Getting Out the Vote Door-to-Door

Community Organizing Ideas and Issues Labor Organizing Organizer Training

Chicago The Organizers’ Forum has been hosting a 2-day meeting of over forty community, labor and other organizers in a quick immersion discussion of new developments in political methodology here at Cenacle Retreat Center a few blocks from beautiful Lincoln Park along the Lakeshore.  The sessions have gone remarkably well due in large part to well prepared and thoughtful presentations from some of the best out there.   For once we are going to have to say that if the progressive forces lose this time, it’s not for lack of trying!

 In a few weeks you will be able to access the notes of this dialogue on the Organizers’ Forum website at or read about it in some depth in a coming issue of the magazine, Social Policy.   For now you will just have to take my word for it.   Look at the lineup alone and you will see why this was such a powerful session:  Cathy Duvall, National Organizing Director, America Votes (on the new alliances and configurations); Orrin Baird, SEIU Legal Department (about the new legal framework); Caitlin Murphy, Lake, Snell & Perry (on the pivotal single women’s constituency!); Professor Don Green from Yale (on what really works on GOTV efforts); Greg Naylor, ACT (on how the PA voter registration effort worked); Zach Polett, Executive Director, Project Vote (on how we are registering more than 1,000,000 new voters this year!); Sarah Buecher, Working Assets (on how they are funding a million new registrants); Jeremiah Baumann, PIRG (on how they are pulling out youth voters this election); Madeline Talbott, Illinois ACORN (on the turnout and registration efforts that lay beneath the Barack Obama landslide in the IL Senate primary); Will Robinson, MacWilliams, Robinson & Partners (on tying issues to voting and messaging); Charles Lester, Political Director, Los Angeles County AFL-CIO (with a case study on the GOTV and coalition effort behind the Inglewood victory in stopping Wal-Mart); Dan Cantor, Executive Director, Working Families Party (on the power of fusion politics); and Holly Minch, SPIN Project (on communicating messages).  Wow, huh?

 It’s hard to pull out all the gold in these mountains.  Some nuggets:

  • It was surprising to hear how much of accepted political truth about what works in media and mail was not been tested, and often when tested against control groups turns out to make little or no difference in motivating voters.
  • Single white women — of virtually any age — are angry about politics and dissatisfied with government and if we were really organizing them to participate, and they did so at the level of other women, they would tilt the elections in the swing states!
  • A non-profit, membership organization, even though not tax-exempt might be classified as a 527 committee under the IRS — this will not mean much to the casual reader, but it sure caught me short.
  • Tax-exempt organizations are close to the edge because of all of these new requirements, and one wonders how many organizers have good enough lawyers to keep them out of trouble?
  • Amazing what it can cost some organizations to register voters, when money is no object!
  • We learned there is such a thing as a “soft-hard PAC” — which sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it?
  • Framing matters and we need to be able to look separately at what it takes to reconstruct our messages to win.

We were all taken to organizing school by the Forum in Chicago, but after taking a lot of notes and benefiting from a lot of discussion, we are good to go, and we’ll get all of you there with us, too!

Charles Lester of the Los Angeles County AFL-CIO shows people how turnout made the difference in Inglewood in beating Wal-Mart.