Like at least half the nation, I woke up Nov. 3 stunned with the dreadful news that Kerry had conceded Ohio and Bush had somehow managed to carry the nation despite extensive organizing and united efforts by the left to change the course of our country. Leaving Ohio on the long trek home to Berkeley, the Kerry/Edwards lawn signs were tattered along the side of the Ronald Reagan highway here in Cincinnati, Ohio, and my Mazda wore its “Nothing Accomplished” bumper-sticker as a badge of defiance. Despite our failure to carry Southern Ohio, there are tremendously important lessons to extract from the past few weeks of our Get Out The Vote efforts, and we need to begin planning now to make the 2006 mid-terms a true turning point for our country.
We always knew that Ohio was going to be one of the most pivotal states in the 2004 election, and there was no other place I would rather be in the weeks leading up to the election. Of the plethora of 527’s working in Ohio, I landed a job with MoveOn PAC’s Leave No Voter Behind campaign, and I drove 2,700 miles across the country to begin pouring my heart and soul into this grassroots effort to get every democrat out to the polls in the Cincinnati metropolitan area.
Our office started early and ended late, working seven days a week, 14 to 19 hours a day. We made thousands of calls, we trained hundreds of volunteers, we organized canvassing operations in precincts with high numbers of Democrats with spotty voting records. Ultimately, our office of twelve organizers managed to motivate almost 9,000 Democrats to get out to the polls. Coupled with the intense registration and mobilization efforts of America Coming Together, VoteMob, and other progressive groups, we managed to make 2004 a net loss for Bush and Cheney in Southern Ohio and we almost changed the fate of the nation. The question we are all asking ourselves now is: how will we improve our efforts so that by 2006 we will translate the outpouring of support and enthusiasm into a truly grassroots movement with serious legs of its own.
One useful way to consider the disparate groups is what they each bring to the table. MoveOn PAC, for example, came up with a brilliant web-based interface that allowed any Joe Citizen to come in off the street, get a password, and immediately start canvassing his own neighborhood. This allowed for regular folks to participate in the campaign in a meaningful way at their convenience. Generally, once they realized the tangible effect their efforts were going to have on the outcome of the race, they poured more and more of their energy into the campaign.
America Coming Together put together a fantastic operation and registered hundreds of thousands of extra voters. The AFL/CIO component gave them considerable organizational capacity and after a year of work on the ground their local knowledge held tremendous potential to translate into a Kerry landslide.
Other 527’s put together equally laudable efforts, but ultimately we failed to translate the enormous preparations into adequate numbers of real voters on election day. One huge short-coming was a lack of coordination between the various Get Out The Vote efforts. Our office ended up wasting a considerable amount of our efforts in precincts that were already being covered by A.C.T., while other needy precincts were neglected because of a failure to identify and target swing neighborhoods in earlier phases of the campaign.
Beyond these coordination issues which can easily be remedied through cooperation between the designers of these campaigns, there is the fundamental issue of progressives playing to their strengths. The Republicans have proven that they have perfected mobilizing their core constituents in getting to the polls. The correct response is not to abandon our principles and cater to the hollow “family values” message that has lulled so many Christian Americans to effectively sign their own death sentences, voting against their economic and moral interests to support corporate warmongers. No, the correct response is to reach out and provide a truly responsive and tangible political apparatus to the tens of millions of working poor who are alienated by the American political system. The Republicans may have evangelicals, but we have Black Baptists, Universalists, Quakers, progressive Catholics, and interpreters of the Bible who are compelled by Christ’s emphasis on social justice and peace. The Republicans may have the N.R.A., but we’ve got A.C.O.R.N., the Sierra Club, N.O.W., and hundreds of community-based groups just waiting to be mobilized.
We need to recognize that despite the disappointing results of the 2004 Election, the vast majority of the country wants fiscal responsibility, environmental sustainability, and to fulfill the simple obligation that we leave our world better off for the next generation. The coming calamity of the Bush administration’s short-sighted foreign and domestic policies may soon be manifest in a catastrophic economic collapse, and (God-forbid) another 9/11-scale attack. As progressives, we need to be prepared to rebuild our country and we cannot depend on the Democratic Leadership Council to mark the path out of the miasma they’ve created by catering to the dwindling center.
The onus is now on the people of this country to take our country back, and we need to use our own tools (MoveOn, ACT, VoteMob, Dean’s Democracy For America, not the DNC) to grab the reins of our this nation and get our country back on track.
Teddy Miller, a Berkeley High and UC Berkeley graduate, received a graduate degree in development studies from the London School of Economics this year. He headed for Cincinnati, Ohio to work on the presidential election for MoveOn PAC as a team leader. He had passed the Foreign Service exam, intending to work to help President Kerry recover the United States' damaged image abroad, but now intends to go to law school in the fall and continue work for success in the mid-term elections in 2006.›