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Good News/Bad News from Napolitano | Main | Outstanding Levin Rant on the New Tea Party
August 31, 2010

Bumped: Grassroots Organization... For Morons

A guest post by Michael Smith of Heritage Alliance.

I asked Michael Smith to write us up a guide to organizing before the election. He'd offered advice in this area before, and I thought I should take him up on it.

Below, his essay. It's a great, detailed DIY guide to local organizing (and local insurgency). A lot of people like to blog or comment because they feel they don't have a voice in our actual politics; I know that was the main reason I started.

But, for those with a bit of social agility and talent for organization (and if you haven't tried, maybe you have that talent but don't know it yet), there is a more tangible way to have a real voice in politics.

I know that if morons here were well-represented up in NY-23 we never would have had to learn to spell the name "Dede Scozzaflava" or whatever the hell it was called.


Grassroots Organization... For Morons

by Michael Smith,
Heritage Alliance.

Nolan Ryan used to annoy sports reporters because every time they'd ask him the same mindless pre-game question they ask all the other players ("What's it going to take to win tonight?"), he'd give the same answer: "The key to winning this ball game is to outscore the opposition."

Now that conservatives have been throwing rallies, renting billboards, and crashing town halls for 18 months, they're coming to realize that by 7 p.m. Nov. 2, what counts is how many votes they've put on the board.

How to get votes? Organization. When it's done right, it wins elections--and it's just about the only way to beat an incumbent.

More importantly this season: While felons and Democrat election officials can steal a close one, they can't beat a blowout. We need a blowout.

Organizing voters simply means having the names and contact information for, and communicating with, people who vote like you in your area. That area can be as small as your block, precinct, state legislative district, or U.S. Congress district--whatever you think that you, as an activist, can handle.

But why bother? Especially if you live in a safe GOP district, or the opposite--one designed as a corral for Democrats. Either way, can you hope to move the needle?

Damn the torpedoes! Choose from any of the following valid reasons to organize:

* Small numbers can swing primaries, when only 10 percent of registered voters show up.

* Are all your representatives--state house, state senate, U.S. Congress--solid conservatives? Nothing can get them voting right faster than the knowledge that somebody is organizing voters in their district. If they don't, the primary is their term limit. (And, as Ace noted recently, the primary is where personnel changes must be made. By general-election time, the choice is often between meh and bleah.)

* Many states (such as Texas, where I live) need to build a big state-house majority for redistricting. Since 2006 they've suffered with Democrats in seats that had always been "safe" Republican.

* There's no guarantee that the Republican who replaces your Democrat this November won't turn RINO. More on that later.

But let's look at how organizing benefits you personally.

When you have a list of 50 registered voters and a means of staying in touch with them, you become a big deal in the eyes of elected officials, and to the party. They know that when they talk with you, they're essentially talking with a whole bunch of voters who respect you as a leader. To politicians, you become Mr. Bloc O'Votes. In another time, they would be lighting your cigars for you.

Fortunately, we don't live in those times, so gathering the information you need to become Mr. O'Votes isn't nearly so hard as it once was.

You no longer have to walk around the neighborhood knocking on doors, although that may help. In my state, you can get a CD full of voter information with an online form and a fee somewhere between $0.0005 and $0.00000625 per voter. (In a typical suburban precinct that would cost $105.86 including the basic service charge.)

However, your county party already has that CD and might just parcel out a chunk of it to you free if they believe you're serious about organizing. Activist groups do this, too. My employer, Heritage Alliance, organizes conservative voters in Texas, and we're always looking for people to dedicate a few hours up front, and a few throughout year, to organize their block, precinct, or state house district. We already have the list.

Once you have your copy, the next step is to identify the "right" voters--the ones who vote like you. Your list probably includes individual voting records--which party primary they voted in, and how many times they've done so. You want the ones called "1R," "2R," and "3R"--they voted in the GOP primary once, twice, or three times over the past three election cycles. They are among that 10 percent who matter.

Now that you have the information, the next step is to decide whether to grow your comfort zone, or continue sitting on your ass in front of a computer all day: You must actually talk to those voters.

Since you have names and addresses, you can probably find phone numbers for half of them using online directories. The dwindling number of households with land-line telephone service limits this, of course. Still, it's worthwhile, because every voter you get in touch with by phone is one less you have to track down on foot.

(Remember, you only care about registered voters. People who haven't bothered to register don't understand the value of their vote, and they're likely to be the kind who expect others (i.e., the government) to take care of them. Deal only with the registered voters. As Scott Rasmussen said recently, "The people who ultimately vote decide everything.")

Build your list according to your abilities. If you're a techie, you can create a database. Most Morons could work from an Excel spreadsheet. AOL-types can print it out and use pencils.

Set a voter-organization goal for yourself. I suggest between 25 and 50 voters. To start, take a guess at how many neighbors on your block vote the way you do. Extend that out geographically until you get your number--you can count the houses on a Google map. Then start calling the voters within that area.

Call your 3Rs first and tell them you're building a neighborhood voters' association, and you have a one-minute survey. Ask a few qualifying yes/no questions, such as, "Do you think taxes and spending must be reduced to save our economy?" and "Should gay marriage be legal?" You want people of conviction, not mavericks looking to preen.

When a voter passes your test, ask for his e-mail address and phone number. Tell him you'll be in touch with him with more information, and set yourself a deadline for following through.

If you don't hit your goal using just the 3Rs, go to 2Rs and then 1Rs. When you run out of phone numbers you may have to go knocking on doors. A smile and a stain-free shirt help. Also pants. Clip your library card or something to your pocket so you look official. Use breath mints.

Next, perform a valuable service for the voters you have organized. Look up the various deadlines (ballot-by-mail for the seniors; voter-registration deadlines in case someone's kid just turned 18; and the hours and dates for voting) and get a map of where the precinct-house is. E-mail or print-and-deliver this stuff to them. They will consider you a good citizen, someone they can get behind, even if they already know this information. In closing, ask them to help you stay on top of who's moved into the neighborhood and might be a good prospect for your organization.

By this point you should come up with a simple name so your group has a handle. From a marketing standpoint, I suggest nothing radical or offensive (not everyone shares your interest in Hannah Giles), but rather a fairly generic name that says what you are: "Valley View Voters Assn." is fine, and as long as you don't give money to candidates, you don't have to incorporate or file any reports. You can write a short statement of principles--shorter is better--like, "To restore the Founders' values in government," so everybody knows you're not socialists.

There are a million ways to communicate with and among your group members, and you have probably already thought of creating an e-mail list, Yahoo! Group, or Facebook page.

The cool thing about getting this far is, you have already just boosted voter turnout in your precinct significantly. The 1Rs and 2Rs, just by virtue of having attention paid to them, will move up to 3R status in short order, and no one will want to miss an election.

The next thing to do is help your voters decide whom to vote for. My organization builds a voter guide for every primary and general election. This takes many man-hours, and the instant a dollar is spent all kinds of 501(c)(4) or PAC regs come into play. So either refer your people to someone else's guide, or go huge and incorporate.

You could leave it right there and just give your "organization" a little push once in a while. There may be municipal, bond, and school-board elections in the odd years or on odd dates. In these and in runoffs your group will have a heightened profile, because turnout is always abysmal.

Then there are the primaries, where your people can provide the margin to choose between a RINO and a Bachmann. (As note above, by the General Election, the choice is often limited to bad vs. worse, when there's any choice at all. Primaries are where the action is.)

When Congress and your state legislature are in session, you can watch what other organizations (pro-life, 2nd Amendment, taxpayers, etc.) are responding to, and activate your voters in support. Bill numbers, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses for your neighborhood's legislators are a valuable service you can provide. If you can stomach it, subscribe to "progressive" activist groups' e-mail alerts; they will already have done all the work gathering contact/bill information for you to pass on to your group to express the exact opposite opinion and thwart them.

And as hinted above, if any of your reps don't play nice, your group can pose a serious threat in the next primary. Forget "Remember in November"; it's the primary, stupid.

Don't ask me if this works. Ask NRA. Better yet, ask John Dingell (D-Michigan). NRA scared the crap out of him years ago in the primaries, and now he knows what they want before they say it. NRA has the advantage of a hot issue dear to many people, but this year, so do all conservatives: Pelosi-Reid-Obama.
Also, Bob Kasten famously proved the value of grassroots organizing (pp. 110-111). Outspent by two primary opponents 19-1 and 10-1, he beat them both, then went on to win a U.S. Senate seat. From then on, establishing vote goals precinct-by-precinct became known as the "Kasten Plan." (Kasten famously lost when he decided not to use the technique in a race for governor.)

Why don't more candidates and organzations do this? Probably because it's kind of messy. You have to deal with real people, and a few of them can be ornery and ungrateful. Politicians especially tend to prefer the fundraiser crowd--the muckety-mucks with excellent table manners whose company makes the candidate feel pretty special. They've built a whole game around this dollars-and-media campaign style, talking up their war chest in the months leading up to the filing deadline, so as to scare off regular people who can barely imagine themselves running for office, let alone winning.

Also, the consultants don't make much money organizing grassroots. They prefer big budgets and some rather incestuous relationships with media buyers, printers, and other vendors that grassroots campaigns put far less emphasis on.

Why should we do this?

There's an old saying about trying the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result.

So let me restate the question: How many more times can we "throw the bums out"? The bums keep coming back. Since the Contract With America expired, we've been worse off than ever.

Our reaction this time must be profound, and it helps to look that word up: descending or being far below the surface. The left is already profound.

In the latter half of the 20th century we all got accustomed to certain major establishments being owned by the left. Education, media, mainline churches, philanthropic foundations--along with anything in D.C. that starts with "Department of." They are fashionably leftish in worldview and resistant to any other influence.

Now that mindset "owns" Congress and the White House. And we're threatening, once again, to throw the bums out. Why do we think it will work this time?

The solution is to make conservatism what liberalism has been since William F. Buckley first identified it way back in the early '50s: The dominant, ingrained, institutional ideology that no one can defeat.

It won't happen by just putting conservatives in charge, because the good ones never last and the rest buy into the system. It won't happen through laws and amendments because the left just gets around them. It has to be the product of a large number of people working consistently over time. And if that sounds daunting, remember that, working as a team, we don't have to do very much work.

Ask any legislator: Fifty voters get his attention through phone calls and e-mails, and a number that small can even sway his vote on a bill. Those same 50 voters, connected to 50 more in adjacent precincts, can swing the primary.

Your little band of organized voters can make their will known. If the lawmakers resist, your same group can replace them in the primary, when they're most vulnerable.

It comes down to will.

Will you?

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posted by Ace at 10:00 AM

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