Organizing Props Matter in a Campaign

organizers for Netherlands national health care reform campaign against "own risk" admire their crowd magnet

organizers for Netherlands national health care reform campaign against “own risk” admire their crowd magnet

Amersfoort, Netherlands   We were meeting with the organizing team for the national healthcare campaign in Holland. The campaign has hit a deep nerve in trying to push private insurers back out of the market place and arguing that there is not a national healthcare system when huge numbers are not participating because of an “own risk” system requiring significant additional payments that are preventing people from using health insurance. Suddenly, someone opened the door of the conference room, and announced that the truck was here. In no time, any other business was deferred, as we all went down to the driveway behind the building to see the truck.

Being old school, I assumed we were all being dragooned down to help unload boxes of some sort or another from a delivery truck, but not this time. Instead we were greeted by a giant campaign prop. This was something else!

one of the organizers takes a punch at "own risk"

one of the organizers takes a punch at “own risk”

The truck was painted in the rainbow colors of the campaign with the cross signifying the health care fight. There were huge metallic letters fabricated over the bed of the old truck, an Opal Blitz, with theater lights spelling out Eigen Risico or Own Risk. When the designers started pulling stuff off the truck, I quickly realized that we hadn’t seen the half of it yet. Two more pieces were manhandled off of the truck. Once it was placed upright, it became clear it was a punching bag like one you would find at a state fair. But this one was rigged to a computer which made it much different. The operator would type your name into a computer. An IPad would spell out that “Nils is Hitting Own Risk.” When Nils took his swing, the lights began flashing on the truck spelling out the words Own Risk again, very dramatically. Meanwhile there was a camera mount aligned to the overhand bag, so that when Nils or anyone else laid a roundhouse on the bag it also took a picture. There was router and wireless connections behind the IPad structure which caught the picture matched it with the address and sent an attachment of the picture to the swinger’s email. Within minutes, Nils had an email that was a short video of him hitting the punching bag and an explosion of colors coming out.

the truck is something else

the truck is something else

What an intricate campaign prop. One of the designers told me it only took two weeks to build the contraption, as it was a lot more than that just “thinking it through.” Talk about bells and whistles. Old school carney act comes to the digital world!

If you want to win a campaign, it helps to have props for actions and rallies, and here’s one that it is easy to imagine is going to be a hit when members are working marketplaces trying to get the word out to friends and neighbors.

This was pretty much one that it is safe to say most of us “couldn’t do this at home,” but as something advancing a campaign and creating a happening in town after town, this bad boy is going to be hard to beat.

campaigners debate campaign colors and clothing

campaigners debate campaign colors and clothing


Counting Down, But All Over But the Shouting – and Hard Work!

2000 after Gore-Bush election protests & counting every vote

2000 after Gore-Bush election protests & counting every vote

New Orleans   Donald Trump’s campaign manager is a political professional. She has now admitted that they are behind without any hanky-panky accusations or artifice. She argues that there is still a possible path to a Trump victory but it is minuscule. Aggregates of all polls and predictions are rating Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning at 90%. Clinton is now putting money and time into states where Senate races are in play on the chance that with her victory and four seats swinging to the Democrats with the VP as the deciding vote on a party line division, control would shift. Few see a flip of thirty seats in the House, but most seem to believe that the margins will tighten and it could fall. President Obama is putting muscle and work behind more than 150 state legislators to see if control of some statehouses and chambers can be jilted to achieve more balance in the states. Obama has also committed to supporting former Attorney General Eric Holder’s project to try and impact redistricting in 2020 and reduce gerrymandering.

All good, but here’s the big but….

Turnout predictions are way down. Early voting is happening in Florida and North Carolina, and Clinton is pushing for more turnout, but numbers coming from Ohio so far are considerably down compared to the two Obama elections. This is even true among African-Americans where Clinton’s strength is huge.

In fact, television interviews and newspaper reports with black millennials are depressing. I read one wondering “why would I waste my time?” I saw a television piece interviewing a half-dozen very bright black millennial activists, and no matter how many times the interviewer posed the threats of a Trump candidacy, they were immovable on voting for Clinton, and perhaps voting at all. The third party candidates, god love them, don’t seem to have picked up the Sanders movement, so that seems less of a monkey wrench in this election, but voter antipathy to the candidates and a feeling that it’s over before it begins could spell trouble.

Here’s where the hard, usually invisible work of a field program comes to the fore. The AFL-CIO says it’s putting 100,000 volunteers on the streets of battleground states over the coming weeks. The Clinton campaign has invested deeply in offices and staffing in many battleground states in order to maximize the get out the vote effort, while Trump’s ground game still seems to consist of multiple rallies of the faithful. This is also where having a financial advantage helps the Clinton campaign by allowing them the resources to fuel the field. I even heard about a unique effort by some techies to encourage vote trading from blue to red states, but I doubt if that’s a movement. The additional incentive that Trump has offered the opposition is the need to pile up the score in order to de-legitimize any allegations of election rigging by administering an electoral beat down.

Nonetheless, it all boils down to getting yourself in gear and down to the polls on Tuesday, November 8th. Don’t go alone. Do your piece to make democracy work a bit better. Pressure your relatives, call your friends, post on your Facebook, Twitter, whatever, and let your small voice roar one way or another.


Is This Really the End of Email?

password-creator-for-androidNew Orleans   In the wake of massive and disruptive hacking of emails in the corporate and political world, there was a piece in the paper the other day essentially announcing the end of email. The author was making a case that it was time to return to direct and telephonic communication on any matters pretty much more important than a grocery list. We might wonder about all of that even if it is abundantly clear that soon email systems should come with a caution or a cigarette pack warning that pops up before you hit the “send” button. In fact, is there already an app for that? If so, we should all get it!

We think of email as ubiquitous now with a gazillion messages sent daily, but is it? There’s every indication that texting, Facebook messaging, Snapchat, and even Instagram are more common communications tools for many of the under-30’s in the developed world than email. No small part of that may be the ability to utilize a more informal language and briefer protocols than even common in emails. On the other side of the divide, there are the old dogs, and there are some of them still barking in union halls, corporate corridors, and even political offices who have their assistants print out their emails and often handle their replies.

Some of these dogs know how to bury their bones or at least keep others from uncovering them. Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina was quoted during the first of the Democratic National Committee released by WikiLeaks that he had never used email yet, and had no plans to ever use email in the future. I’ve often told the story of Mayor Marc Morial of New Orleans, now the longtime head of the National Urban League, based in New York City, telling me he looked forward to leaving office so he could see what a Blackberry was like and use email. Politics is almost the ultimate transactional business, so at the best some were huge fans of the Animals and were always humming, “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and at the worst, well, as Hillary Clinton’s email program has demonstrated, let’s just not go there. On the other hand we had John Podesta a former White House Chief of Staff and ultimate political professional using a Gmail address, when he must have known even if never hacked, Google never destroys emails leaving a permanent record just out there waiting.

Can we keep email and use encryption? I’d like to think so, but then there’s the federal lawsuit trying to break Moxie Marlinspike’s best-in-class system. Can messaging encryption like WhatsApp be better? Maybe, but then I read a long article in The New Yorker about the coup in Turkey and how the Gulenists were in deep trouble once the Turkish intelligence got into their homemade app called ByLock that had 200,000 users forcing them to “go underground” with something else called Eagle. We’ve all read about the FBI having to pay big bucks to “unlock” an IPhone. You have to wonder whether or not there’s anything that cannot be hacked?

Should we worry about this at all? Most of us not only have nothing to hide, but pretty low key, boring correspondence and lives for that matter in the eyes of the outside world, even if vital to ourselves, our work, and families. Nonetheless, we’re somebody, too! Do we just sigh and accept the tradeoff between privacy and convenience? Do we exchange paranoia for openness?

Where is this all going? My companera and I watched an episode of a widely touted, and supposedly “most relevant” show on television the other night on Netflix. The episode featured an implant behind the ear and a small thumb drive size device everyone carried around constantly that filmed and recorded every part of everyone’s lives, allowing someone to search back in old experiences from their past, unless they had deleted it. Is that where we’re going? If so, I guess we should enjoy email while we have it, and start calling these days, the good old days!


Voter Fraud Tactic is Just Another Voter Suppression Tactic

mapofshame2015New Orleans  Score setting is boring. It’s almost Trumpian. Who cares about all of this inside baseball back and forth? No one but the players in all likelihood. But, vindication, now that’s different. Recognition of a reality where someone has being crying to be heard in the wilderness, oh, yes, that’s worth taking note, I think.

And, so we will!

Finally, there’s starting to be a drumbeat of deeper understanding starting to rise among the cognoscenti in the media and political class that might eventually be heard over the din of the spin machines down to the grassroots that recognizes that these claims of voter fraud are nothing more than election tactics designed to confuse voters, rile up the hater-base, inspire racists, and suppress minority votes. Trump’s total lack of any credibility whatsoever has finally forced some mainstream reporters out of their deep slumber because the antipathy to Trump is so great by so many that they see his claims of a “rigged” election as a threat to democracy, rather than the standard operating procedure for election cycles at least throughout the 21st century in the United States.

I don’t want to suffer from “premature certainty,” but first the Washington Post pointed out that this rigged election malarkey was also a feature of the 2008 election thanks to John McCain’s fallacious accusations that ACORN was about to carry out the biggest voter fraud in history. The story was run nationally on the Tribune wire. Now the Huffington Post has jumped in and, more weightily, the New York Times finally got off the duff and realized that this “crying wolf” about so-called “voter fraud” has been going on cycle to cycle since at least 2000. Hello, welcome aboard the reality train! They of course cite the fact that ACORN was targeted, wrongly, in 2008, though they could as easily with a little more work and research have also made the same case back several cycles before 2008 as well.

The facts rarely disrupt tactics that are working even if they are essentially little more than media-manipulation and campaign dirty tricks. They do throw some fuel into the fire of truth though, and we can hope the sparks spread. Here are some:

…a study by Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles…uncovered only 31 credible claims of voter impersonation between 2000 and 2014, out of one billion ballots that were cast. An Arizona State University journalism project reviewed 2068 allegations of election fraud between 2000 and 2012 and concluded that only 10 had involved misrepresentation.

Many of the allegations have been directed at efforts to register minority voters, so it’s hard to avoid the race mongering inherent in these claims and the intentional voter suppression, tragically backed up by targeted legislation largely in red-Republican states. Efforts to charge immigrants with illegal registration and voting, especially in 2012, but certainly in 2008, as well have all been pretty clearly unsubstantiated and at worse attributed to errors and confusion.

The Times concluded with an assessment from Lorraine Minnite from Rutgers, a voting expert, that,

“The frame is being controlled by those who are promoting the idea that fraud is a problem. If we shifted the framework to people who are trying to vote but don’t get their vote counted, we’d be having a different discussion.”

Been there, done that, said it often, so big whoop and amen to that!


Not O’Keefe Again!

organic-spies-spookNew Orleans    James O’Keefe, the infamous video scammer, showed up on my ACORN Google Alerts a couple of days ago, threatening once again to release daily videos that would overturn the election. Yawn. Really? He has been so thoroughly discredited so frequently in recent years that I have to admit I didn’t even open the alert and see what it was about. Just more self-promotion promoting a candidate whose entire platform and program is nothing but self-promotion.

Then a colleague mentioned a problem in their battleground state and the fact that there was a kerfuffle about videos having been mentioned by Trump in the debate. I replied that it was obviously minor since I hadn’t seen anything in local or national papers yet. Well, that was then, and this is now, since a story finally ran in the middle of the New York Times with comments indirectly alluded to elsewhere about “dirty tricks” for Hillary and troubling comparisons about the accuracy of the major candidates’ moral compasses.

It turned out this time that the O’Keefe video burned a couple of tangential operatives that may or may not have been obliquely involved in low levels of the Clinton campaign. The discussion ostensibly was about planting provocateurs in Trump rallies who might or might not provoke Trumpeteers into random acts of violence. Yes, you’re wondering, why bother, isn’t this an organic and natural part of Trump rallies anyway? Well, perhaps but the operatives were trying to entice O’Keefe’s pretend “donors” and may, or may not, have been gilding the lily for the bucks. One of the operatives who was off-camera reportedly was an old friend and colleague, Bob Creamer, a native of Shreveport and former community organizer with Illinois Public Action in the 1980s, who used to stop by and visit during Christmas when he was visiting his family, and in later life, now married to Congresswomen Jan Shaklowsky of Chicago, has made his career as a political consultant and organizer. In short, I’m biased. I like Bob. I detest O’Keefe.

All of which is neither here, nor there, because my real problem is not this tempest in a teapot, because I have to admit how jaded I am since all I see is small potatoes, but how is it still possible that any and everyone involved at any level of political, activist, or organizing life has not learned the lessons from the ACORN-O’Keefe attack to thoroughly vet any and every one that they do not know well when they are doing any business whatsoever. Ok, you may say I’m not a trusting person, but that’s OK, because I’ll freely admit, I’m not a trusting person, but why would anyone fall for O’Keefe’s ridiculous ploys anymore?

Is it possible on the right or the left that part of the standard interview process and contractor terms don’t require a guarantee against loose lips and sinking ships mandating vetting or permissions before any discussions in or away from the office with random folks? How can it be that the lessons of the slanderous ACORN takedown are not tattooed on the arms or worn like an amulet by every political organizer and campaign employee from high to low? I don’t get it.

Somehow memory is fleeting from cycle to cycle and 2009 is so yesterday, but geez can’t we get our act together finally and do right on this? O’Keefe continues to be a bad penny who keeps popping up, simply because we allow his shtick to survive.


“Rigged,” What’s New?

2016-electionsNew Orleans   Headlines in both the local and national papers focused on Donald Trump’s unwillingness to commit that he would honor the verdict of the voters in a democratic election. Clinton responded in the debate that his position was “horrifying.” My question continues to be, “What’s new?” Am I the only one who wonders why this is such a flashpoint now, and hasn’t been for the last eight years or longer?

Part of this is both personal and political for me, as I have noted before. But at least I’m not alone. David Weigel writing in The Washington Post this week had a memory that was longer than yesterday’s news cycle, and began his piece this way:

According to the Republican nominee for president, his opponents were “on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history.” In an ad, his campaign warned of “nationwide voter fraud” that could swing the election. His running mate worried, in a fundraising letter, that “leftist groups” were trying to “steal the election.”


The candidate was not Donald Trump. It was Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who in the final weeks of the 2008 presidential election embraced the theory that ACORN, a community organizing group previously embraced by Democrats and Republicans, was helping to rig the election for Barack Obama by filing fake voter registration forms.

Poor Weigel. He’ll probably be fired soon for pointing out that the emperors continue to walk naked in Congressional hallways and DC corridors. It also goes without saying, and time has proven this out, so I’ll bore everyone by saying, that no such thing happened, nor was there ever any evidence then or now to back up such nonsense about voting.

Even for McCain in 2008 this was an old saw, rather than something he was inventing. Such claims on voter fraud based on voter registration work have been part of the standard operating procedure on election tactics for Republicans for a number of cycles, certainly since the concept of “battleground” states became prominent and the George W. Bush election turned into a Supreme Court disputed umpire call after Al Gore won the popular vote. In Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania for a number of election cycles before 2008, ACORN had been the subject of similar attacks and fabrications with fake FEC complaints and state election charges all of which would be withdrawn by early the following year after the elections were over. Our assumption had been that McCain had wrongly assumed that the election might be close with Obama and was tactically hedging in order to prepare claims in some states and hope for a repeat of the Bush 2000 scenario. As it turned out, he was stomped by Obama, so none of that emerged, though thanks to McCain the target for conservatives would stay on ACORN’s back.

And, let’s be honest about all of this. Of the hardcore 40% base that is sticking with Trump and listening to all of this balderdash, I would put good money on the fact that a huge percentage of that base has still refused to accept the legitimacy of President Obama’s two election victories and the work of his eight years. The continuing drumbeat of the Republican faithful up until recently that ACORN stole both elections and was preparing to steal this one is more than sufficient evidence for such a bet.

Once the votes are all counted, the winner will be named, and whether Trump and his Trumpeteers accept it or not isn’t relevant come Inauguration Day, except that such schoolhouse door resistance to the choice of voters in our fragile democracy only assures even more polarization and extremist from Congress on down to the grassroots.