It’s About the Plan

Last night GoldnI posted about the NCDP’s Plan of Organization. GoldnI notes:

At the top of the page, in one of the drop-down menus, are links to the contact info for every single county party.

The TNDP has it’s problems, but getting someone’s contact information isn’t one of them. In fact, I downloaded just about every single Democratic Official’s contact info to an Excel spreadsheet this morning. Be warned, I just might use it!

That said, knowing anything about what the state party or any of the various county parties are doing or how they’re structured or any of that, yeah, you’re better off asking someone, the TNDP site doesn’t even have an “about” page. How the hell do you make a web site without an “about” page?

GoldnI’s overall point is spot on about having a plan, and making it known. How can an organization that relies on people getting involved expect people to get excited about said organization without communicating an overall strategy? I’m not saying give anyone and everyone every single tactic you may or may not employ, not that those tactics are any real secret either, I’m talking about an overall strategy that gives people something to do and keeps them involved for the long term.

This is, perhaps, the single greatest failing of the TNDP in the last election cycle. More than anything else, the TNDP did a crappy job of communicating a plan. I don’t put this responsibility on Communications Director Wade Munday as it was his job to communicate the message, not craft it from the bottom up. I put it on the entire governing apparatus of the TNDP, and the general belief in old school “Trickle Down” politicking.

“Trickle Down” or “Top Down” politicking is just like it sounds; people at the top make decisions, those decisions “trickle down” through the ranks to the people. Just like “Trickle Down Economics”, few at the bottom of the information stream ever get wet. At some point, the information gets soaked up closer to the top and never makes it to the rest of the people.

Elected officials and political parties have used this method for years, and to a certain degree it’s worked. It can work, as long as people never age, have any personal crisis, or organized opposition. The problem with “top down” is that you never build any bench players to step in should the starter have to step out. The people at the top hold all the cards. When that person leaves, he/she leaves a vacuum in their wake, a prime target to be exploited by the opposition, which is exactly what happened.

The “Groundswell” method addresses the issue in a very different way. Groundswell campaigns actively enlist as many people as possible, making those people stakeholders in the campaign. Groundswell campaigns give people activities and information to keep them a part of the process. We saw this, on a national level, with the Obama campaign. They had scads of volunteers working, building an organization all over the country. They built this network by informing, and in some cases, bugging the crap out of donors and volunteers with email and print marketing.

But this method can’t originate in a vacuum. There has to be some kind of organization to build from, and the Tennessee had several strikes against it from the beginning; being a traditional “Red State”, a weak state party largely organized around personalities rather than principles, and a largely rural population made it impossible for the Obama campaign to sink enough resources throughout the state to really make a dent in the state. Add to that the effective attacks of the TNGOP, coupled with a decidedly anemic response from the TNDP and well, Gov. Bredesen, Chairman Sasser, you have no one to blame but yourselves.

So, how do we correct this? We start with a plan from the state party that includes training and outreach, consistent communication, coherent organization, and activation of the field. We build an organization around principles rather than politicians. We spread the field and give as many people as possible a voice so that collective voice will carry the party forward instead of a single voice, or a group of single voices dragging the party along.

Here’s how it works:

1. Build a Curriculum
– In order to build an organization you have to be willing to train them. Put together a curriculum that teaches people how to organize their neighborhoods/communities into smaller community groups.

2. Go out and Train
– Start with areas that have been traditionally competitive, as well as old standby’s like Shelby and Davidson Counties. These areas probably already have more of a bench that can be utilized than anywhere else. Use this opportunity to connect people with their Execom members and other local party functionaries. Building this relationship now will pay off big time come election day.

2.5 – Go Local – In areas that Democratic candidates sometimes have more difficulty, or areas that are VERY rural, train up the county party. Give them tools to help organize people, encourage activities that engage others. Visibility is key. Visibility breaks down barriers and minimizes objections.

3. Communicate to the Masses – Using the mailing list that you have collected through these training exercises, communicate frequently to your new army. Give them somewhere to go or something to do that’s trackable (a page on the site, a general activity). Encourage them to forward the email to new people, offering a means for these new people to get on the list and sign up for eventual training. ALWAYS ask for money. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Encourage small or recurring donations.

4. Expand the Field – Once you have your core group, team them up with a State Execom member or two and send them into less “blue” counties to train up the base. Remember, you’re building constituents not candidates. The candidates will come, and if they’re smart they’ll see what’s going on an work to duplicate.

5. Keep the Mo – Once you get this started, you can’t stop. Any interruption in this plan will yank the foundation out from under the base you’re creating. Don’t let personalities get in the way of progress. Remember, this is about expanding the field not concentrating power. Some old timers may have a hard time with this. Newbies will sense this and react negatively. Keeping it about the constituents is the key.

6. Mine for Gold – Use the resources you’ve built to find out what concerns your constituents most. That’s your platform, and many of these new people will eventually be your candidates.

7. Build Candidates/Organizations – Start training people to be good candidates and build good organizations that further support Democratic ideals and principles. Remember, this isn’t about creating a specific line of succession, it’s about building a bench of potential candidates, from local office up, any of whom could step in and move the ball down the field.

8. Encourage Constructive Primary Contests – This will probably piss more people off than anything, but it’s vital. No team can win without competition. No team can grow without opportunity. The current system of discouraging primary contests thins the bench, and leads to people checking out. If a primary contest weakens a candidate they were weak to begin with. Primary contests should be focused on the issues and be civil. People who break this rule should be called out. Some feel that they should be given a pass because they have been serving a community for a long time, but how can we build a great party organization and stifle competition? It defies logic.

9. Rinse and Repeat – After each election, bring people together, on a statewide and a county level. Talk about what worked and what needs work. Be honest and open. Listen to people who feel disenfranchised and talk openly and honestly about how to better include them. There will always be people who fall through the cracks, your goal is to minimize the number as much as possible.

As we move forward to the selection of a new TNDP chair, we need the potential candidates to talk about their plan. If I was chair, this would be my plan, but different people may have differed worldviews/priorities. In any case “A PLAN” is better than the “NO COMMUNICATED PLAN” we seem to have been operating under. If candidates for TNDP chair can’t lay out a plan then they will suffer the same fate of the current chair, and the state will suffer along with them. No matter what, doing what we’ve always been doing isn’t working, it’s time to try something new. Hopefully the candidates for Chair see this, and will respond accordingly.

Update: I recognize that my site does not have an “About” page either. The irony is not lost on me. I’m working to correct it, so no one can say I’m just another “Annonymous Blogger”.

0 thoughts

    1. Cracker,

      Democrats throughout Tennessee need to understand that if we aren’t working to be competitive EVERYWHERE, eventually we won’t be competitive ANYWHERE.

      It’s in every Democrat’s best interest that we take risks to reap rewards. This includes accepting challenge not as a slight, but as an opportunity to excel. Anything less is a recipe for failure.

    1. I’ve been thinking about how to post something like this for a week, and your post gave me a better jumping off point than anything I was coming up with to focus my argument, so thank you!

  1. I wonder if this is similar to Provine’s plan for the Repubs this year. Not that we should mirror him, but he apparently he added a lot for the other side and we could likely take lessons.

  2. All good points and great suggestions. If the TNDP won’t listen, then there are grassroots groups with no “formal” affiliation to the party that will. Remember that the genius of the Obama campaign wasn’t that his team grafted their vision and structure onto the DNC… it was that they were strong enough and organized enough that they created their own structure as they went along. The TNDP ignores stuff like this at their own peril. Liberals and Democrats statewide have the means and the initiative to do what we need to do, regardless of what the Party itself plans on doing (or, more likely, not doing.)

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