This week, across the country, Organizing for America (OFA) held phonebanks for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and passage of the DREAM Act. Last night, as Community Organizer for OFA, I participated in one in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area. It was a huge success so I thought I would share some thoughts with you on where we, as progressives, CAN make a difference, even as we struggle with the seeming impotence and lack of will among Democratic leadership right now.
We had a half dozen people brave a cold, windy December night to attend our phonebank at a local cohousing complex. Our goal: to call constituents in Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich’s district, asking them to contact Sen. Voinovich to urge him to pass legislation that would repeal DADT and to support the DREAM Act. These were OFA-generated lists and I can say unequivocally that the calls we made were some of the highest-impact I’ve made in some time. These are very strong Democrats — people who generally pay attention and are willing to take action to support their Democratically-held beliefs.
I personally made about 50 calls, reached about two dozen Democrats and all but one of them promised to call Sen. Voinovich to urge passage of these two measures. That kind of success rate is nearly unheard of for any phonebank I’ve been part of since 2008.
I learned a few things last night. First, everyone I spoke with had heard of DADT. This particular initiative is part of the national dialog right now and people ARE paying attention. However, of the two dozen folks I spoke with, only one of them had heard of the DREAM Act. This highlights one of our biggest challenges as Democrats right now: cutting through the media noise and clutter to get our message out. When the DREAM Act is explained to people in simple, direct language, they are almost uniformly in support of it. But this particular bill is just not on the radar of even our most solid supporters.
It also showed the power of OFA and our ability to target, very specifically, the most supportive people to rally to our cause. All of our phonebankers actually had FUN! We were talking to folks that WANT to help, WANT to change the country for the better, and who are willing to actually DO something to make that happen if given the information, the direction and the tools to do so. After seeing the reverse of that as we worked with lists generated by individual candidate’s campaigns during our Get Out the Vote push in late October, I came away, once again, convinced that OFA has something very important to offer in this regard.
Like so many of you, I am in a weird place with regard to supporting Democrats right now. I don’t feel that the Democrat leadership including both the President and his administration and the Democratic members of Congress are showing the political courage and leadership that we need so desperately right now. Last spring, many signed OFA’s “You fight for US and we’ll fight for YOU” pledge. Well, many of us DID fight for them during the midterm campaign. Yet now, we look around and wonder how you could say they are fighting for us. They capitulate to Republicans all too often. They enter negotiations from a position of weakness rather than strength when it’s entirely unnecessary. They are not showing LEADERSHIP. And it is leadership that we hired them to provide. Democratic volunteers at the grassroots level all too often these days, feel left out alone in the cold to fight these battles on our own without support from those most able to provide it and without confidence that they will follow through on the things we’re helping give them the opportunity to do.
Yet, these issues are too important for serious progressives to simply walk away from. DADT. DOMA. Tax bonuses for millionaires and billionaires. Extension of unemployment benefits for Americans out of a job. Passage of the START treaty. Energy policy reform and a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. Comprehensive immigration reform. All of these and more are front-burner items for us. We cannot simply walk away and leave them in the hands of those who will take us in the wrong direction on each and every one of them: the Republicans. We MUST fight for them.
So, we’re in a weird place, right? Uninspired to fight when we feel our representatives are not fighting as hard as we are yet unable to simply walk away when so much is at stake.
I’m a Democrat. I know what it means to be in the minority politically — we’ve come to know that position all too well. And I know in my heart of hearts that it is in these times that we’re most needed as progressive, grassroots activists. So, I can’t walk away and I will continue to fight for what I believe in.
Last night helped me in this regard. It made me realize that we are still a viable force to contend with and we can still have an impact. We have to push our own leadership to be stronger every single day and we have to push back against the conservative wave that would strip away so much of what we’ve done and prevent further progress.
Next Wednesday, December 8th, OFA will have a National Day of Action for DADT and, perhaps, other issues. If you’re involved in other grassroots efforts, keep on doing it! But if you’re looking for a way to have a high impact, OFA offers something very powerful: a highly effective way to reach other Democrats who are the most likely to take action. I urge you to visit OFA’s website in the coming days to find out how you can get involved. President Obama does support the passage of the DREAM Act and he does support the repeal of DADT, even if we wish he would be more forceful and effective about it. But WE can help play a significant role and I strongly urge you to do so.
I’m just sayin’…