Bernie, Democrats, and Precinct Organizing

Earlier today I sent the following email to the Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party:

Dear Mary Jung:

I would like to meet monthly with Democrats in my precinct to advance the goals of the Democratic Party.

Might the San Francisco Democratic Party help me with that effort?

Having discussed the idea with a number of other Democrats, I believe that If the Democratic Party encouraged and supported year-round precinct organizing, at least several Democrats in most precincts would devote at least a few hours a month to work with one another to help build the Democratic Party. That base of steady, consistent workers could engage in a wide variety of activities and accomplish a great deal.

Self-organizing Democratic Party precinct clubs could inspire meaningful social engagement and enrich the lives of participants by nurturing face-to-face community. Doing so could help rebuild the Democratic Party, as Paul Starr calls for in “The Democrats as a Movement Party.”

The more the Party supports and encourages precinct organizing, the more effective that effort will be. Scale is important. If potential participants know that a large number of others are participating, or soon will be, they will more likely get involved.

For those reasons, I recommend that you and the San Francisco Democratic Party urge the California Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee to encourage and support year-round precinct organizing. In addition, I ask you to directly and/or indirectly encourage Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to back year-round precinct organizing.

During the most recent Presidential debate, Sanders said:

I will do everything I can to open the Democratic party to the young people who are flocking into our political campaign…. Millions of young people who previously were not involved in the political process are now coming into it, and I do believe that we have got to open the door of the Democratic party to those people.

Year-round precinct organizing could be one way those young people could get involved.

I live at 1280 Laguna Street. If you already know someone in my precinct who wants to work with me on this project, please ask them to be in touch with me.

Otherwise, if the Democratic Party gives me information about residents in my precinct and indicates that it will support and encourage precinct-based organizing elsewhere, I will reach out to my neighbors to form a precinct club, with the understanding that my colleagues and I will provide the Party with updated voter information as we obtain it.

Such initial efforts in my precinct and other precincts could serve as models that would motivate Democrats and the Party elsewhere to organize precinct clubs.

So I would appreciate knowing your thoughts, which I may share publicly.

Might you support year-round precinct organizing in San Francisco and encourage the entire Democratic Party to do the same?


Wade Hudson

I also sent that email to thirty-one Democratic Clubs in San Francisco as well as numerous individual Democrats, with the following introduction:

Earlier today I sent the following email to Mary Jung, Chair of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.

I’d be interested in your thoughts about these ideas and whether you might encourage the Democratic Party to undertake year-round precinct organizing.

As I receive responses to those communications, I’ll post them here as comments.

Time is urgent. With enough grassroots energy rooted in a shared commitment, we could transform the Democratic Party into a vital, activist organization that: 1) fights effectively for progressive policies backed by a majority of the American people, and; 2) addresses local personal, social, and environmental needs that are currently neglected, including the need for more meaningful face-to-face community.

The Party structure is already remarkably democratic. Rank-and-file Democrats elect leaders of the state Party, who elect the leaders of the national Party. The door is open. All that is needed is for enough people with enough unity to walk through it.

If Bernie decides to maintain tight control over his database (as did Barack) and use it only to support a few candidates here and there that he chooses to support (as he has done so far), he will diminish the prospects for building a participatory, self-organizing movement through the Democratic Party.

In Starr’s article, he reflects on how political parties have grown weaker, which undermines what any President can accomplish. He argues, “if progressives want large-scale, institutional change, they must rebuild the Democratic Party and animate it with a progressive agenda.”

Bernie has not yet clearly articulated a commitment to consistently pursue the transformation of the Democratic Party into a more democratic, progressive force rooted in the daily lives of ordinary Americans. If he chooses to do so, the possibilities are enormous.

At the outset, no one predicted what Bernie would accomplish. If he plays his cards right, the future could be even more remarkable. Self-organizing precinct clubs within the Democratic Party could play a major role in the “political revolution.”

Winning Is NOT Everything

Junior Moar and Billy Bailey

Oakland Raiders’ owner Al Davis made “Winning is Everything” his team’s motto. That hyper-competitive spirit permeates American culture. It also afflicts political activism.

Activists tend to see issues as black-or-white. We divide the world into good guys and bad guys, blame individuals rather than the system, and launch personal attacks. Anger at oppression devolves into rage at individuals. Righteousness slips into self-righteousness. Self-confidence morphs into arrogance.

As if one side must always win, the mainstream media promotes simplistic polarization by labeling issues as either “left” or “right.” Cable networks magnify minor conflicts into bitter battles, the more vicious the better.

But most moral and political issues are ambiguous. especially when it’s impossible to predict the future. Drawing on gut reactions as well as rational analysis, we can only do our best to divine right action.

In campaigns, candidates focus too much on their own election. Barack Obama even once told workers in his Chicago office that his election would itself  constitute “transformation.”

Another example is the contest between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Many partisans on each side believe defeat of their candidate would be a disaster. History, however, suggests the need for humility.

Any number of scenarios could produce a Republican president. Given that threat, despite the many flaws in the Democratic Party, we must elect the Democrat. And no one knows for sure whether Clinton or Sanders would be the stronger candidate. If Sanders is nominated, the Republican machine will hammer him on his weak points much more than Clinton has.

We might be better off if Bernie loses the nomination and helps to build a real grassroots organization as an “outsider.” Our greatest priority is to build a democratic, inclusive, national organization dedicated to systemic reform. Bernie could help with that.

With “Dear Bernie and Hillary: Transform the Democratic Party,” “Proposed: Year-Round Precinct Organizing,” and “Bernie’s Revolution,” I offered some ideas along that line. Other options are available as well.

Sanders’ supporters, who are better organized than the Tea Party was at its outset, could have even more of an impact on the Democratic Party than the Tea Party had on the Republican Party. A few victories in primary campaigns by candidates who support transforming the Democratic Party into a year-round activist organization would provide great leverage.

The Democratic Party structure is remarkably democratic. There’s no need to form a new organization. All we need is for enough people with enough unity to transform the Democratic Party, face-to-face, neighbor-to-neighbor, precinct-by-precinct.

Until I hear some substantial, convincing analysis of why a critical mass of like-minded people can not transform the Democratic Party, I’ll remain hopeful and follow through on my offer to my local Party to help build the Party in my precinct. Year-round precinct organizing could be fun, rewarding, educational for all, and perhaps a model for others.

Despair is a self-fulfilling circle. People don’t get involved because people don’t get involved. Precinct organizing could break that pattern. The need is urgent. The vision is compelling. Why not try?

Electing any one candidate is not everything. We can only do our best, stay even-keeled, and prepare for the long haul.

Proposed: Year-Round Precinct Organizing

If Bernie’s supporters follow his example and become involved in the Democratic Party year-round, and Hillary’s supporters practice what she preaches and promote kindness throughout society, “whether it’s to a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, a fellow student, or in the classroom, doctor’s office, or business,” as she put it, we can transform the Democratic Party and our nation into compassionate communities dedicated to promoting the general welfare.

Considering Bernie’s strength among young people, the future may be ours. The Democratic Party could lead a political revolution.

The Party’s structure is democratic and its membership is diverse. With some tweaks, grassroots activists can strengthen the Party.

Trying to form a new national organization or a third party would be much more difficult. We don’t have to establish a new decision-making process. We already have one.

The Democratic National Committee, which directs the Party, is composed of over 200 members elected by Democrats in all 50 states and the territories, as well as the chairs and vice-chairs of each state Party Committee who are elected by registered Democrats.

On the basis of one person, one vote, the national convention adopts the Party’s platform every four years. The latest platform is solid. But it can be improved to better reflect the will of the vast majority of the American people.

At present, the Party focuses almost entirely on electing Democrats to public office. It does not fight for its platform year-round by nurturing neighbor-to-neighbor relationships. With concentrated effort, we can turn the Party into an activist organization that serves unmet needs and fights for the Party’s platform throughout the year.

Nation-wide, political precincts (or voting districts) contain an average of about 300 registered Democrats. If ten or more of those 300 Democrats cultivate with one another cost-effective, potent, face-to-face connections, we can promote the common welfare and build the Party. If we are patient, persistent, and humble, we can empower one another and ourselves and grow a stronger sense of community with like-minded neighbors who engage in right action together.

Even in heavily Republican precincts, Democrats can work together to push for progress. One example is to act on the appeal from the national party to urge Senator McConnell to hold hearings on the President’s Supreme Court nominee.

By organizing precinct-based clubs, Democrats can get to know their neighbors through house parties, political action, and other rewarding activities. Possibilities include peer learning, public forums, registering voters, social events, mutual support, social service, and environmental cleanup, as well as get-out-the-vote during elections.

Most precinct club members might only participate in one monthly meeting (in a member’s home or community center) and work on one specific task between meetings. In addition, members with time available could engage in activities like volunteering together at a soup kitchen, participating in a political demonstration, helping one another compose a letter to an elected official, meeting with an official or their representative, becoming more familiar with their neighbors, welcoming newcomers, registering voters, organizing activities like a picnic, or raising funds to pay for special projects.

Each club would organize its own activities and share with the Party updated information about the residents in their precinct. At Party conventions, club members could gather in sessions to share notes about their efforts.

To promote year-round precinct organizing, Democrats can do one or more of the following:

  • Share this statement with friends and colleagues.
  • Distribute and discuss these ideas at a Democratic county committee meeting.
  • Let me know about any year-round precinct organizing already underway so I can share that information.
  • Help develop one or more models by experimenting in your own precinct. Contact your local Party (as I have done) and tell them you want to work on organizing your precinct year-round. Perhaps they will give you their voter list for your precinct or connect you with someone who has it so you can start reaching out to neighbors.
  • Report on the results of your efforts to me so I can facilitate horizontal communication between those who explore these possibilities.
  • Vote for candidates for local and statewide Democratic Party positions who support year-round precinct organizing.

If this effort develops, we might post petitions (including one on the White House site directed to President Obama) and discuss these issues during campaign events. We might also circulate a pledge asking Democrats to promise to engage in precinct organizing if and when the opportunity arises.

Ideally, perhaps after the Democratic nomination is resolved, both Clinton and Sanders will encourage their supporters to get involved with year-round precinct organizing. Eventually, hopefully, the Democratic National Committee will invite every Democrat in their database to engage in consistent precinct organizing and ask them to help organize a club.

No one organization is the solution. We need many organizations that specialize on specific issues. But we also need one major coalition that enables us to overcome our fragmentation and occasionally unite behind a timely priority.

The American people need a bottom up, grassroots organization whose members help one another be all they can be and help this country live up to its ideals. The Democratic Party can be that organization — a grand, inclusive coalition that enables neighbors to cultivate face-to-face community with one another.

Our situation is urgent. One way or the other, we must transform this nation into a compassionate community.