In 2008, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOur remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Chelsea Manning tests positive for COVID-19 MORE became America’s first black president and Democrats gained majorities in both the House and the Senate. So when I tell people that Republicans won in 2008, the response is almost always a blank and confused stare.
Fifty-eight seats in the Senate, 257 seats in the House, and the most votes ever won by a presidential candidate, but Democrats did lose because they allowed Republicans to kill ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
The way we do political field organizing in the United States is broken into a one-way transaction. We hire underpaid, young organizers.
They recruit unpaid volunteers who ask people to do things for them -- register to vote and volunteer on Election Day. The transactional benefits only flow one way.
That's not how ACORN operated and it's not how political campaigns in other countries operate. For ACORN, organizing was a two-way street.
In a bidirectional field model, political parties provide services and are a part of the community. They listen to the disparate neighborhoods and they organize campaigns around local issues. In exchange, the community supports the social or political organization that supports them.
Toward Two-Way Organizing
It's time for Democrats to implement the ACORN model. Imagine a Democratic Party that empowered its local organizers with tools and resources to provide community services.
Imagine a Democratic Party-sponsored job fair, tax preparation clinic, or career counseling open house. Imagine locally elected officials holding office hours to help people navigate the government. Imagine our organizers investing in local communities.
Now, imagine what would happen when elections came around. Local Democratic Party headquarters would already be a part of the community, providing services and building relationships across neighborhoods and precincts. People would willingly volunteer to register and turn out to vote on Election Day. They would show up for us because we, as a party, showed up for them.
There’s a reason why voter turnout is 75-90 percent in countries that, while much poorer than our own, use this two-way field organizing model. It’s because people feel invested in a party that invests in them.
The money for this endeavor is there. It’s time to cut consultant pay and invest in real organizing. If American progressives want to start winning elections again, it's time to invest a lot more on building relationships in the communities we purport to represent.
Matthew Alvarez McMillan is a veteran Democratic political consultant that has worked for hundreds of campaigns in 25 countries, regions and territories around the world. ACORN was a former client of his.
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