Time to Do Something

Campaign season for the fall election is starting right now. Very few people follow politics consistently. The six weeks prior to a general election is the exception. If you’ve been looking for a chance to do something that might change our future, this is your moment. Volunteer for at least one local campaign, and consider offering some time or money to a campaign elsewhere. Here’s how you can do it, and what you can expect to experience.

First, let’s make clear that this is something everyone can do. Starting tomorrow I’ll be volunteering with Sean Casten’s campaign for Illinois’ 6th Congressional District and I’m a cancer patient who can’t count on being able to leave the house from day to day. You can do this. Offering significant assistance to a campaign requires no political expertise and might not even require you to step outside your door.

What can I do to help a local campaign? Different campaigns emphasize different activities based on their needs, but you can count on opportunities to canvass neighborhoods, make phone calls, engage in text campaigns, deliver yard signs, and in a new twist, amplify a campaign’s social media presence. You might also have opportunities to drive voters to the polls or help with administrative tasks in a campaign office.

The most potent form of volunteer engagement is knocking on doors and encouraging support face to face. Obviously, this is also the most taxing investment of time and energy, but it can be fun. Campaigns often organize volunteers to canvass in groups, providing some social support and guidance. Saturdays are popular for this. This is your highest-impact potential investment in a campaign, potentially equal to a money donation deep in the thousands. It works.

Phone and text outreach is also helpful. New text platforms make it possible to reach hundreds of voters in a short time from a single phone. Campaigns often use web-based interfaces to make the process simple and repeatable.

The relative value of a single call or text is less than the power of a face-to-face conversation, but the potential scale makes this a useful augment to feet on the street. When you consider that the goal is to create information saturation as cheaply as possible, the critical role of calls/texts becomes clear. Compared to canvassing, this is extremely easy. And the advent of simple text campaign tools means you can reach lots of people even if you’re nervous about talking on the phone and unable to take time to walk the block.

Social media campaigns are earning a lot of attention. There’s still very little hard data available on their effectiveness, but based on what we’ve learned from earlier research, there are opportunities here to make a powerful impact with a tiny investment of energy.

You may get specific guidance from a local campaign, but in general here’s what probably works best. Focus on outreach to people you know, using the messaging delivered by the local campaign paired with your own explanations of support. Posts to your timeline on Facebook are more potent than Tweets. Messages directly to recipients are more effective than blanket posts. Try tagging key people in Facebook posts to your timeline. Make contact with the local campaign before launching a social media blitz. Use their templates or messaging, or repost their material rather than winging it.

Quick note. The comment thread of these posts in support of your candidate are a lousy place to get into a nasty back and forth on social media. At this point, a few weeks out from the campaign, the goal is not persuasion but mobilization. If someone starts pouring spam or inflammatory comments into post like this, just delete their comments and if necessary block them.

The relative impact of your support for less-known local candidates will be far greater than posts about national/Congressional candidates/issues. A congressional campaign in your district might have hundreds of volunteers while a winning state legislative candidate in the same area has a handful. Turning out support for candidates near the top of the ballot doesn’t consistently translate down to the state and local levels. However, when you mobilize support for state and local campaigns it tends to buoy the top of the ticket.

If you have the time and the ability to hit the streets for a candidate, but you’re reticent about direct interactions with strangers, don’t worry your introverted little head about it. First of all it isn’t as difficult as it seems, so don’t dismiss the idea of canvassing just because you’re nervous. Second, consider the possibility of helping with administrative tasks. Campaigns almost always need help delivering yard signs, driving people to the polls and doing back-office tasks. Having reliable volunteers to help with these little details frees up others for the most impactful work.

We have a fading opportunity to halt the bleeding from the Trump administration through peaceful means. If volunteering time for a campaign seems burdensome, compare it to what we’ll have to do to stop this regime after they’ve dismantled the Special Counsel’s investigation.

For the lapsed Republicans out there, take a deep breath and find a Democrat to support. Just over a decade ago as a Republican precinct committeeman in DuPage County, my small volunteer efforts helped put Peter Roskam in Congress. This year my support for his Democratic challenger Sean Casten will hopefully end Roskam’s career. Do what you gotta do for your country. In an emergency, necessity prevails.

If you spent some portion of Wednesday, November 9th 2016, in numb shock, wondering what to do about the disaster unfolding around us, now’s your chance. Channel that anger into action.

18 Comments

  1. There’s a whole lot of us introverts stepping out of our comfort zones. The subject of how to do voter outreach while introverted has been a topic in every campaign strategy session I’ve attended. All I can say is gather up a bit of courage and dive in. It is true that it’s not as bad as you think. I’ve done both block walking and phone banking, and I prefer the former, because I don’t have to worry about bad phone connections/ internet error interfering with the conversation. Being an introvert isn’t being anti-social; it’s about how you recharge your social energy. Talking to strangers is more draining than talking to friends. I’ve learned that I have enough social energy to do a 2-3 hour session for a day (also my physical limits on a hot and humid day). Finding people who already support your candidate is enjoyable, but the most valuable interaction is with the undecided voter. Those are the people who can make the difference.

    I’m also making another big introvert sacrifice- I’ve offered up the 1st floor of my house to be a pop-up office for Beto’s campaign for the last 3 weeks. I’m two blocks from the polling site for my precinct, so that’s a useful location. I’ll be taking some vacation time and playing office manager (training this Monday), but for half of the time I’ll be turning everything over to others. That’s a big deal for introverts, as we value our fortresses of solitude. I have some management experience- overseeing research labs/ Core facilities, but I imagine this will be much more intense. Wish me luck!

    I am scheduled to block walk for Sri Preston Kulkarni today, but the weather is looking rather uncooperative. 🙁

    1. Fly – you are inspiring! People are emerging from the shadows and getting involved in a serious way in the political scene. Even though there is much we can’t control, and great concern about the decisions being made by this administration and the feckless Congress, I am encouraged to see democracy working. For now, I will reserve deeper concerns about the future of our nation as I watch good people invest themselves in a cause larger than themselves.

  2. It’s not direct political campaigning but we have various groups pushing different agendas

    The sustainability/green lot for instance
    I’m just back from an “Eco Fest” day – I took my “Mean Green Machine” – and spent the day giving people test drives in my home made electric roadster

    Having something to “show and tell” is often really useful

      1. Hi Chris
        The short story is that I’m an Air Force Brat – RAF that is – so I was brought up all over the place before returning to Scotland from age 12

        After getting my degree from Glasgow and working for CAV and Cummins in England Cummins moved me to Indiana as a Corporate Seagull – working worldwide
        (Corporate Seagull – flies over – squawks about – makes a mess on the floor – flies away)

        The Midwest connection!

        Four years there spoiled me for moving back to the UK – but convinced me that the USA was not a good place to bring up my son

        So we went to NZ – it’s not paradise but it’s pretty good

  3. And more on topic, I second the idea of block walking if you have the time and energy for it. As an introvert, I can tell you it’s loads of fun. People aren’t nearly as nasty to you face-to-face than they can be online or even on a phone call. Most people, even if they disagree with you, are generally polite (as long as you’re the same to them), and appreciate that you at least consider them important enough to ask for their vote. After the first couple of doorbells rung, it becomes old hat, and (if you’re doing it in your own neighborhood), you might actually make some new friends 🙂 (plus, most campaigns will only send you to neighborhoods with lots of their supporters — or at worst neutrals — because the objective is to turn out your own voters, not antagonize your opponents voters enough to make them go to the polls 🙂

    Also, while I recommend finding a local campaign, the most important thing is to find a campaign that you really believe in. That belief and excitement is what will carry you through any tough times. If that’s a distant campaign, even halfway across the country, don’t hesitate to contact them. These days, as Chris mentions, much of the phone-banking / texting / social media stuff is done online and with mobile phones. The days of needing to travel to a phone bank center with rows of tables and phones set out, are long gone.

    Either way, I highly encourage it. I donated to and helped phone bank / etc. for a challenger in the primaries of a local state senator’s race this year (yes dem against dem, but the incumbent was a bad dem, and the district is a gerrymandered deep blue :-), and, I tell you, the feeling you get when an underdog, hardscrabble challenger you believe in and sweated for, takes down a deeply entrenched incumbent, is indescribable. Be careful though, once you get that feeling, it’s hard to stop joining campaigns in the future 🙂

  4. Arrgh. I was going to post this to reply to your comment in the last post and you’ve moved on. Forgive me if I’m hijacking this article…

    First, let me say, despite my arguing with you on almost every post you’ve made, I’m coming around to the idea that liberal democracy may be doomed. It would be easy to think of Trump as a one-off that we could recover from, or that everything will be okay when the Republican party goes extinct, except that I’m worried that the Democrats, now that the economy is doing better, are losing their focus on economic issues and going down the rabbit hole of identity politics. This is to say nothing of the fact that other pressing issues I’m interested in basically get zero time (our surveillance state, privacy issues, the fact that we’re still engaged in two wars, etc. because the dems and repubs agree on all of them).

    So maybe I accept that we’re staring into an abyss right now.

    Will corporations fill the void? I really like the way you subclassify companies. You’re right, despite tech companies being ferocious competitors, they’re all allies in a deeper sense. They share the same worldview, live in the same communities, grew out of the same companies (e.g Fairchild Semiconductor was where most hardware and chip companies like Intel came out of), were funded by the same VCs when they were just starting, and sit on each other’s boards. The battle for control of the govt won’t come down to individual companies so much as coalitions of corporations formed based on their economic interests / fundamental worldviews / historical alignments.

    But the question remains: what compels them to fill the void? The first question to ask is, does their business depend on having a functioning society? Exxon and their resource extraction cousins clearly don’t need that, and indeed, prefer working with corrupt autocrats because it’s easier to get drilling rights by stashing a few million in a leader’s Swiss bank account, than it is going through a democratic process. And hiring a few mercenaries to put down a popular protest is cheaper than dealing with tree huggers in a place where the rule of law still stands and firing at unarmed protestors is considered somewhat unseemly.

    Do tech companies need a civilized society? Right now, perhaps they do. They need a country functional enough to provide internet access, at its most basic. And they need educated workers, extensive R&D, etc., all of which require a fairly advanced, functioning society. So perhaps right now, tech companies have a vested stake that will make them assume more of a burden than their narrow economic interests might at first seem to dictate.

    But that leads to my second question: will they always need this? I think you need to look deeper at the lifecycles of industries. Every industry starts out as an innovation-heavy disrupter, grows to completely conquer a market, and then enters senescence as a rent-extraction machine. Eventually, hopefully, something comes along to kill it off and start the cycle anew. Ford, for example, disrupted the horse and buggy industry, and along the way, made massive innovations in modern assembly techniques that revolutionized mass manufacturing and that we still depend on today. GM’s Alfred P. Sloan was considered as much of a revolutionary thinker in the business world as Google’s Sundar Pichai ever will be. After the innovation settled down, they dominated their markets, then got complacent, then nearly wiped out by the Japanese, and now barely hang on thanks to historical loyalties (always buy American! Even if GM’s car is made in Mexico and BMWs are made in S. Carolina!) and periodic govt bailouts. They depend hugely on govt policies like subsidized road building, subsidized gasoline, lax fuel economy standards, lax environmental regulations, etc. for their business to survive. But those aren’t necessarily the types of policies I think you’re advocating when you talk about a “functional” society.
    IMHO, the tech industry will follow the same path. They already are. Tech v1.0, i.e. the companies that came of age in the 80s/90s are down that road already. Microsoft was a massive innovator and disrupter, killing off a company so reliable in its earnings growth that it was called Big Blue, the bluest of the blue chips. Then it hit market dominance with its Windows and Office monopolies, became a rent extraction machine as it forced people into yearly upgrade cycles for software that was usually slower and buggier than the last version. FWIW, their new CEO Satya Nadella, IMHO, has done a good job realizing Microsoft’s imminent death if it continued to coast, and is turning the company around. But they’re still not part of the innovation economy so much as trying to maintain their historical stranglehold on profitable enterprise markets.

    Apple was a disrupter and created computer GUIs and the entire modern smartphone era which is not just revolutionizing communications but the very fabric of our social interactions. But, having conquered a market so thoroughly, they have no clue what to do next. Their primary market throws off enough cash for them to outright *buy* a F500 company every year if they wanted to, to say nothing of being able to sponsor massive R&D and innovation endeavors. But they don’t. They’re paralyzed by their success and will likely start to decline (also, they built a brand-new trophy HQ, which, as I mentioned, is a great contrarian indicator 🙂

    I would argue that industries in the early phase of this lifecycle require a functioning society, because they need that protected, nurturing environment to grow and thrive. But once they hit market dominance mode, that changes because a) they no longer need that environment and b) whatever they do need, they learn to provide themselves. Exxon is a great example. The oil industry disrupted the steam industry, and Rockefeller was a genius at many innovative things, from oil extraction technologies to transportation and storage. But oil is present in plenty of places around the world. Why did the oil industry happen to start in the U.S.? I’d argue it’s because only we had the requisite social supports for the nascent oil industry to thrive. Things like: a nimble govt (lol) that could craft sound policy around the new concept of oil extraction rights; engineering and mfgr’ing talent to drive the innovations in extraction technology; a pre-existing transportation infrastructure (railroads); deep capital markets that could fund the massive investments needed; and, perhaps most importantly, a large, growing industrial base that needed all this new energy that Rockefeller could provide.

    But Exxon no longer needs any of that from us: the entire world now needs the energy that Exxon can provide, most of its oilfields are no longer in the US, most of the world copied our oil rights legal regimes (sometimes staring down the barrel of our military’s gun), and technological change has slowed. Even the parts of the govt it always needed, it now provides itself, e.g. an army and diplomatic corp.

    You can see this starting to happen with tech: Many of them have opened development centers in India and other places so that they depend less on quality U.S. education for their talent needs. The intellectual property protections they require have now been largely adopted by the rest of the world, to the point that they can domicile their IP in whatever tax haven they find most efficient. Their customers are no longer just wealthy Westerners, but rich and poor from around the world. They don’t need a functional society that enables its citizens to be wealthy enough to spend money on “frivolities” like online subscriptions. Poor people in dysfunctional, poor countries also check facebook and twitter these days. Even the one unassailable need they have, reliable internet, they are no longer leaving to the vagaries of govt. policy: Facebook is trying to provide free internet access in Africa, and Google is toying with the idea of gigantic hot air balloons to provide internet access without involving messy local / national govts. Once this process happens, and tech companies rely less on a functional society for their success, will they continue to be interested in taking on that burden?

    The second part of that question depends on understanding who leads these companies: you’re absolutely right that an immigrant like Pichai has a vastly different approach to govt than Zuckerberg or Dorsey. As an Indian American myself, let me tell you that it’s not suprising that Pichai doesn’t respect American Senators. In India, no one respects the politicians. Everyone down to the beggar on the street understands how corrupt and idiotic most of them are (there are people in high office who are functionally illiterate, and some who have been charged with murder, to say nothing of lesser crimes. Ted Stevens, with his comments about the internet being a series of tubes, took America by shock. In India, they would have appreciated that at least he thought of the internet as tubes and not magic sparkles or something). When a politician calls you in India, you know it’s because they’re either looking for bribes, or about to threaten your business. Their calls are no different than a mafia shakedown or graft.

    The amount of fealty that guys like Zuckerberg or Chambers display is quite amusing to an immigrant like me (and I suspect Pichai), especially when they get together in Davos and pretend they’re big thinkers solving the world’s problems by hobnobbing with politicians and celebrities in between jaunts down the Alpine ski trails.

    But this well-placed suspicion of politicians is a double-edged sword: they also have no loyalty to a functional govt, because they grew up and thrived in places that didn’t have it. They know it’s not a requirement to success. To an average American CEO, it’s inconceivable that a business can thrive in lawless, corrupt places. They have no idea how to do it, and don’t even believe it’s possible. Therefore, they’ll spend time and money ensuring that our govt and society never gets that dysfunctional. To a guy like Pichai who made it to CEO of Google while originating from a place that didn’t even have functional sewage systems, their belief in the necessity of a functional society is much less firmly held. (Can any American technology CEO run their company in a place where the electricity goes out every day? Indians can, and do. Thus, they hardly care about reforming govt policy on energy and transmission infrastructure.)

    And my last point is this: even if you’re correct, and somehow Pichai believes it’s critical to have a functional society (even if not for economic reasons, then for class-identity reasons), AND this won’t change even when the majority of his revenue and customers are no longer in the West or other “functional” societies, AND he’s willing to invest his company’s time and money into developing that policy, they still have a *long* *long* way to go. IOW, even if they are ready and willing to step into the void, they likely won’t have the know-how to do so in an effective manner for decades, if ever.

    People in business like to crap on politicians. Even as someone who’s served in the political / govt world before, I get it. I do it too. And a lot of times they / we deserve it. But public policy is *hard*. Just like I shake my head when I hear some 20-year old Stanford kid claim he’s going to disrupt some massive industry he knows nothing about, merely through an app he built during an all-nighter in his dorm room, I shake my head when guys like Benioff and Bezos do essentially the same thing.

    I remember a conference I was at once when one of the guys who wrote Google maps was talking. He talked about how surprised Google was when they put out the product and all of a sudden they began receiving irate calls from people and even governments based on where certain country boundaries, names, etc. were on their maps. It completely stunned them. And I remember shaking my head, wondering, “how naïve must these engineers be to not realize that mapmaking is a political process?” Literally wars have been fought over the tiniest contours of map lines, and controlling the names of places is almost purely an exercise of political dominance. Did these guys really not know they’re stepping into political battles sometimes thousands of years in the making? To top things off, the guy who was talking said he was a poly-sci major in college! If that’s the level of understanding that these people plan to bring to the table when they plot to takeover the govt, they’re about to have their ass handed to them by the same “empty suits” they denigrate.

    I could see it even in Zuckerberg’s testimony to the Senate. He was getting completely manhandled by a bunch of 70 year olds. They might not know how to check their emails, but they understand and excel in political bloodsport. If that’s the best prep that Zuckerberg’s billions can buy him, he will be down for the count if he ever decides to seriously enter the political arena.

    And I can’t finish this point without bringing up my favorite bete noir: Rex Tillerson. Google and Facebook may be forgiven because they’re young companies, run by young people, with very little political experience. So you might think they just need time. But Exxon has been a govt unto itself for decades, if not longer. Their diplomatic / foreign policy corp is considered one of the best in the business, skilled at hard-nosed bargaining with everyone from western democracies to South American socialists, Asian communists, and African autocrats. Exxon doesn’t get rolled very often during those negotiations. And as you mentioned, Tillerson got to the top through his skill, not nepotism or something. And yet, when it came to a public position with similar responsibilities, he failed miserably, even under the incredibly low standards of the Trump administration. This is not a coincidence, nor a one-off example. Robert McNamara was the “genius” at Ford who was recruited to run the Vietnam War, and indeed ran it like a well-oiled factory, tearing the country (ours and theirs) apart in the process, because a brilliant guy focused on squeezing efficiency from a process is not necessarily a great guy to run a department whose product is death and destruction. And I’ll also leave out our only two President-businessmen, Trump and GWB…
    There aren’t that many examples of businesspeople in govt, and that’s with good reason. The ones that have been there (aside from small jobs, or narrow advisory roles) have generally been quite bad at it.

    So I guess my argument boils down to this: 1) tech companies only look innovative and desirous of a functional society because they’re in that early stage of the industry lifecycle. They will soon become the fat rentiers of tomorrow, who – like our current rentiers – have no care for nor need of, a functional society. 2) As they mature and understand the market better, they will internalize any function they require from the govt; (why bribe a politician and still be at their mercy when you can just hire your own people and do it all yourself?) 3) The immigrants running the place (especially in tech), know how to thrive and do just fine amongst dysfunction. If the crushing poverty of India didn’t rile them up decades ago (when they were younger and even more passionate), I doubt the relatively lighter poverty of America today will interest them much. You’ll note it’s Benioff, and not any Indian immigrant, that’s appalled by the homelessness in SF. 4) Even if I’m wrong about all this, the skills required to make good policy need generations to cultivate (e.g. academic departments, govt offices, etc.), and even then, business has traditionally been bad at it. I’m not sure they will be the savior we need, even if they want to be.

    Anyway, sorry to hijack your current post, but I’m always a day late and dollar short on these things 🙂

    1. I’d surmise WX that you’re spot on. It’s sad that future projections diminish individuality. …a quality that in large part helped create the American democracy. As an older person, I’m grateful to have lived in that period in which individuals mattered. I realize change is unstoppable, but it is not always kinder or better…just “different.”

  5. You can also give small campaign donations. I have for decades volunteer to work in campaigns. Mainly Republican ones until about 6 years ago. I am interested in Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum currently. I have donated money to both. I supported Gwen Graham in the primary and did some work in her campaign. Gillum’s campaign has reached out to me and next week I will see what I can do. I actually like canvassing and good at it.

  6. Above all and first it must be emphasized that if you want to support a campaign, you should call them and ask them how to help FIRST. Each campaign will have its own strategy, literature, caller rolls, etc that your u can amplify far better than you can create yourself.

    Secondly if you don’t know what campaign to support, use Swing Left to find your nearest swing district.

    Thirdly, try to do one federal and one state level campaign. The state level should only be your district.

    Those are my advice. My Indivisible team had a great primary season and literally ended the careers of half a dozen politicians, so our enthusiasm is amped going into the general.

    1. I agree Aaron. Newbie political volunteers typically spread themselves too thin. Far better to target one’s effort and to approach the campaigns you are enthusiastic about working in, what “they” need, then help according to your availability and talents. Democrats are having to rebuild the party infrastructure which will pay dividends but it takes a huge effort.

  7. I fall into the “hard-line political enthusiast group” who follows politics daily. What I am seeing at the grassroots level in red Texas, in a very conservative county, is enthusiasm and involvement from people who have never before participated in politics. They are pumped. They are majority women. Young matrons, older folks. They are “getting it on!”

    To your excellent list of volunteer services, may I add getting trained as a voter registrar and actively contributing time to help register new voters. The League of Women Voters has led the way on this service and other organizations are getting involved. Canvassing is a powerful tool. Social media makes organization so much easier. I take personal address labels and affix them to push cards that I slip into the front doors within my neighborhood. That way, the recipients know exactly who has left the information and they can handicap the candidate by virtue of the person who is supporting them.

    Yard signs matter in neighborhoods, but know your area’s rules about setting them out. Door to door solicitation is “gold.” And, Chris is right, go in a group and it is fun and people respond well to a personal effort.

    Now.is.the.time. Get off your duff and volunteer your time, money, and resources. I placed over 150 Beto yard signs from a front porch operation and FB, and it wasn’t hard. DO something other than complain and be depressed.

    Make a difference.

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