Posts tagged DC
Back in December of 2010, I reflected on the previous RootsCamp. Among the biggest negatives was the large crowd & less than stellar session leaders. The positives? The wonderful people and efforts of the New Organizing Institute, the activists and enthusiasm.
A little over a year later, we returned to the scene of the first RootsCamp (2006), the NEA Building. Attendance was limited to a more reasonable number and the quality of experience was back up to the expected (very high) levels.
There was one session that was horrifically bad and I would certainly like to see more content geared at challenger candidates/campaigns, but overall it was a great experience with some wonderful sessions/presenters/discussions.
One of the more amusing sessions Saturday was led by Adam Green & Stephanie Taylor of the PCCC, “Fire the Consultants: Venting & Solutions.” Similar to sessions they have conducted in the past, the intent is both therapeutic and to stop so many campaigns and organizations from repeating the mistakes happening far too often every cycle. Among the more amazing revelations, one participant discussed how a consultant was 4 months behind schedule on a 6 week deliverable. They asked what they could do about that, several in the room responded, “Fire them.” A better question would be, why weren’t they fired after passing 12 weeks on a 6 week deliverable?
Too often candidates and lefty non-profits find themselves in this sort of situation. Sometimes the result is a poorly communicated proposal, an inadequate or absent contract, or just the unwillingness to demand what was paid for by the organization. Refer back to the Rules of Organizing, #9 If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. The consultant telling you they have written a plan, collected the data, and so forth isn’t good enough. They have to both write down the plan and share it with the customer. A good contract will specify that all data procured or created by the consultant in the process is also handed over (or shared digitally) to the customer.
Some RootsCamp attendees were put off by the title, and the animosity directed at consultants. As a consultant, I say get over it. The profession is rife with leeches, hacks and stuffed shirts. The few good and honorable among us need to understand that, accept it, and not get hostile about being mistaken for one of vast majority of vultures that dominate the profession. Unfortunately the burden is on us to prove we aren’t part of that majority that serves only to inhibit or exploit challenger candidates.
My adventure to the Nation’s Capitol, with a fantastic 1-day conference hosted by Campaign for America’s Future, “Summit on Jobs and America’s Future” and a Democratic Municipal Officials conference where I will be leading a training session on speaking as a surrogate. You can find a pdf of my training materials for the DMO session here. Much of the following was written at a fantastic new DC coffee shop, Pound Coffee, which is very close to the Eastern Market metro stop. Did I mention the owner is a fantastic Young Democrat? (Karl, my drinks are free now right?)
The Summit on Jobs was a fantastic presentation of a great variety of brilliant presenters, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Van Jones, Represenative Keith Ellison (MN), Representative George Miller (CA), Mayor Antonio Villaragosa (Los Angeles), and both an economist and a pollster that I liked, Robert Pollin (Umass-Amherst) and Celinda Lake (Lake Research Partners). There were a number of other great presenters as well, it was informative, entertaining and well executed, a great job by the folks at Campaign for America’s Future.
I didn’t take notes at the Summit, I did live tweet throughout, so now you will get the results of that, with additional commentary.
The first bundle of tweets above, the top tweet, which occurred chronologically last in the sequence, is mis-attributed to Campaign for America’s Future’s Co-Director Robert Borosage, it was actually a statement by Umass Amherst Economist Robert Pollin. The four tweets in the next block below are all from Robert Pollin’s presentation, mis-attributed to Borosage. My apologies to both gentlemen.
In the set below, there is a tweet with the attribution correction, the 3rd tweet down is also from Pollin, not Borosage. The first tweet relates to Pollin’s discussion of the unemployment situtation in 1981-82 and the failures of Reagan’s economic policies. I’ll take this opportunity to put my favorite Reagan quote on labor:
“They remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost. They remind us that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. You and I must protect and preserve freedom here or it will not be passed on to our children and it would disappear everywhere in the world. “ – Ronald Reagan, former President of the Screen Actors Guild, Labor Day, 1980
It seems clear that President Reagan would see Governors Walker, Kasich and Scott (WI, OH and FL respectively) as well as the GOP’s national leaders to be enemies of Freedom. I disagree with President Reagan on nearly everything else, on this point though, he was correct.
The next block is from the presentation by Celinda Lake, the polling numbers she cited and the ideas she presented were both the support for progressive candidates and the foundations of strategies that can lead progressive candidate to victory. The last (top) tweet is the one that really puts everything in perspective, by 2 to 1, American’s believe the next generation will be worse off than they are. That is both a sad state of affairs for our nation and a positive reflection on the awareness of voters. They are starting to see a bit further down the road and understand that long term outcomes are not all that rosy. Celinda Lake dropped in a nice aside suggesting Robert Pollin run for the US Senate seat in Massachussets currently held by Republican Scott Brown. I’d support that notion, an intelligent progressive economist would have a profound impact on the Senate.
The Keynote speaker of the Summit was Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, and he did not disappoint. He spoke about the politics of fear, the corruption of officials catering to the greedy demands of their super-wealthy donors, and the positive values of the American Labor Movement. He closed by squelching a Fox News Reporter’s attempt to distract from the evil behavior of Governor Walker and the GOP with finger pointing at President Obama. President Obama didn’t bolt the windows shut to keep protesters from getting food/water. President Obama didn’t lock the doors keeping not only protesters, but elected legislators out of the Wisconsin Capitol. President Obama didn’t subvert democracy to pass a legislative agenda of greed and corruption. I’d like President Obama to do more, but not more of the intolerant, greedy and just plain evil propaganda that Fox News pushes. He can start with media reform, there’s nothing “news” about the Murdoch and Ailes Propagana Network.
On the next panel Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect made some great points about the current state of public opinion with regard to labor and the disfunction within the Democratic Caucus of our Federal Legislature. He called Third Way out for what it is, a mechanism for selling out Democratic Values for the benefit of Corporate America’s wealthiest. In his words, “the spiritual successor to the DLC.”
Kate Gordon, VP for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress, made a great presentation about the economic opportunites in moving to a greener America, the benefits to workers and investors. She called for the elimination of all subsidies for Oil and Coal industries, redirecting all of those funds to clean energy research and development.
Representative George Miller of California’s 7th Congressional District delivered what Representative Keith Ellison later referred to as a “stemwinder.” Miller spoke of the systematic approach Republicans are taking to stripping communities of resources from the top down, putting the governing a the local level, such as by Mayor Antonia Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, in to a constant situation of impossible decisions. He talked of how the GOP is intent on blaming hard working Americans for the crimes of big banks and the super-greedy, at the behest of their donors. He spoke of the tragedy of the entension of the Bush Budget Busters and how the wealthiest corporate tycoons are trying to impose a new “China price” on American Labor, driving wages down to unlivable levels in the interest of excessive profiteering.
Represenative Ellison opened with a reminder of his home state hero, Hubert H. Humphery’s governing philosophy, as summed up by the following quote:
“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
Ellison went on to note that if the GOP was interested in creating jobs, they would have submitted at least one jobs bill by now, rather than wasting so much time on ceremonial displays and ideological vendettas.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa started by telling us he was going to abandon his speech and tell a different story. The story was one he has told many times before, about his grandfather coming to America 100 years ago with the shirt on his back and little else. Through hard work and relentless dedication, his grandfather provided for his family, later his father did the same, allowing Antonio the opportunity to succed and become the Mayor of the great city he was raised in. He also spoke about the brutal decisions he has had to make, cutting 4,000 of 14,000 civilian employees as the funding mechanisms for his city have been choked off by the state and Federal government, as Representative Miller had described earlier.
Villaraigosa spoke of how as a child, he was a latch-key kid, that the local library was their day care center. He went there every day after school and waited for his mother to pick him up when she got off work. Mayor Villaraigosa has a plan, America Fast Forward, which you can read more about here.
Van Jones closed out the show with his tremendous oratory capacity spinning a fantastic narrative of the origins of “Hope” (2003), the first steps to developing a progressive infrastructure as they unfolded in 2005/2006 and where we need to go from here. His new American Dream is a vision of the better nation we want for the generations that come after us. He emphasized that the phrase “homeless veteran” needs to be gone from our vocabulary, we need to do everything possible to make sure every veteran returning from war (as well as all of our young people) can find a job in the private sector, or if needed, create public sector jobs for them, similar to the notion of a 21st Century WPA mentioned throughout the day.
These two statements from Van Jones are emblematic of his leadership, empathy and strength wrapped in a graceful eloquence:
The Summit was fantastic and similar events should be held around the country. Campaign for America’s Future did a tremendous job organizing and executing this event. If you aren’t following their actions, you should subscribe to their email list now and start visiting their website regularly.
This weekend I joined roughly 1000 progressive activists in DC for the 5th RootsCampDC, my 4th, having missed the Februrary 2010 camp. RootsCamp is a fantastic “un-conference” put together and beautifully executed by the New Organizing Institute.
A space to bring people from all aspects of campaigning, advocacy and governing together to discuss successes, failures, experiences and opportunities, RootsCamp is great atmosphere for progressives to network and grow their talents. There is a fantastic spill over from the sessions to the common areas and of course to the twInterwebs (hashtag #roots10).
As always, NOI assembled and executed a great event, staffed by fantastic members of their team and a terrific group of volunteers. The facility at GWU was also great, with plenty of signs and human navigational aides provided to get people where they wanted to be in a timely fashion.
Thank you to all the participants, volunteers, staff and supporting/sponsoring organizations.
From the “back in the day” perspective, I feel like the first two RootsCampDC’s worked slightly better, with half (or less) the attendance, due to both smaller session sizes allowing more participation and the ratio of veteran activists to “rookies” being closer to 1 to 1 than what I would speculate was more like 5 or 6 to 1. It seemed like there were far more people who only have a historical knowledge going back to 2007 or 2008 than those who can put thoughts in the perspective of understanding from 2006, 2004, 2000, etc.
My two suggestions for the next RootsCampDC would be:
A: Lock down the open session schedule to just Saturday until just prior to the final session on Saturday when you open ONLY the first session time slot on Sunday. The remainder of Sunday should not be opened until Sunday morning. Let people process what happened Saturday, discuss with peers what they want to learn more about, which sessions should be repeated/extended/expanded, which presenters they want to hear more from, I believe the content will be more beneficial and more enjoyable.
B: More rooms/spaces for sessions. Too many sessions were standing room only, too many subjects/aspects weren’t well addressed. Beyond the obvious disadvantages to this situation, there comes one that may be overlooked… One of the great aspects of these conferences is the “Vote with your feet” option – when a room goes to standing room only, it makes attendees far less likely to leave, as to do so would be a massive disruption to the session. Some of the most productive RootsCamp sessions I’ve experienced in the past have been 5-15 people, where discussion can evolve to action in 45 minutes, something much harder to achieve with 40+ people.
My one complaint with no corrective suggestion is that too many session facilitators were lecturing more than fostering discussion or just not allowing enough time to have a valid dialogue, while really not having nearly the level of competence/expertise in the subject to justify such. An actual quote from one presenter “the message really doesn’t matter, we just have to organize more…” Really? Do we really need to explain to the presenters the relationship between messaging and organizing? To be clear, this wasn’t the norm of the sessions I attended, but really shouldn’t be happening at all.
My call to action: Now is the time to find, recruit and train progressive candidates if we want to take back the majority in 2012. We have state elections in several states in 2011 and a rough map coming our way to defend the Senate and White House in 2012. To have success, we must start laying the ground work for strong challenger campaigns at all levels, meaning now is the time to identify potential candidates, even though the district lines are still pending post-census redistricting. There is plenty of preparation that can be done in advance of the redistricting process, anyone considering a run should be taking a “be prepared” attitude rather than a passive “wait and see” approach. We need to do far more to prepare and train our candidates and staff for 2012, and we must fill more races with competitive and competent candidates.
Is there a potential progressive candidate you know? Now is the time to introduce them to DFA’s Training Academy or direct them to a good, honorable progressive campaign professional (Like MPA Political).