Green Papers and the Value of the Volunteer Research Army

ACORN Citizen Wealth Financial Justice Organizing

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 12.52.32 PMNew Orleans   One of the constant dark holes of US politics is the arcane art of understanding delegate selection for the existing political parties, since all of these rules lie in the mysterious workings of the various fifty odd states and outlier territories. In fact the same is true of voter registration procedures, party formation and balloting rules, and any number of other things in our loosey-goosey federated system of sorts, but I don’t want to get off the subject. The reason I raise the issue of delegate selection is not to praise or condemn Caesar, but to give props to the eccentric and invaluable volunteer army that sometimes obsessively dives into the quicksand and keeps flaying at it until they hit solid ground.

Well-deserved props were given to a couple of fellows who, essentially for the love of it, have watched, and better, studied, the process for years for their own interest and posted the results on the internet at Green Papers. In so doing they have become the go-to site for journalist, political junkies, academics, data crunchers and even political campaigns in getting their arms around the process and putting the information on hard rock and real time. They have been at it for decades, make no money from the site, take no ads, and, according to the New York Times, haven’t even sat down and visited with each other since 1999. They got the bug as college roommates and became their own two-person geek squad. They won’t pose for pictures, and only respond by email, or at least one of them does, and just keep their feet on the ground and keep on keeping on.

I love stories like this. I can remember decades ago reading some book or another about politics that made the off-hand comment that one of the peculiarities of American politics and life is that we had more information than we could analyze and use. And, that was then, pre-internet. What we have now between search engines and endless data is so many factors more that it is way past my mathematical ability. Around the world people and organizations are too often blocked from information, and though that happens in the US as well, we’re still drowning in it.

I thought about this the other day as ACORN released a lengthy report on the lack of democracy and diversity in Southern rural electric cooperatives. These fellows have gotten away with stopping time, because, hey, who really, really cares about what happens out there in the rurals? But, it matters for so many reasons. Would anyone fund such research, much less organizing about this mess? Heck, no! But it has to be done, and that’s one of the beauties of the “volunteer” army, if it can be deployed effectively. We’ll keep at it with more reports to come. Add to that, another crew we have crunching the numbers on all kinds of loans in the United Kingdom. ACORN thinks there are discriminatory patterns, but we won’t know until we look at what’s available and try to connect the dots from one to another. Same thing for the requirement that tax exempt, nonprofit hospitals are required to provide charity care. Who wants to pull those IRS 990s apart? Well, we do, if we have enough volunteers willing to spend some time pulling it together in at least some states.

ACORN has volunteers from Ottawa, Edinburgh, New Orleans, Paris, London, Vancouver, and places far and near. None of our work would be possible without them!

Will any of this make change? Of course not, just like the Green Papers duo can’t elect a single delegate no matter how much they know about the system. To make change you need organizations, campaigns, even political parties, but all of these efforts can still help straighten out the path so the work runs true.

Anyone who wants to help out, give a holler, we’ll hear you!