Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Local Town Committees and the State Party

One thing I've noticed in my years of activism from within the Democratic Party is that town committees can rock. They don't always rock, but when there's a solid group, they can make all the difference in organizing a community for both local and statewide races.

One of the frustrating things, though, is the lack of tools available to Town and Ward committees, as well as other Democratic Committees (the YDMs come to mind). For example:
  • The state party doesn't provide local committees with a website builder for dynamic town and local sites, which can be important both for informational purposes as well as internally. It's too costly and the technical barrier too high to expect local committees to figure this out on their own (some have, but only a very few). The state really needs to step in here and give people access to a user-friendly website builder, which offers tools and pages that can make for a powerful website.
  • Voter databases. Right now, the state's pushing something called aPebble, which is a cross between a real voter database and something like facebook. You don't just sign up and have access to information -- you have to recruit for and find that information, as you would a social networking account.

    While a neat, little thing in and of itself, it requires getting people to actually use the damn thing to do any real good -- which is both a barrier in terms of technical skills and time. Worst of all, if it's going to do any real good, it means everyone on the committee has to use it, not just a dedicated few -- which just isn't realistic.

    Meanwhile, candidates now have inexpensive access to VAN, a very powerful and user friendly voter database, which has loads of information on voter files, phone numbers, addresses and tools to help create mailing lists, phone lists and walk lists (complete with maps). Now, I haven't called and asked the state party to see if any city or town committee could get it and pay the candidate price, but the State Party certainly hasn't been pushing for it. While even at the candidate price it would be expensive for local committees... this is some powerful, powerful stuff we're talking about. Honestly, I don't just see why the State Party doesn't buy the damn thing and give access to every committee and group within the State Party.
  • Institutional support. The party isn't terrible at this, just not very proactive. For example, John Walsh came and spoke to my town committee about a year or so ago, and certainly the Patrick campaign has been involved, but Patrick's camp is there for the elections and that's pretty much it. The State Party should be investing more time and energy into organizing local committees, making sure each of them is active and reaching out to them to see what they need, which could be anything from training workshops to fundraising help. Some of this stuff is happening, but not all of it is, and not very much is to the extent that it needs to be happening.
Now, all of this would require a certain level of investment by the state party to address, particularly the last bit. However, they're all good ideas -- and I know there's no stronger proponent of Town Committees than John Walsh, the Party Chair, himself. But aPebble just isn't doing it, and there's still too many local committees that aren't pulling their weight. If infusing committees with more resources means cutting back in other areas, including the annual Party Convention, it would be a worthy sacrifice. Local committees are not only the heart of the Democratic Party and its major local source of strength to elect more Democrats, but also to elect better, people-powered and progressive Democrats, too. I know it's not the State Party's job to care what kind of Democrat its electing, but its rank-and-file membership certainly does.


Anonymous said...

Good points Ryan...many of your suggestions have been suggested before (and before that and before that) and one wonders why people join the local committees but don't stay involved. aPebbles is terrible as you note, it discourages use...the Van lists would be a great resource if made available to all committees and the website suggestion is right on the mark, as well.

Now, how can we get them to ACT on it? Before we all end up like those town committees that have about 6 active members, meet at their local library and do nothing but read the minutes of their previous meeting and argue about Robert's Rules of order while they discuss the weather.


Ryan said...

Honestly, I don't think we're going to be able to convince people to switch from aPebble until after the election. They've pushed it so hard, with the best of intentions, but for the reasons I've listed it's just not going to work. You can't make everyone use and learn something that's significantly less powerful and requires significantly more work than VAN, especially when so many in town committees have technophobia.

People involved in politics are so sensitive about lists, many of which reasons are understandable, but sometimes it just goes way too far. Giving town committees access to something like VAN for their own individual town or ward -- and, probably just as important, local fundraising lists -- is an exceptionally powerful idea. Now, I don't know if the state could really afford to just give it over, but if it helped subsidize it (like it does campaigns) and pushes the importance of towns purchasing it, I the majority of them would over a two or three year period.

I do want to stress the fact that I think the Patrick camp (and Walsh) largely get these points -- for example, if you ask for a list, they'll give it. If you host an event in your town and do a lot of the work to get people there, they'll share the lists of people who come. These are all good things that, I imagine, weren't happening 10 years ago... but it's well past time we move all in when it comes to this direction.

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