California Organizes: Week 1
On Sunday I was depressed. Couldn’t get out of bed, reading the news on my phone. You know the feeling.
I pulled a friend down to the airports on BART. It was packed. Brass band. A beautiful array. I guess it was some sort of happy, actualized version of my fb feed. My FB feed is terrified, but when we come together, it’s not so bad.
This blog isn’t about some particular insight about what is going on right now. It’s enough to listen to reasonable folks on the right and left. Thoughtful folks think the terrible is already taking place. Get into the autocratic vision from the President George Bush Jr’s speech writer. It certainly seems like the US is ambling the way of Turkey, Hungary, and so on.
How to stop the backslide into autocracy? Three Western Senators.
We’ve still got institutions that can stand up and be a check on brazen power grabs, safeguard the independence of the courts. The Senate is only 3 individuals away from being a check. If 3 republicans grow a spine — or if they are convinced that their constituents will vote them out of office for colluding with an autocrat — we can stop the worst from happening.
Certainly, rabid constituents are not a surefire way to get a senator to resist his party leadership and the president. But, if we can persuade veterans, faith and business groups that their senate leadership needs to be independent and have them show up at their office, that will make a big difference. Or, if in response to a crisis moment we can have thousands of people outside senators offices, that will too.
What can California do about the Senate?
There’s a long thread being passed around of some lefty folks infiltrating right-wing counter-protest, pro-Prez groups. Well, they described a system which has people, once they are signed up, consistently called and texted by actual people to make phone calls and show up. They are disciplined and organized. And, they like to call us snowflakes.
750k people showed up in LA for the women’s march and probably 200k or more in the SF Bay. Let’s say we took maybe 2% of those folks and asked them to buddy up with people that had signed up in Reno and Phoenix. And each person could stay in touch with 10 people a day and get half to make a call — that would mean we would have some 10,000 calls, from their own constituents, going to Heller, McCain and Flake. Californians could also go, in mass, to do canvassing to support local groups.
CA folks do this every election cycle. I went too, with a group of 12 friends. We stayed in a cabin and we worked with ACTIONN, a progressive faith group doing community organizing. We talked to folks near homelessness, living in weekly motels — mainly listened, really — and told them about where they could get warm meals and about local church meetings that were happening to fight for good, affordable housing. This sort of organizing work is motivational for the people who go, and for the people who are being connected with. It’s less about the transaction (did you vote already? -check) and more about the relationship, in this case, between the organization, ACTIONN, and the person.
While I was on a conference call with national organizers from Movement 2016, a grassroots organizing group with connections to dozens of other national groups, I asked a question: is anyone setting up trips for CA folks that want to go back and do similar work, this time focused on getting Senators to oppose Trump? And I go a “no”.
So I registered a domain and started working on the side to try to set up a trip. I thought it would be easy. It was surprisingly hard — at first, I couldn’t find organizations that were actively doing organizing to pressure Dean Heller to resist Trump. ACTIONN, my ideal candidate as a faith group, was understaffed and focused on local issues.
As J 20th hit and things started really blowing up, it felt more and more urgent that we have a way to plug in more strategically. A way that allows folks in CA to build power in key areas in the long-term, as well as attempts to tip the balance in the short-term during crises.
On Sunday, after the airport protests. A friend agreed with me enough to put down money to convince me to do it full-time. After thinking about it, I decided I would rather take this crazy career leap. I told my consulting clients that I was booked and made phone calls to try to persuade people to put in enough money that I could do the work. (Unfortunately, I live in the Bay Area and am not independently wealthy)
The first thing I wanted to do was test things out and see what worked. The easiest thing seemed to be to set up a phone bank. I wanted to get folks in the Bay calling volunteers in Reno. I got in touch with folks at Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada — they are running office visits to Heller’s office every Tuesday with the Working Families Party. After a few back and forth’s they said they could hook us up with a phone list.
I got back in touch with ACTIONN too — they were happy to have us making calls to get people out to their locally scheduled events. It’s not clear yet if they would be willing to step into a national political role — possibly because they are a faith coalition it is too controversial for some of their members?
I also spoke with Kimi Cole a trans woman who is running to be head of the NV State Dem party. She said she is working with their data person to get us a virtual phone bank list and script to call folks — she was interested in having us call folks about a meeting with Democratic Legislators.
I also started reaching out to folks in the East Bay — speaking with a super active member of East Bay Indivisible, Mark Garcia, I got a clear “yes”. He thought that their group really needed more strategic actions that folks who were passionate could take.
I also spoke with someone running a Facebook group called The California Away Team — he is focused on get folks to support electoral races. He told me about how hard it was to get folks registered to vote, about taking 10 folks on a full weekend of organizing and just moving some 40 votes. It convinced me that GOTV is not where we should be focused. We need to move people’s hearts and minds! Their votes will follow.
I also spoke with folks at NGP VAN — they run a tech tool that lets you use voter contact information to call land lines of people registered. That would be a decent option except no one uses landlines anymore. So if we want to text or call people, we will need to partner with folks like MoveOn, NextGen or the Dems to get their cell phone numbers!
Strategy. After a week of learning, I’m seeing a few different paths forward that could satisfy the main needs in the field. The first two could theoretically be done inside of existing organizations and volunteer groups, the third is what California Organizes would focus on, potentially working back to #2 and then #1.
One way of looking at this is it’s like SwingLeft meets Indivisible — about putting governance people pressure to work where it’s most needed and builds power.
1. National Digital Coordination:
A. We work with the Dems, MoveOn, Organizing For America, etc. to determine key rapid response moments, critical districts and townhalls to focus on.
B. We build relationships with activist groups in SF Bay and LA that have extra firepower and set up trainings for dedicated volunteers
C. We use a texting or phone-banking tool, in addition to databases from the DNC, MoveOn, etc. to have volunteers alert folks in critical states or areas when they need to take an action or attend a meeting
2. Buddy System:
A. We work with local Dem’s and other groups to get a list of existing volunteers in Reno and ask people to sign up to get an “organizing buddy”
B. We enroll folks in the SF Bay to be organizing leads and give them training, as well as a list of things going on in Reno every day/week.
C. They build personal relationships and support between 6 and 20 folks in a critical district in stepping up their activism.
(We could also buddy up organizationally and support critical organizations, such as vet groups, faith groups or liberal business groups with funding, web support and people.)
3. Plan the Action
A. We go to Reno and Phoenix and meet with all the major groups and plan an anti-Trump action targeting Dean Heller, Jeff Flake and John McCain in coalition with them.
B. We package up a weekend trip for SF and LA folks one or two weeks before the action. We advertise with good branding and make it very attractive to sign up to go.
C. Our people canvass at grocery stores, churches, etc. and get hundreds of new people involved, going to organizing meetings, etc. to make the actions a major hit.
If you’ve read this far — wow. I would love your feedback. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, if you’re compelled, I’m still trying to raise money for travel, for rent and food, and perhaps for phone bank software or to pay organizers in Reno or Phoenix! You can donate at caorganizes.org