Getting Organized, Getting Engaged:
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What We Need To Do
To Have an Impact in 2008
By Carl Davidson
Progressive voters and activists have the opportunity to make some far-reaching gains in the 2008 election cycle, but we need to move quickly. The last delegate-rich primary in Pennsylvania is on April 22, by June 3 the remaining 10 primaries and caucuses will be done, and by early Sept. the 2 major parties will have their nominees in place. The opposition to the war needs to be more sharply articulated, just as the war itself needs to be linked to the economy.
Most important, ending the war in Iraq, needs to be a greater part of everyone's political decisions in 2008.
There are now three main presidential candidates, plus, in some states, the Greens-a Republican who promises to win the war, whatever the cost, even if it takes decades, and two Democrats who promise to end it, with less than desirable timelines and qualifications.
Large numbers of people critical of the war have decided to enter the electoral arena in one way or another-but they are not necessarily one of those who have taken to the streets to date. Most have not. The most obvious is the insurgent wave of youth taking up Barack Obama's cause, seeing him as their favored instrument to end the war and advance other progressive causes. They may make other choices later, but they have chosen to enter the fray this way, whether anyone else thinks it's the best way or not.
Yet we, the more seasoned core of the antiwar movement, and progressive activists generally, are not as engaged as we could be. To address this, several groups hav put out a voter guides and calls to get involved in various ways. In this piece, the focus is on some of the key ways the work can actually be done, although just about any way would be better than doing nothing.
We need to stress something right from the beginning. If you think this project is only about wining votes for Obama or any other particular party or candidate, you're mistaken! This is also about bringing the voice of the antiwar movement into the public debate, and it is about building our capacity, as independent progressives, at the local and national level.
This project is also designed as a nonpartisan intervention that any group, including those with either 501C3 or C4 status, can take part in. It's aim is to move the electorate in the direction of our issues, set our issues as the prevailing ones for any candidate to address, educate both candidates and the electorate on our issues, get out the largest possible turnout of voters educated on our issues, and, most important, to strengthen our grassroots member groups and their alliances in the process. If you're not clear, go over this one more time, before looking at the following "to do" items:
Making Our Message Clear. With all the various "plans" regarding Iraq being floated, it's important that the peace movement remain true to the position we've had all along, and the one shared by the antiwar majority among the people themselves, of immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq and their return home. Every candidate, presidential and congressional, of every party needs to be directly bird-dogged and confronted with this at every - opportunity. While there are important differences among them, not one of the major party presidential candidates shares this perspective. They are either lagging behind the electorate or opposing it. Those who claim to want to end the war need to be openly informed that they only gain support by taking a stronger antiwar stand.
Ballot Intervention. In some states, and on some very local levels, we can directly put issues on the ballot, as well as into the discussion. Near West Citizens for Peace & Justice, for example, put a cutoff of funding for the war on the ballot at its township level in a working-class suburb of Chicago in the recent primary, where it won by 77 percent. Since electoral law varies, this may not be practical in some areas, but wherever it can be done, it's a great nonpartisan, non-endorsing tool to bring antiwar voters to the polls. Winning local referenda or other ballot initiatives, especially when won by large margins are another important expression of the widespread opposition to the war, and as such puts more pressure on policy makers in Washington, DC.
RTV: Registering and Expanding the Electorate. This is already shaping up to be an historic election with a record-breaking turnout, if for no other reason than the prospect of the 'White Guys Only' sign being taken from the Oval Office. Growing numbers want to be part of that history, and not just watch it. The sharper the differences are drawn with the unabashed defenders of prolonging the war, the greater the potential turnout, but it has to be organized. Some new voters register themselves, but many do not until they are encouraged, especially among young people. The antiwar movement has everything to gain from registering voters in a nonpartisan fashion, so that the new contact lists, with the names and addresses of new voters, belong to it, rather than any party. Most states make it easy for volunteer organizations to get new registrations on their own and then turn them in. There's nothing standing in our way but our own lack of initiative. Getting the lists is why it's preferable to actually register voters ourselves, rather than simply passing out 'motor voter' or other cards for the registrants to send in themselves.
ETV: Educating, Shaping and Informing the Electorate. A few years back the average voter was a 60-year-old retired economically liberal but socially conservative blue collar woman in a 'white' working-class Midwest suburb. But everything changes, especially in times of crisis. An electorate more educated on the war-disabused of notions that Iraq caused 9/11 and other such lies and illusions-is more likely to vote rationally on the war, and to make educated selections among the candidates on their own, with an assist from wide distribution of candidate position survey and score cards, candidate night debates, and so on. Additionally, if our educational efforts now are strong they will help us sustain our antiwar organizing after the elections.
ITV: Identifying the Antiwar Electorate. Knowing that a majority of the electorate in your neighborhood is critical of the war is one thing. It's quite another to know all the names and addresses of voters in your precinct who are opposed to the war, support the war, or waver in between. The additional information is empowering to those who hold it, and there's no reason it shouldn't be in the hands of our local peace and justice groups. But you have to do old-fashioned, door-to-door organizing to get it. Fortunately, a voter registration drive combined with a voter ID survey in an election cycle is an excellent way to do it. And it's an additional plus that the same information is more than useful for mass mobilizations and other projects beyond Election Day and outside the electoral arena.
GOTV: Mobilizing the Electorate. Potential voters who are registered and antiwar but don't make it to the polls don't help much. There's no reason we can't organize nonpartisan GOTV-Get Out The Vote-events, not only ourselves, but with our allies in community organizations, at religious institutions, schools and unions. This way the relationships and ties belong to you after the election, not to any party. You can get your antiwar voters to the polls without endorsing anyone or any party.
PSTV: Protecting and Securing the Vote. Getting voters to the polls doesn't help much if you can't get a fair and reliable count. There's lots of justified concern about electronic machines these days, but paper is a problem, too. People determined to steal elections will try all sorts of tricks, so protecting the vote should be part of our election year work. It's definitely worthwhile getting a number of people trained and positioned as poll watchers and election judges, for the future as well as the present.
CTV: Staking Claim to the Vote. It's not very convincing to politicians or anyone else for us to claim a positive gain from an election we had little or nothing to do with. But to the degree we can reasonably claim responsibility for what might be seen as favorable results and turnouts in one battle, it enhances our independent 'clout' in future battles, inside and outside the electoral arena. It enhances our ability to 'counter-spin' the outcomes and post-election battles from those who would marginalize us. Most important, no matter who is elected, the need for an ongoing, independent and election-savvy ORGANIZATION is going to be more needed than ever in the dangerous 'end game' to Bush's disaster in Iraq.
There are different sets of rules for doing all the above, depending on whether your local group or coalition is a 501C3, a 501C4, a straightforward public interest group with a bank account and no tax exempt status, or just an ad-hoc group of volunteers. If you are in doubt as to what can or can't be done, and have a status that needs defending, consult a lawyer with some experience on the topic. But don't fall for the claim that you can't do anything.
There's a lot that can be done, and this plan is completely independent of any party or campaign. If your imagination fails, just pick an option above, but do it now. You don't want to tell your grandchildren that you sat on the sidelines in the Election of 2008.
[A version of this article was written for the UFPJ Voter Engagement Working Group. Carl is the author, together with Marilyn Katz, of 'Stopping War, Seeking Justice,' available at lulu.com/changemaker. He was founder and director of Peace and Justice Voters 2004 in Chicago, a national committee member of CCDS, and a member of United for Peace and Justice's Voter Engagement Project. See carldavidson.blogspot.com for more information.]
Monday, March 24, 2008
Posted by Diane at 10:33 PM