Our Wisconsin Revolution is a Different Twist with a Great Future

Madison       Frankly, the Bernie Sanders campaign’s successor organization, Our Revolution, has been confusing to me.  In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, its maiden voyage seemed covered with the controversy of staff hiring and firing with counterclaims roiling the organization over who and what was best able to carry forward the Sanders’ vision and program.  My conversations with Larry Cohen, former president of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), convinced me that his steady hand as chair of the outfit could make it interesting to watch.

The major asset of Our Revolution was the huge small donor list that had fueled the Sanders campaign sufficiently to challenge Hillary Clinton’s presumptive nomination in 2016, almost to the final weeks before her ascendancy.  Our Revolution was going to endorse a group of candidates at different levels who had either been Sanders supporters and sometimes renegades with the Democratic Party’s Clinton consensus as well as others who seemed to share the vision.  Some won.  Some lost.

Many of the other headlines around the Our Revolution program seemed to be focusing on internal fights within the Democratic Party over control and leadership positions in various states.  That strategy was confusing to me.  It seemed a fight over an empty suit that no one really wanted to wear or would look good in, particularly in the short term and without a campaign finance report.

Talking to people in Wisconsin, there seems to be something very different happening here with Our Wisconsin Revolution (OWR).   They are a separate membership organization with a c3 and c4 that is one of the very few state offshoots of the national formation.  Another fledgling effort is in Texas where Local 100 United Labor Unions has bumped into them several times.  From what I gathered, they did get the names of Wisconsin donors at their founding, but rather than assuming this could be a cash cow, they used it as an organizing tool to hold public meetings to organize OWR throughout the state.  Talking to my longtime comrade and friend, Joel Rogers, University of Wisconsin professor, who is also the OWR treasurer, he participated in a 28-city barnstorming tour in 2017 to help build the organization.  Now that’s real grassroots organizing!

The OWR program is clear from their website.  They are decidedly NOT interested in taking over the internal workings of the Democratic Party, though in terms of political and ballot activity they are promoting and endorsing candidates who are Democrats.  They are transparent and detailed in their political program and their openness with their members and the public.  They have a leadership structure that includes representatives from every one of the state’s Congressional districts.

It’s an all-volunteer army, as so many of the most important base-building developments around the country are now, but it has big time ambitions.  Obviously, the organization is just in its early days, so no one can guarantee its future, but this is an organization that clearly is being tailored for a different kind of outfit.  This is a potential statewide party in the making.

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Do the Democrats Want the Missing Voters?

Non voters

New Orleans        A nonpartisan research organization found that 37% of nonvoters in the midterms were 18 to 29 years old compared with just 12% of those who voted.  More than half of the nonvoters or 55% make less than $50,000 compared with 34% of voters, and only 20% of nonvoters have a college degree, less than half the 42% of voters who do.  These are people right in the heart of the classic ACORN constituency.  They also found that these voters were slightly inclined to vote more Democratic than they were Republican, but also were significantly undecided.  These missing, nonvoters were much less inclined to vote Democratic than the voters that actually came to the polls in the midterms.

Given this information, I have to wonder as Democratic strategists look at their work for the midterms and their coming prospects for the 2020 general election, whether the Democrats really want these missing voters to get to the polls and vote?  A classic organizing problem in community organizing, union elections, and political work is always, “How do you keep from turning out your opposition, rather than your supporters?”

In theory, in our democracy, we want everyone to vote, and sometimes we even say that’s the case.  Often the Republicans are painted as the king of voter suppressors, and no doubt they have earned the title, but I wonder when it comes to actually doing the hard GOTV work or investing in those “missing voters” actually showing up and participating, whether Democrats might be big talking and slow walking.

A surprising set of states stepped up against voter suppression.  Voters in Michigan chose to end partisan gerrymandering, as did citizens in Utah, Missouri, and Colorado.  Michigan and Maryland also approved same day registration for voters, and Nevada opted to register voters automatically when they become eighteen.  Utah and Missouri particularly have been “better red than dead” in many recent elections, but voters, regular citizens, seem to want to expand the franchise, rather than limit it.

When it comes to the so-called missing voters though, if we are going to really get them to saddle up and vote, we have to make sure they see voting as something that matters to them.  Suburban, college-educated women for example were low hanging fruit this election for the Democrats because Trump mattered to them, perhaps even more than whatever the Democratic candidate offered.  The Houston / Harris County blue tide miracle was made possible by a long ballot and the ability to do straight ticket voting along partisan lines with one pull of the lever, rather than working your way down 90 individual races.  Trump for bad, and Beto O’Rourke for good, and more than half of the voters there just pulled the lever.

The researchers found that most of the missing voters weren’t leaning either Republican or Democratic, but undecided or just clueless.  Talking to a woman on the phone in Detroit today, she described the problem succinctly:  people don’t think it matters and don’t see anything on the ballot or any candidate that is really talking to them.  As the Democrats refine their message and try to ride their wave, they may have decided not to put the time and money into moving these voters to the polls, when there were other constituencies that they felt were more reliable this election.

It’s those kinds of calculations that create the breeding ground for the Trumps of the future and more defeats to come.

We need automatic registration and mandatory and easily accessible voting that forces parties and candidates to do the work to meet the needs of all the people, not just the those of the donors and the latest focus groups and poll numbers.

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