Democratic Party to Commit More Ground Troops

By CHRISTOPHER KROHN Special to the Planet
Friday July 23, 2004

Won’t you please come to [Boston], 

We can change the world— 

Re-arrange the world, 

It’s dying—to get better… 


—Apologies to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young 


BOSTON—Democrats are just spoiling for a fight. Pick an issue: the Florida election of 2000, Enron, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in the middle of a war, the escalating federal deficits, or not finding any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Democrats not only are mad, they might actually be getting organized, defying Will Rogers’ famous quip that he didn’t belong to any organized party because he was a Democrat.  

Groups such as Grassroots Campaign, Democratic Leadership Campaign Committee (DLCC), Democratic Grassroots Action Institute and Network (GAIN) and the venerable Conservation League have all come out swinging for volunteers, dollars and votes. The efforts being put forward by these groups have been gaining speed for months, but after the Democratic Convention, which opens here on Monday, the Democratic Party’s get-out-the-vote work will begin in earnest in all 20 swing states and go right up to election day, according to party insiders. If all goes well for the Democrats, after this convention they will send hundreds of paid organizers and thousands of volunteers out to the battleground states, while also trying solidify the vote in the so-called safe states. Many are already saying it will be a field operation like no other in Democratic Party history.  

This organizing fervor on the part of Democrats previewed earlier this month at a gathering of organizer-activists in Seattle. 

Democratic GAIN put on a boot camp-style training for organizers. The three-day preparation for would-be Democratic Party foot soldiers paired pep talks from battle-scarred Gore 2000 organizers with serious role-playing about how to approach swing voters, and prompted copious note-taking by trainees. This was one of several trainings staged by GAIN around the United States, the biggest of which will take place in Boston right before the convention kickoff. The goal of GAIN is to pull together a successful nationwide field operation. That is, instead of relying solely on TV commercials, billboards, and the Internet, the Democrats, in the spirit of the master organizers Saul Alinsky (Rules for Radicals) and Fred Ross (UFW) whose names were invoked during these workshops, will fan out across the swing states in a massive voter identification and registration project. 

Sam Rodriguez, the director for the Democrats in the swing state of Washington, was present at the Seattle training. He beamed confidence as well as a stern work ethic. He allowed himself a smile when talking about “double-digit resources,” as the percentage of the party’s overall budget now being committed to the field organizing effort. “Let’s just say I am happy,” Rodriguez said, “I am happy with my budget, there’s money to do the job.” Democratic GAIN, according to the field manual each organizer was given at the training, is “an association of leading political organizers…offering training, education and career services to campaign workers and grassroots organizers.”  

For carrying out the field operation strategy, activists were introduced to the new Kerry-Edwards campaign theme: “Stronger at home, respected abroad.” The field organizers were reminded time and again to “tell your story” while asking others about their story” James Lau, 29, from Santa Monica said, “This conference taught me what the Kerry campaign strategy will be; it is about reaching out to voters in a more personal way.” A “story” usually involves how you came to support the Kerry-Edwards ticket and how the campaign responds not only to the organizer’s needs, but to the needs of working and professional people across the country. It is a house-by-house, banking-one-vote-at-a-time strategy. Some say it is akin to the tactics employed by Republicans in their now famous “72-hour plan” which has been successful in bringing out their already identified voters on election day. 

The gathering in Seattle drew more than 80 participants from several swing states including Oregon, Washington, and New Mexico, as well as from northern and southern California. Another training in Atlanta on the same weekend drew more than 100 party loyalists. Although California is not currently identified as a swing state—polls show the state solidly in the Kerry-Edwards camp—the young and old Californianos present were willing to go to wherever they were needed. Senior citizens organizer Howard Vicini, 55, from San Francisco, reflected the views of many attending the training: “I thought the Seattle training would extend my base of knowledge,” he said. “This field training is run more like a field office would be…it is real-time training instead of separate classes.”  

Vicini is part of an organizing effort called, “Seniors for Kerry.” It’s an organization made up of more than 600 area coordinators in 46 states according to the former graphic artist. And why is Vicini supporting the Kerry-Edwards ticket? “I don’t feel Bush is truthful to the American people; I can respectfully disagree with anyone as long as they are honest,” he said.  

Anna Forgie, 21, is from Santa Barbara, and recently graduated from Stanford University with a political science degree. “I heard about the Seattle training through past political work. People said contact (Democratic) GAIN, so I did,” she said. “I learned some new things and there was some stuff I already knew.” Nine days after the training ended, Forgie said she had landed a field organizing job working for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in the swing state of Oregon. 

Arn Andrews, 44, from Alamogordo, New Mexico, was a regional director for the Dean campaign and became a Kerry supporter only after Dean flamed out. “I would give the GAIN training a ‘thumbs up’ for experienced organizers,” he said, “but if you came not having much campaign experience you would have been lost.” Andrews, who has not been placed in any location yet, is hoping to be a state regional field director for the Kerry-Edwards campaign. “I’m willing to go anywhere,” he said. Next stop for some of these organizers will be in Boston to attend the 2004 Democratic National Convention.  

Amidst all the fanfare and partying sure to be happening this week, some Democrats say there will also be real work going on as well. Yes, John Kerry will be the likely presidential nominee and John Edwards his running mate, but the question many are asking is, where will the votes come from? The real news story out of this convention may well be the Democrats’ field operation, but only if they end up winning in November. It is here in Boston where the final leg of the campaign begins, where GAIN will be hosting yet another organizing conference, their biggest yet.  

Organizers are preparing for an unprecedented 2,000 to 3,000 attendees for a three-day symposium beginning today (July 23). There will be 100 training seminars for activists, organizers and delegates. Like the ones in Seattle and Atlanta, it will offer instruction in raising money, walking a precinct, mobilizing voters, and running a phone bank. Former Clinton White House operatives James Carville and Donna Brazile will be among the featured speakers. 


Anyone interested in working for the groups mentioned in this article can be contacted at the following websites: Democratic GAIN at democraticgain.org, Grassroots Campaign at grassrootscampaigns.com, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee at dlcc.org, and the League of Conservation Voters at lcv.org. 


Christopher Krohn is the former mayor of Santa Cruz.