Three weeks ago I received an e-mail from Barack Obama's political arm, Organizing for America, inviting me to a Camp OFA training session in Evanston, Illinois, just a few miles from my home. I signed up, under my real name. I have an OFA online account.
A few days later I received a Monday phone bank call (more on that later) from an enthusiastic volunteer from the Democratic Party of Evanston (DPOE) confirming my interest, and asking me if instead of attending the May 5 session I signed up for, would I be interested in attending a second meeting, one week later? It seems that response was so overwhelming, that this training session would have to be moved to larger quarters, in this case the Firehouse Grill on Chicago Avenue. Originally, the meeting was to be held at DPOE headquarters.
I opted for my initial choice.
Evanston, which is the home of Northwestern University, is heavily Democratic. In the 2008 presidential election, the Obama/Biden ticket squeaked by with 87 percent of the vote.
"We've got it locked down, DPOE Secretary Brian Miller told us during the training, "we only elect Democrats." True, very true.
It's essentially a tea party-free zone, but there was room for one "teabagger" that night. More on that later too.
Luck was with me that evening. Because of the big turnout--about 90 people--the normally obligatory self-introduction portion of the training was truncated. I was able to take my copious notes obscured behind a table-top hockey game, which would not have been possible had just 10 people shown up. And because I wore a subtle disguise, no one recognized Morton Grove, Illinois' preeminent conservative blogger that night.
Each of the attendees was handed a blue "Advancing Change 2010" Training Manual, which now occupies an honored place in the Marathon Pundit library and will be a helpful source of material for future blog posts.
The aforementioned Miller spoke first. Miller told us that his organization has "a history of exporting our influence." And they certainly have. In 2008, Miller and Toni Gilpin, the executive director of the DPOE rattled off some numbers--they bused 500 volunteers to assist Obama's campaign efforts in Indianapolis, as well as hundreds of others to Iowa, Wisconsin, and other parts of Indiana--over 1,000 of them, Gilpin stated.
Just 75,000 people live in Evanston.
Throughout the two-hour long meeting, references were made to the Congressional district to the north of Evanston, the 10th, which is currently represented by Republican Mark Kirk, who is running for the US Senate seat held by Rod Blagojevich-appointee Roland Burris.
Just as Josef Stalin looked at the Baltic States in 1939, the Evanston Democrats gaze upon the 10th as their next conquest. Dan Seals, who lost to Kirk in 2006 and 2008, is once again the Democratic nominee, he faces Republican Robert Dold.
Brian begot Brian. Gorman...Brian Gorman. He's a regional field director for Organizing for America.
Obama was once a community organizer, and utilizing the jargon of the president, he presented a challenge for the attendees: "How can I use the tools to take ownership of the community?"
One tool is to focus on those voters new to the polling place in 2008. I knew this already, but an overwhelming majority of these first-time voters, and we're not just talking about 18 year-olds, voted for Obama. But midterms are more challenging for Democrats--Republicans always seem to show up to vote. Hooray for our side! OFA plans to zero in on those first-timers to get them back to the polls.
"Our plan is to mobilize another army of volunteers," Gilpin explained.
"Evanston," Gorman later explained, "is the strongest team we have." I was in the belly of the beast.
In my opinion, it won't be that easy this time around for the Democrats, and during the question and answer session, a few audience members seemed discouraged. The reason. Jobs, or lack of them. Illinois' unemployment rate is a point-and-a-half higher than the nationwide rate. Gilpin told the crowd to focus on their successes, such as the health care reform bill, charge card reform legislation, and The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
"In a way," an audience member opined, "it was much easier last time." True, very true.
But Gilpin said the best way to promote the Democratic Party was to relate their personal connection to its causes--and not getting stuck in the mud on policy stands. On one level that makes sense, my most effective blog posts involve my personal experiences. For instance, when I write about union greed in the trade show industry, I can bring in my recollections as a convention service manager at various downtown hotels. I can't do that while reporting on the British parliamentary elections.
"Personal stories make a difference" is an entry in the Advancing Change 2010 guide book. Gilpin phrased it more directly, "'Why did you come to their door?'--That inspires them!"
However, Gilpin exposed the vulnerable underbelly of the Democratic beast in the "Personal Stories Segment."
Here is my advice to my conservative readers: If one of these OFA volunteers starts selling the Obama "Hope and Change" buffet to you, throw that person off of their script. These are Illinois examples, but if you live in, let's say Michigan, you can easily come up with your own local ripostes.
True, the names given to volunteers by OFA will be those first-time Obama voters, but I know quite a few people who voted for the Chosen One--Oh, I warned them--who swear they'll vote straight GOP in November.
OFA will supply the tools to their dedicated volunteers, and perhaps some of the answers, but if enough of them get blindsided with questions like these, they'll get discouraged and quit. I work in sales, if people aren't buying, I move on.
The volunteers in the room that night are being targeted to become "Team Leaders." Brian Miller made us take a pledge--he even had us raise our right hand while doing it, to find 10 more volunteers--who will of course be asked to find more volunteers. Where? In the usual places, work, Facebook, places of worship and the like. Family too.
Yes, I took Miller's pledge. But when he said, "I, state your name," I repeated, "I, state your name." Yes, just like in the film "Animal House."
Do Republicans operate this way? Not to this extent, but I like to think that we have facts and common sense on our side. Should we? I don't know. Do we want to drive our supporters crazy? One middle-aged attendee bemoaned the over-exuberant Mitch Stewart, the director of OFA and e-mail spammer, she passed on a comment from a younger person, "Mitch Stewart, leave me alone!"
As for the prospective Team Leaders, most were over 40, about 80 percent of them were white. Not all of them were from Evanston, one man came from McHenry County, over 40 miles away. He lamented that a neighbor of his was flying an American flag upside down, a sign of distress. Several 10th District Democrats spoke up, and all of them acted as if they lived in Utah, as opposed to what I believe are simply slightly right-of-center pockets within Blue Illinois.
Here is what the OFA wants from their volunteers: 10 hours a week, hosting house parties, and perhaps helping out with their phone bank. Hint: Keep a close eye on your caller ID on Mondays between 6:30pm and 8:30pm. And of course, as I mentioned earlier, they want more bodies.
The next Evanston Team Leader meeting is May 26. Should I show up? There's a bigger event, details are scarce on that one, which will occur on June 5.
Surprisingly, there weren't very many cheap shots against Republicans--only two.
As a motivator to the faithful, Gorman suggested, "Fear--Imagine America under Sarah Palin."
Uh, dude. She's not on the ballot this year. I thought Gilpin was a class act, albeit a misguided one, until, while not mentioning him by name, she called Illinois GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady, "A teabagger, a really bad guy."
For the uninitiated, "teabagging" is a sexual practice that most of my readers will find vile. Brady, a downstate state senator who leads Quinn in public opinion polls, has spoken at tea parties. So have I. Neither of us are teabaggers.
How about some civility, Organizing for America?
OFA may seem impressive, but they make mistakes.
Such as letting me into this meeting.
There are OFA meetings planned all over the country.
And there's another Evanston training next Wednesday.
Tell ten friends.
Technorati tags: politics Illinois Democrats evanston illinois politics chicago Obama Barack Obama Senate Mark Kirk Alexi Giannoulias bill brady tea party ofa organizing for america