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Saturday, February 21, 2004

Growing A Majority

One of the frustrating things about creating change in this country is the chasm between the hard pushes toward high priority short-term victories, and the long-term education and building necessary for long-term change. In addition to policy work, I've done my share of both field work for electoral campaigns and grassroots organizing for social change. Now while those two things might sound similar, they are worlds apart, and the difference between the two is indicative of what we need to change our politics by growing a majority.

Both field and organizing efforts involve generally young activists who, for little money or as volunteers, visit, call, and email people in their community to get them interested in an effort. They try to persuade, cajole, and educate busy people to get more involved in their communities. But that is where the similarity ends.

Grassroots organizing for social change is about teaching people that their interests lie in shared action, educating them about how public policy issues impact their daily lives, and showing them how they can change the system by becoming active. All too often, campaign field work on the other hand is focused solely on election day. It is not generally about getting new voters registered or any of the elements of organizing. It is about turning out the most people to vote for a candidate at the lowest cost. These days, this generally means working to turn out already reliable voters.

Now I see the logic of both of these strategies. I also understand why we target a few races to get our intense ground effort, fundraising support, etc. But the pool of voters is shrinking and the people who do vote are not going to magically turn our way long-term. To be frank, all too much of what we do in our campaigns is about getting the vote out in November, not about building for a long-term majority.

We've got to look at the numbers across the country and see that we have to grow a majority. Rather than accept that only a third or less of voters are going to turn out in non-presidential years to vote for our candidates for national, state and local office, we've got to be out organizing, educating, mobilizing, and registering people year round.

Look at the numbers in Kansas. I know that it swings all too often for Republicans, but look how few people vote. Look how the economy there is being hit hard and how Bush and the Republican Congress have failed to really help them and have even made the situation worse. Many Republican policies hurt Kansans; we only have to show that.

We should not have to concede states like Kansas in the presidential election and our Senate candidates in states like Kansas should not be all-but-ignored. Year round organizing is necessary to create a real possibility of change long-term. So let me applaud the work of campaigners across the nation who are working to elect a Democratic president, and build a progressive majority in Congress and in legislatures across the country.

At the same time, let me say that I am dedicated to a long-term majority capable of real change based on a more progressive consensus and a more solid base.