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Monday, May 01, 2006 

Lessons from the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Organizing Day

"Democrats have a clear vision for America, and we're going to get the word out by making personal contact with our neighbors. And along the way we will build new relationships among volunteers on the ground, a network that will have an impact beyond a single day." Howard Dean

This Saturday, April 29th, was the Democrats "Neighbor-to-Neighbor National Organizing Day" or the 50 state canvass. Millions of Democrats walked from door to door handing out a doorknob hanger that stated the "Democratic Vision - a bold new direction for a secure America". The vision was bullet pointed out into six categories: Honest Leadership & Open Government, Real Security, Energy Independence, Economic Prosperity & Educational Excellence, A Healthcare System that Works for Everyone and Retirement Security. Each point had a sentence or two to back it up and then the flyer asked the "neighbor" if they'd like to become more involved.

I signed up to host a canvassing party in my home via the Democratic Party Events website. The number of people who signed up and their enthusiasm surprised me. I was also learned a few lessons that I think can benefit all of us.

The Democratic Party really is a BIG TENT Party
In my little home was people from all walks of life wanting to participate in grassroots level politics. It was exciting. The majority of these people I did not know and I tried to speak to each of them a little before they left to canvass. We had young and old, rich, middle class and not-so rich and several different races and religions. Each was concerned about the direction of Ohio and our great nation and each had their own idea on how Democrats could work to fix it. Although many came in support of candidate x or y everyone agreed on the basic premise that we needed to get more Democratic politicians elected to move our nation forward and unlike the Bush or Taft administration - government should be committed to the common good and put the public's interest above the privileges of the few.

Maybe we need to work on the message a little more.
We had several people who were very new to politics (as I am) and one in particular raised some flags for me. She was an older woman who just didn't get what the Democratic candidates stood for. She knew they were against the Bush administration and the corrupt system of Ohio politics but she did not know how to articulate the Democratic stances. As a blogger, I naturally seek out information, constantly read different political news sources and try to get a better understanding of what is going on. This sometimes leaves me unaware of how Democrats are viewed outside the web and liberal blogosphere. I think the "Democratic Vision" handout is a step in the right direction but as I looked through the other candidate brochures and flyers - hard info was a little lacking.

The Ted Strickland brochure was beautiful and focused on telling his story. I think this will help him identify with many people but his TurnAround Ohio plan was only briefly noted in 2 small paragraphs. Turnaround Ohio really sets Ted Strickland apart from his corrupt Republican counterparts and their failed and misguided plans. I think it should be highlighted more not less.

The other flyers were mostly candidate photographs and phrases like "Fighting for Change" and "Vote for a Better Ohio". I suppose this is fine for a primary but I don't think it is ideal. I would like to see simple bullet points like those on the Democratic Vision doorhanger (hopefully even better) and I'd like to see them repeated over and over again. This would have helped me and it would have made it easier for my new friend to feel confident as she canvassed the area.

Still a little disorganized...
The Kerry campaign bought in a lot of new volunteers and as I meet these volunteers many complain of the lack of organization within the party. (That phone banks called the same households over and over and the general sense that it was hard to get things accomplished.) Maybe this was just bellyaching after the loss, but as I tried to put this event together, I did run into some of the minor difficulties these people warned me about.

First though - The national level people were easy to deal with but took a little more time to correspond - the Democratic Party website, especially the events section, was extremely helpful. Unfortunately, the local level (although nice) seemed especially confused at times.

I tried for weeks to get the door hangers from the local party without a solid answer on whether I would receive them or not. What was the big fuss about? Apparently, they did not even know that the door hangers existed and instead wanted me to distribute the "Official Democratic Party Ticket". That is what they eventually dropped off at my house the day before the event. I repeatedly told them that National had emailed me and said I was to receive the "Democratic Vision" doorhangers , "that the event was centered around the doorhangers" but they still seemed confused. It was frustrating. Finally, I got hold of Jessica Utovich and she made sure that the Doorhangers were at the Strickland camp for me to pick up. I went to pick them up Friday afternoon but encountered more confusion! I could not believe it. Fortunately, everything worked out and I received the doorhangers. Thank goodness for Jessica!

I do not understand how anything as simple could be made this difficult. This kind of "run-a-round" does not encourage people to work for you. I do think the National Party was better organized and the Democratic Party website is extremely helpful but Cuyahoga County and Ohio State - still seem pretty disorganized. How can we fix that?

On the right track...
I was very pleased with my participation in this event. Our group was enthusiastic and eager to get involved, that means some people understand what a Democratic win could mean for our states future and they want to assist. The Democratic Vision doorhanger is also a step in the right direction - Simple bulletpoints and a straightforward message make it easier to sell the Democratic Party - not just a single candidate or issue. The organizational efforts on the national level and the 50 State Strategy are all pushing us to become more involved in our party and pushing the party to invest more in us.

The canvassing event was easy for me to participate in. I would quickly volunteer to do it again. I really enjoyed meeting my neighbors and the other active Dems in the area. I suspect they enjoyed themselves too. Hopefully, this will allow our party to grow, our members to become more active and allow the Democratic message to spread to those that may not have otherwise been aware of it.

To learn more about the 50 State Canvass and the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Organizing day click here.

This diary is crossposted at AmericanStreet.

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thank you so much for hosting this event!

I did not find many people answering their doors, but I gained a new respect for our neighborhood's postal delivery person as I climbed up and down all the front stoops in my neighborhood. When I did talk with people, the conversations were generally positive, which helped me to burn off some of my lingering cynicism about the challenges of getting people involved in democracy.

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