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GREEN PARTY OF CALIFORNIA
ORGANIZING VELCRO COUNTY: A VOTER REGISTATION TRAINING MANUAL
CHAPTER 1: ORGANIZING VELCRO COUNTY
BY JOE LOUIS WILDMAN
This chapter was written by Joe Louis Wildman in 1991 for the Green Party of California.
This is a first draft of notes on setting up a county organization for registering Green Party members. I'm trying to get this draft done in time for a statewide meeting. Look for future drafts--they will be better written and even more useful. This draft has not yet been read or approved by the Bay Area Green Party Qualifying Committee, and so it represents only my viewpoint--until some consensus is reached. Also, I don't mention bumperstickers, buttons, direct mail, paid membership, newsletter, etc. Registrations are the only thing I deal with in this document.
I was hired to give orientations in the flesh, talking to people, (which is my strong suit), and I find it somewhat difficult to put this stuff into writing--partly because there's no interplay and questions, but also because my comic timing is verbal. Also, in writing, I can't point to things and gesture, and I can't use incomplete sentences. Another important difference is that I'm explaining how to go out and talk to people, and alot of what I get across in an orientation is by example, talking to them with the same enthusiasm and joy that I hope they bring to talking to people when they're out registering voters. I'm not a skilled enough writer to transmit alot of this between-the-lines, by-example information on how to talk to people.
If you have any questions, or if anything I've written here is ambiguous, please give me a call at the Bay Area Regional Office, (415) 649- 9773. I really would much rather be talking with you than writing to an abstract person.
MY TWO CENTS
I've had the pleasure of working with some of the best organizers in the country. They all had their own systems that differed from each other, and there's clearly more than one system that works. What they all had in common is using a systematic approach to reaching a well-defined goal.
The system that I'm going to outline is a hybrid of basic components from several different systems. You'll probably need to modify this system to match the needs and resources in your county, but when you modify it, don't do it piecemeal; consider the overall implications to the system.
Lots of people will have lots of good ideas to get extra registrations, and there's no reason not to pursue them as long as they don't detract from your systematic approach. But be careful, because there are no magic levers that will guarantee success. What will guarantee success is a steady, systematic approach.
Your systematic approach should begin with setting a goal for total registrations in your county, based on our statewide need for 80,000 registrants, along with a realistic assessment of your resources and the character of the people in your county. All calculations as to the number of volunteers, the amount of literature, the number of ironing boards, etc., should be based on the goal you've set.
Having a realistic plan gives you control over the situation. Don't hesitate to share your plan with new volunteers. Often they're wondering, "How the hell do these people really think they can succeed?" They will be inspired more by our practical approach than by our hifalutin' rhetoric.
We're not just trying to qualify for the ballot; we're trying to build a functioning political party in California (perhaps the first). It's important to design a system that BOTH reaches the number goal AND builds an effective organization. The system should be designed to bring in more and more people over time (the number of volunteers should increase exponentially); and to turn new volunteers into future organizers by developing their skills in strategizing, organizing, and leadership.
It is important that we ask everyone in the state of California, "Will you register with the Green Party?" This can be done only with a systematic approach. Avoid the tendency to go after environmentalists and progressives first at the expense of a systematic approach. They also shop at grocery stores, and can be reached through the system you've designed to reach the maximum number of people. There's no reason to sit at the bowl of strawberries eating the sweetest first, when you know you will finish the entire bowl anyway.
The system should also be designed to maximize our visibility in the community, because we are not likely to be able to afford advertising, and the press is not likely to be generous in their coverage of our effort.
And it's very important that we use this opportunity to talk to people who do not know that they may indeed be Green. The Green Party is not just a think-tank, where the already converted discuss details of Green politics with the already converted--but an effort to spread our message and put people to work to bring about change.
One final important point: When someone volunteers to help build the Green Party, they are volunteering to go out and do work, not to go to meetings. If someone volunteers, invite them to a meeting AND put them to work. You will lose the people who want to work if you only subject them to meetings and fail to put them to work. The tendency is to set up a self- selecting process that retains people who'd rather go to meetings than work, and eliminates the people who'd rather work than go to meetings. As much as possible, incorporate necessary meetings into the cycle of work; do not have unnecessary meetings.
Good political organizing is about positive thinking and effective work, not about wishful thinking and make-work. It's important to have fun. If the process is not fun, you will not succeed, and that's no fun at all.
OVERVIEW -- ORGANIZING VELCRO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
If I were to wake up one day and decide to take responsibility for organizing my county, the imaginary Velcro County, California, here's what I would do.
First I'd set a goal for Green registrations in Velcro County. It's important to have a target goal in order to estimate the resources needed for the registration drive. Since Velcro County has a population of approximately 1,000,000 people, we'd need to register 2400 Greens to do our part towards the 80,000 statewide total. But because I'm confident about organizing in my county, and uncertain how organizing will go in other counties, I'd be ambitious and set my goal at 5000.
Next I'd do some calculations about resources. I know from previous experience that a volunteer, standing in front of a supermarket with ironing board and clip boards, asking everyone who walks by to register, should be able to average 5 registrations per hour. So getting 5000 registrations should require 1000 hours of volunteer tabling time.
Figuring that the average volunteer works a shift of 2.5 hours of actual "asking" time, I conclude that 400 tabling shifts will be needed. I always send 2 people out together; that means 200 tabling team-shifts are needed. With 30 weeks to go until the end of our period to qualify for the June, 1992 ballot, I will need to average 7 tabling teams per weekend, or 14 tabling volunteers per weekend.
Applying the 80/20 rule, which tells me that 80% of the work will be done by 20% of the people, I know that I need to identify 16 core volunteers, each willing to do a shift on 20 weekends out of the 30 remaining. They will account for 320 of the 400 shifts. The remaining 80 shifts will probably be covered by 50 or so different individuals who will go out once, twice, or a few times.
For my 7 tabling teams per weekend, I want to have 7 ironing boards, each equipped with a sign, a donation can, literature, and six clipboards. Each clipboard should be loaded with about 20 registration forms.
Next I go to the voter registrar's office at the county building and sign out a box of blank registration cards under the name of the Green Party of Velcro County.
While I'm there, I ask how to obtain a list of Velcro County residents who have registered as Greens. Availability of lists varies from county to county, but I'm lucky; in Velcro County, they can give me a list of Green Party members with phone numbers for only ten cents a page. And because there are currently only 170 of us, it costs me less than 50 cents.
I send each of these 170 Green registrants a postcard inviting them to my house on a Saturday morning about a week away for an orientation followed by tabling.
I get out my yellow pages and call the Luckys, Safeways, Alpha Betas, etc. in my area and get the names of the regional managers. I send off a letter to each regional managers stating my intention to send trained volunteers to do registrations in front of their stores; in each letter I list the stores from the phone book. I make copies of this letter to put in a packet each tabler will take to their tabling site. (Nothing solves a conflict with a grocery store manager better than when a volunteer actually knows the name of the regional manager.)
I don't own a computer but a friend of mine who is also a Green Party member does, and I ask him to enter the 170 Green registrants from my list into a database and print one sheet per registrant--these are our initial calling lists. My friend and I divide up the list, and we follow up the postcard I sent out (inviting Green Party registrants to the orientation) with a phone call.
Because I am always a positive thinker, but not a fool, I figure we'll probably have no more than 6 volunteers that first weekend, and my friend and I get 3 ironing boards set up. We make signs to hang from the ironing boards. We decorate 3 coffee cans to say something like, "Donations to help build the Green Party" and we bolt them to the ironing boards. We cut some corrugated cardboard into pieces to use as clipboards and rubberband 20 registration forms to each (we don't want to spend money on real clipboards). We put some literature on the clipboards, too, so that something on the clipboard says "Green Party" when the person registering is holding it.
Saturday comes. It's 10:00 a.m., and there are 4 cheery volunteers along with my friend and me. I've determined the 3 best tabling locations in advance--at least, I think they're the best locations, but I'm flexible in case someone else knows something I don't. My friend and I do an orientation; I don't want people to get bored with my voice and tune out, so I've asked my friend to do part of the talk. My section is first and deals with the voter registration form and techniques to maximize the number of registrations per hour; then my friend talks about the Green Party, how far we are in the registration drive, the 10 "key values", and other Green sorts of things.
When we're done with questions and answers, it's about 10:30. Alot of information has been imparted, but no one's eyes have yet glazed over. It's time to go out to our locations.
I try to pair people up because no one should go out alone. For one thing, it's more fun in teams. People are more likely to actually stay out the length of time they agreed on when they're with someone else, and people can take bathroom breaks without leaving their ironing boards unattended. When I pair people up, I use these 3 criteria, in this order: One member of the team must have transportation to the site; one member of the team should have experience (or at least confidence) in registering voters and in talking about the Green Party; and it's nice to pair men and women together because some potential registrants will not stop and talk to men, and some will not stop and talk to women.
We agree to meet back at my house at 3:00 p.m. to count up our registrations, the volunteers we recruited, and the donations we collected. I have drinks and snacks ready. I know this debriefing and socializing time is essential in building a base of volunteers. It's a chance to find out who is good at this sort of work and who isn't, and which volunteers would like to take on more responsibility for making sure that all the tasks in the system are carried out. I also find out what questions "people on the street" have asked about the Green Party, so our literature can be modified to address people's questions and concerns.
My friend takes the voter registration cards home and enters our new registrants into the database. We plan to invite these people who have just registered with us to next Saturday's orientation. My friend prints out the calling pages for the new people. One of the new volunteers is a real estate agent and agrees to let us meet every Monday and Tuesday after work at her office to use the phones, so now we have a good phone bank site. (At this point, we need only one night to call through the 50 or so names, but we arrange two nights because as the drive goes on, we will probably have many hundreds of numbers to call, and we want to get an early start on our systematic approach).
Through phone calls Monday night we get commitments from 9 people to show up for tabling on Saturday, and that very evening we mail each person a reminder postcard thanking them for their commitment and reminding them of my address and Saturday's starting time.
Also, I start a calendar book because 2 of the 9 also agreed to go out the following Saturday, and I want to have a page for each Saturday with the names and phone numbers of the people we are expecting that day. My friend has agreed to make reminder calls to people on these sheets every Friday night.
On Tuesday, I break down all the clipboards looking for completed registration forms we may have missed on Saturday. And I take $13 from the donations we collected and buy a fourth ironing board. By Wednesday night, the materials are ready for the following Saturday and I am determined that at next Saturday's debriefing I will identify a volunteer to take care of the clipboards and literature for the next few weeks.
At each debriefing, I look for people willing to take on components of the organizing effort. I want to spread the work around so that no one person burns out. Also, I encourage people to rotate responsibilities so that people can fill in for each other when necessary. By the fifth week we have identified a core of 10 regulars and about 25 people have done some volunteering.
As much as I hate meetings, I now schedule a regular meeting for Saturday at 3:30 p.m., following the debriefing so that the business of the Green Party of Velcro County can be taken care of. We are now collecting in excess of $50 per weekend, and we need a bank account and a treasurer. Also, the people doing the Hemp Initiative want our endorsement and we need to decide whether or not to give the endorsement.
At this point the cycle of phonebanking, orientation, tabling, debriefing, delegating, policy meeting, and data entry is up and running. Things are going well.