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February 09, 2006

Making it Appealing to Rebuild our Democracy

The task of our times is to take back our democracy and to make it more vibrant and meaningful than it is has been in a long time.  And, once we have righted this nation, and I have no doubt we will do that, we set it back on its feet with a renewed diligence and strengthened safeguards.  And we don’t let up. 

But first, the job is catching the attention of folks who aren’t quite so political.  We can only do that by engaging as many people as we can reach with a message that resonates with them and then organizing the needed action in such a way to make it appealing to take part in that rebuilding. 

Folks, this has to be fun.  Because, damn it, it’s going to be a lot of work and people don’t hang around for work unless it’s fun.  Just the way it is. 

So, I was caught by something that a new poster put up on Washblog a couple of days ago.  His name is rappini.  Although pretty new to being political, he was pretty persistent, going to meetings, taking his girlfriend, trying to figure out what to do.  It wasn’t easy.  The meetings were badly run.  He didn’t know how to “break in”. 

I remember this.  I’ve lived in about 5 districts, both here and in California over the last 15 years of trying to get involved and actually being on a district board once.  Every meeting was badly run or uninteresting and there was little openness to changing things.  I don’t know about you but meetings run by Robert’s Rules that may seem to move along are still no good if there is no substance to the topics and no discussion between folks.  There is often not a lot of discussion time so it’s hard to get to know other people.  And then there’s that inner group, outer group thing where some people have hung out together before and they talk to each other but not to the new people. A lot of people don't come back after a time or two.

So I was quite interested in rappini’s post.  And thrilled when he talked about a meeting he enjoyed going to and will go back to.  (And pleased, when I went back to the post later that there were a lot of people who had commented on what he said, some saying pretty much what I’m saying here – it needs to feel like community, be fun, have an overriding purpose, like church does.)  Here’s the part that pleased me:

So imagine my surprise and utter delight attending my first 46th Legislative District Democratic meeting.  It was a revelation.  These people are switched on.  People greeted us as we entered.  Everyone was respectful while others talked.  People actually listened to each other.  The meeting was very well run.  The meeting space felt good.  Everyone was upbeat.  There's lots of activity and plenty of opportunities to help out.

When they passed around collection baskets, it hit me: This was just like church.  My church growing up was very active.  It was like a virtuous cycle.  The better it got, the better it got.

Other than the people I've met through Washington Citizens for Fair Elections, I don't know anyone with the 46th LD Dems.  I don't know, or care, about their internal politics.  I don't know their history.

What I do know is that I look forward to going back.

Whatever the 46th LD Dems has should be bottled and distributed.  Seriously.  Whatever it is they're doing is what everyone else should be doing.  They've definitely energized me.  I'm hoping to learn from them so that we can improve our own grassroots organization.

So, I’m going to one of their next meetings to see just what it is that will make zappini want to go back.  If it holds up, we do need to bottle that.

Posted by Lynn Allen on February 9, 2006 at 11:19 PM in Inside Baseball, Strategery | Permalink

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Lynn, I have been thinking about the issue that you raised regarding zappini's post because I attended both my LD and county meeting this week. At my LD meeting we get 60 to 75 people every month. First 20 to 40 of us have dinner together (5 or 6 folks cook and everyone pays $5) and then we sit in a high school theatre with raised seats as you go back, it has great accoustics and room for maybe 40 more people...We run by Rogets rules but we have speakers about areas of interest, such as biofuels or NASCAR and when the legislature is not in session atleast one of our reps is usually there...I usually look forward to these meetings, I feel that I am making a contribution to the group and that my perspective is hears...we pass resolutions after some of the speakers address us and most of the folks who were nervous about offending people with our progressive stand have fallen away from the group....We have a bank balance of over 5k and plan to support candidates with financial contributions as well as significant help with their field operations...we get a wide range of ages, from the 70+ set all the way to a precious few high school YD's...people do things together outside of the group, like a weekly vigil..a summer picnic of course, a monthly movie night with a new or historical flick...some 20 of us even got together on New Years Eve...

and I contrast this with my county meeting which was this week, and I have to force myself to attend (and this must be evident because the vice-chair wondered why I go - since I don't seem to have a very good time - I was tempted to tell him the truth, that I attend because I have an inner faith that things can get much better and I want to be part of it when that happens - if I don't stick it out then I would feel somehow diminished...)...The general membership only meets quarterly and it's the E-board of LD chairs and reps who come together monthly.Hardly anyone attends the quarterly meetings and the county organization is almost broke. Even tho Rogerts Rules are used I don't feel that things are always really democratic...we are a large county with some very rural spaces and a big urban center...but if anyone is on fire with the progressive spirit then they are going to some other meetings...maybe DFW, but they sure aren't here...and what can be done?

I look to Mark Hintz, of Snohomish county and it sounds like things rock 'n roll up there, just like my LD. Mark knows that financial support of candidates is important so he models the behavior which we want others to emulate, he sits down and does phone time! He is out calling people for donations, and perportedly make 1k per hour! Plus the folks from the north up there seem quite energized...with lots of sub-groups active and like the LD I am in they seem to make good use of new technology, haveing a ever-changing website as well as an email list they use for most group communications.


So if zappini is right and this sense of community is like church then it may be that the pastor, or leader of the flock, is the one who sets the tone. My LD may play the blues occasionally but mostly we rock'n roll. If you'r group is playing chamber music you may not find yourself dancing!

Posted by: Anita Latch | Feb 11, 2006 10:52:40 PM

Anita,

Thanks for that very thoughtful response. I want to stay on this issue and plan to attend a few meetings in various places and report on what I see - gently, as you did. And I've talked with Mark about interviewing him and will move that up on my list of things to write about. It is very important. And remarkably difficult to change; these habits of gathering run deep.

Posted by: Lynn | Feb 12, 2006 9:59:40 AM

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