows you. You have new allies in other groups you’ve worked with. You now not only know how to hold demos in the streets, you know how to work elections. Your knowledge of ‘the masses’ is several levels higher than anything you’ve done before. You’ve created a building block of what could become a component of a mass party of the people. You now don’t just talk about politics, you have something to do politics WITH. And you haven’t even had to have anything to do with local Democrats unless you chose to, and every gain you’ve made belongs to you, not to them.
In brief, you’re far more empowered than before you started-and that’s the whole point. Naturally, this isn’t the only way. Some people may just want to jump into whatever Obama group is at their school, whatever their union is doing, or whatever the local Dems are doing. Those all have something to be said for them, but that’s not the main thing those of us with a more strategic view are advocating.
In any case, doing something is better than doing nothing. At least you’ll have some practice to bring to the table when it comes to summing up experience.