Before I dive back into the Decision '09 series, I want to extend a warm welcome to all of our new followers, contributors, and readers. Feel free to respond and post your ideas! And now, part three of our series on how the Democrats can win in 2009:
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages we could have that no local candidate has had in recent memory is the massive wave of new voters that Barack Obama has so kindly created for us. If we can keep the momentum for Barack alive and redirect the need for change in America to change in New Britain, we can not just win, we can win BIG.
The first step to keeping that wave going is to think like Obama. What gave Obama the ability to succeed on the grassroots level was his background as a community organizer. This experience was central to his entire campaign, as he essentially used the principles of community organizing to organize the entire nation. Compared to an undertaking like that, organizing New Britain should be a piece of cake. Of course compared to an undertaking like that, winning the Superbowl is a piece of cake. So let's stay realistic but positive.
The first rule of community organizing is: Don't organize people around your agenda, organize people around their agenda. Get out into the community, into people's homes, businesses, churches, community centers, meetings, festivals, soup kitchens. Find out what issues in this city matter most to them, not what we perceive to be the biggest problems. Hunt for allies, not potential converts.
And let's be thoughtful about how we approach people. Many people are naturally distrustful of politicians and their minions. We need to approach them on their terms. Reach out to college and high school students on Facebook and MySpace. Send Spanish speaking volunteers into Hispanic neighborhoods and Polish speaking volunteers into Polish neighborhoods.
Psychological research shows that the best way endear yourself to someone is to ask for their help, not to offer them yours. So get the people we engage involved by asking them to help us spread the word. Make each person who wants to be help responsible for recruiting five people from his or her community, and then make each of those five responsible for recruiting five more. That way, the task doesn't seem overwhelming for each new volunteer. When the people we've brought in are talking to others on their own, it's now a movement. Do you think Tim Stewart and the local Republicans are ready to take on a movement? I don't. Time to move in for the kill.
Once we have a buzz going and have figured out what people want done, we need to keep them in the loop. Snail mail and e-mail lists are of course standard. But what other ways can we reach people?
One outlet that has to become a factor this year is Spanish language media. The Spanish media is not a low-budget underground operation. Spanish newspapers, radio stations, and TV channels are owned by the same giant media conglomerates as their English speaking counterparts. Spanish speaking media is HUGE business, to the tune of millions of dollars a year. And it is very present in New Britain. In 2008, our Spanish radio stations, WRYM and WLAT, were instrumental in registering over 1,200 new Latino voters. Most of those votes went to Obama. New Britain's Latino community has a big heart but feels like it has never been invited to the table. Now is the critical time for us to we send a much-deserved invitation.
One of the newest and most viral methods of organizing is text messaging. Cell phones go everywhere a person goes, so text messages are usually checked as soon as they are received. A texting tree provides one of the fasted ways imaginable to spread information. Meetings and demonstrations can be organized within minutes. Rumors and campaign attacks can be debunked before they are even common knowledge, and attacks can be launched without an opponent's knowledge.
In April of 2006, when hundreds of thousands of Latinos turned out in US cities to protest the ugly House Immigration bill, cell phones and especially text messages were instrumental in organizing the protests. Demonstrations that would once have taken weeks to organize were put together in a matter of days. When controversy erupted over non-American flags being flown at the protests, text messages immediately went around from coast to coast calling for only American flags to be flown. The change happened so fast that a media talking point which could potentially have discredited the movement was killed on the spot. Thus is the power of cell phones.
Plus, be honest, how excited were you when you got a text from Barack?
Facebook and MySpace also provide powerful tools. They provide all the advantages of e-mail, but they take the now-hardy old system quite a few steps further. Groups create automatic messaging lists and discussion forums. Mass Facebook messages allow all users to see each others' responses, allowing for easy group discussion without worrying about forwarding and e-mail privacy. Users can display their support for a candidate on their pages for all to see. And most powerful of all, each user comes stocked with his or her own Friends list full of potential new supporters.
Of course, texting and Facebooking is all well and good for those who are plugged in, but for those who aren't into the technology thing or can't afford to be, nothing beats good old fashioned hand bills. Fliers have a way of getting around. They get left at bus stops, in cafes, and in grocery carts. A single flier has the potential to reach two or three people in the course of its life. Not to mention put its initial recipient in contact with a real live volunteer (recruiter).
This process takes quite a while to build, and even when it peaks we shouldn't expect to see anything like Barack had going. But if we start early, keep trying, and keep people engaged, I certainly think we can build a strong enough coalition to generate some real noise in the streets that will penetrate the walls of City Hall.