Well, not exactly. It might be my wisdom, but that doesn’t mean you should expect a helluva lot, ok?
About a year ago, the last time I wrote much about internal operations in the GP (Chickens and Eggs), I said in an offhand way: “There ARE ways of boosting our registration and participation with small, local groups, but that’s for another discussion.”
If you’re not a Green, and you don’t have any particular cause that you like to accost strangers on the street about, you’ll be bored with this. Go to Uncategorized Humor. I’ve
added a few things there recently.
For the rest….
Someone recently remarked, on gpoc_discuss, on how voter turnout among registered Greens is especially low, even compared to those registered with other “third” parties, not to mention the big ones. This comes up from time to time, whenever someone bothers to look at those numbers who didn’t before.
The turnout numbers in the last primary, from my own county:
Overall ………………………… …..26.5%
Republican …………………. …….34.5%
American Independent …. …..27.7%
Peace & Freedom ……………….13.7%
Americans Elect …………………..8.1%
They don’t seem to give turnout numbers for NPPs (“No Party Preference”, what they used to call “Decline to State”), but I’d expect them to be not far from the turnout for AI, since most of the people registered with “American Independent” thought they were registering “Independent”.
There are several things that might explain these numbers, but I simply don’t know which ones have the most weight. I’ll just list them quickly and then get on with what I really want to write about.
(1) Notice that Reps had the highest turnout. It’s a big party, with lotsa media attention, and though Romney had the nomination pretty well wrapped up by the time California held its primary, there were still people who wanted to register an opinion about it, or didn’t understand their own party processes enough to know that it was a done deal.
The Dems, of course, didn’t have a contested presidential primary, so their turnout was even lower than with the faux party AI. I’ve remarked before on how many dumbass Americans can only think “presidential election” whenever they hear the word “political”, as if the thousands of other things that people vote on every year, and thousands of non-electoral things people do, aren’t political.
(2) AI, which is a stand-in here for NPPs, had higher turnout than the Dems. This shows how more & more people with enough interest to vote are turning away from the big parties, but haven’t yet caught on to the potential value of “third” parties.
(3) The four remaining “third” parties had much lower turnout than Reps, Dems, or AI, with the Libertarians on top among the four, and American Elect on the bottom. The Libs are a rather old and well-established party with some money behind them, and have a little more enduring prominence in people’s consciousness. Americans Elect was a silly flash in the pan that probably dredged up a lot of very unengaged people to register with them.
Some features of most “third” parties:
a. Our registrants tend to be younger on average. This means that they move around a lot more, and don’t necessarily keep their voter registration up-to-date. So there will be a larger number than usual who are on the registration rolls but don’t live there any more.
b. Our candidates, even when we have a contested presidential primary, just don’t get any publicity to speak of.
c. A certain unknown number of voters simply mark the wrong party by mistake, or mark a party at random, or mark a party as a joke, on the registration form. If such things are evenly distributed among the parties, they will show up as MUCH larger, percentage-wise, with the small parties. These are likely to be unengaged people who are unlikely to vote.
d. I guess, but don’t have any way of knowing, that many people register with a “third” party just as a gesture of protest, and are not really interested in participating in the electoral system. How many this profile might fit is a complete unknown, but I suspect
that it’s significant.
Ok, that’s my explanation of the turnout numbers. Let’s get on with what might be done about them, and about a few other things. There’s a reason for giving this the “Why don’t the Greens…” title. If you read my original post of that title from years ago, it’s mainly an explanation, aimed at noobs, but a review for anyone else, about people expecting us to perform like a well-funded, professionally run org, and what a joke that is. In a similar vein, much of this post might be a list of what we don’t do, but COULD, if we just had some more resources to play with. Maybe this is what it feels like for one of those academics who end a research paper with: “We don’t really know anything, this is just a teaser, and my only conclusion is that more research is needed here, here, and here, so please give me some funding.”
So this is about all those projects that come up from time to time as ideas for raising GP registration, participation, candidate recruitment, generally getting the good name of the Party into people’s heads, etc.
I’ve made a list of what we’ve done locally, what we haven’t done, what they seem to require, and my observed or imagined results from each. If any of my readers are really interested, maybe it could spark some discussion. Comment freely. Especially, remind me of what I’ve forgotten to include.
Here’s a crude table of all this. Click on it to view it full-size. The activities listed in the left column are in no particular order. A lot of the numbers I’ve assigned are pretty arbitrary and open to discussion.
First, I’ll explain the “Requirements” along the top.
Money – Duh. The amount required can vary widely with some of these activities, depending on lotsa variables. Think of a number I put here as a multiple of the integer below it: “1” can be tens of dollars, “10” can be tens of thousands or more.
Specialized Labor – By this, I mean labor from people who have a talent or skill commanded by a pretty small minority of people. The smaller that minority, and the greater the number of hours required from such a person, the larger the number assigned here.
Less-Specialized Labor – Labor from people who probably can be trained to do the task in an hour or less, though greater skill might be desirable. This is a broad generality, of course. It might be the common, but not universal, skill of talking to people without alienating them, ushering, or the simpler aspects of food service. Maybe just folding and envelope stuffing, or getting a sticker on straight without smearing the print.
Infrastructure – This is a general requirement that the org have its doodoo together, especially in communication matters. Does someone answer the phone and check the PO Box regularly? Do you have a sizeable, well-maintained mailing list? Do people actually read the emails that come from other members? Does the web site get updated regularly? Do the people answering communications know where to refer people for answers about the project? Can you raise some funds, and do you have a clear, efficient decision-making process for spending them? The more an activity relies on such things, the higher the number I’ve put here.
Prep Time – Pretty self-explanatory. How much time does it need from the idea to its material manifestation?
Leadership – Regardless of how major decisions are made, to what degree does it require a single go-to person to decide a million details that MUST be decided immediately, before the project stalls?
Presupposed Literature – This is simply a notation that, in addition to other require-ments, It’s assumed that some hand-out literature has been produced for the activity. Something that tells basically who you are, what you’re about, how to find your web site, contact info & such.
Now, the rant. One thing at a time:
Big Show – By this I mean something that an unusually large venue needs to be secured for. Something that you’ll want to draw a big crowd to, in the hundreds, at least. The GPOC has done this a couple of times on its own, for visiting presidential and statewide candidates, and a couple of times in cooperation with a coalition for a collection of speakers from various orgs. It means a snailmailing, and probably a phoning, to your core list of a few hundred, at least. You might need a talented graphics person to make something attention-grabbing for the mailer. Broader advertising might be called for if you can do it. You want the crowd as large as possible because you’re hoping for some media attention, not to mention donations for the cause.
Refreshments might be served. A program of entertainers might be scheduled. It’s a big deal. You need a leader to settle all kinds of questions quickly. It needs to be someone with a talent for coordinating and dealing with people. You also need a few less-skilled volunteers to handle setup, food, phoning, envelope stuffing, etc. You also need money for the venue, liability insurance, maybe rental of furnishings, maybe to pay some of the performers. It demands a lot, which is why we haven’t done it very much.
Success, by various measures of funds raised, media attention, info added to mailing list, building personal acquaintances, etc. has been widely variable with Big Shows. Much depends on timing, such that the topics addressed are hot at the moment and people will want to show up (Also, see My Holiday Post about timing.)
(Hosting GPCA assemblies and gatherings is almost a Big Show, but without the broad local advertising, and not so much worry about entertainment or public attention. Much of the format is cut & dried at the state level. It’s still a helluva lot of work. We’ve done this four times that I can remember.)
Demo – Though I’ve rarely heard of a political party, just as such, organizing a demo, the GPOC has participated in single-issue demos in coalition with other groups a lot. Maybe I should call this the “Little Show”. Usually no venue to rent, no big star making an appearance (though that’s always welcome). Sign-making might be the only preparation, though costumes and more elaborate props can be good. We all do it from time to time. Participants are usually gathered by email and “social media”, which requires some infrastructure. Some small bit of leadership is required to take responsibility for the where, when, and theme of the demo, and to be a “for more info” contact in the announcements.
I consider literature a requirement, though many people don’t seem to agree with me on this. Casual passers-by usually don’t know how to interpret your signs and appearance, and will make up their own stories just to fit you into their own worldviews. You need something you can easily hand them. If you’re disgruntled, explain in your flyer what your gruntles are, who has them, and how you expect your rightful gruntles to be restored to you. Otherwise, you’re leaving it entirely to the observer (and the godawful media) to explain who you are and what you want.
Success is usually difficult to measure for a demo, unless you get some media attention. Demos succeed at that only when there’s something really attention-grabbing about them, either some disorder that would make the news by itself, or timing with a big deal going on elsewhere in the world that the media would still want to report on without the local demo.
What’s not measurable is the effect it might have on passers-by. That all depends on how good your theater and handouts are. I have an impression, which you all might or might not share, that any demo with less than about 20 participants just looks pitiful, and can be counterproductive.
What’s sometimes possible with a well-targeted demo is effect on a nearby occupant of the site of the demo. When we wanted people to boycott Shell, we gathered around Shell stations, obviously. How much news of our demo got back to muckamucks at Shell is unknown, but you get the idea.
A minor objective for demos is building the mailing list and personal acquaintances among those who show up. Even the smallest can have some success in those ways.
Direct Action – Often confused with a demo, but very different in purpose. At the least, it’s meant to force some media attention, but beyond that, it usually means helping a friend or hurting an enemy in a very direct, material way. It often means breaking some kind of “rule” and/or getting arrested. Examples might include:
– the above-mentioned demo around a Shell station, if it actually reduces their sales
– feeding the poor, legally or not
– going into a debate or conference where one was not invited
– blocking people engaged in a nefarious activity (such as a trade conference or eviction)
Locally, we haven’t done this much, as the GPOC, though some of our members have acted this way under other banners. It happens more in other places.
It usually means having some kind of plan, so there’s some leadership required.
Literature is good to have, just so the media don’t have any excuses for getting your message wrong. Other requirements vary widely with the exact nature of what’s planned,
right on up to hospital bills for getting beat up and extensive legal support.
Tabling – The GPOC has done this a lot in the past, and still does. It can be a very big deal, where you have to pay for a booth and worry about staffing it for days, or it can be a quick grab-my-box-of-crap-and-show-up thing. It requires not only literature, but maybe some eye-catching props. Someone in the org normally needs to see that tablers are supplied with current literature. This is the minimal leadership that it will require. The maximal leadership it might require is scheduling many volunteers to staff it for a long time, and negotiating with the hosts for getting a booth, paying for it, what rules to observe, etc.
It’s purposes are
1… to get your cause, whatever it is, out in front of people
2… to BUILD YOUR MAILING LIST
Tabling is one of very few situations in which you meet people who might come from anywhere, who might show some interest, AND there’s a table with pen and paper right there that you can stick in front of them. Every table needs a mailing list signup sheet. This is a big deal, if you’re an ongoing project. Email and the occasional bit of snailmail or phoning are the only ways to stay in touch with people who might participate later: the only way to recruit new people, unless they’ve already come to a meeting.
Often, you need to be invited to the events where tabling is appropriate. That’s where the infrastructure comes in. The public needs to know how to contact you. Someone needs
to take such invitations and refer them to people ready to table.
Often, you need to inquire about whether tabling is welcome at a gathering that you know about. More infrastructure and leadership. I once tried to maintain, and gave away several times, a list of recurring local events where tabling might be welcome. I’ve heard nothing about this list for several years, and stopped maintaining it because no interest seemed to be shown in it.
Success at tabling is measured in how many people took your handouts, registered to vote, or signed onto your mailing list. Results can vary widely. When thinking about whether it’s worth the bother, gotta consider both the size and the interests of the crowd that will be there.
Sidewalk soliciting – Can be done by one person who simply has some time, a little literature, some voter reg forms, and a general knowledge of what the party and/or candidate concerned is about. Any public property with foot traffic can be the venue.
I did this a couple of times, targeting possible new voters at one end of a major crosswalk near a campus. It was getting near the deadline to register to vote in a coming election, so that was my obvious pitch: “Are you registered to vote?” From there, I could register them, or explain the big “G” on my t-shirt, or hand them some literature about the party or candidate. Pretty effective for the amount of time involved, but it needs to be getting near an election to give you a good opening line.
Never heard of anyone else doing this solo, locally.
We have done similar things in small groups at other times, taking sidewalk spots where people are going in toward a big gathering of some kind, but not lately. We might still have a couple of those green vendor aprons for literature floating around.
Notice that I said “public property” above. A visiting candidate from up north was once surprised at getting kicked out of a mall for soliciting there. The local culture can vary a lot about how Pruneyard gets interpreted,
and property managers around here aren’t very friendly to us. That’s a whole can of worms that I’ve written about elsewhere.
Door-to-door – two kinds: Either you just leave literature on or near the door (Not the mailbox!), or you actually ring the doorbell and try to talk to someone. The latter is very intrusive, and probably should only be done to a targeted list of people more likely than others to be interested. It also demands personalities that can handle making people get out of the shower and hold the dog back to answer the door. Kinda dicey.
Gathering the volunteers for walking is where infrastructure comes in, as with calling for a demo. Producing literature suitable for the situation and targeting the people or neighborhood are where leadership comes in here. We’ve done this for candidates and issue groups in the past, and presumably had SOME effect, but it’s difficult to measure.
Speaking to groups – We had this as a major ongoing project at one time, years ago. One of our members with telemarketing experience looked up all the high school social science teachers he could find and called them, offering to send speakers about the Party, political issues, whatever we could handle. We had a few fairly competent speakers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we generated some number of Green registrations in 2004 that way.
It fell apart as the people involved became largely unavailable, but was good while it lasted. Success was limited by the number of decent speakers available during the business day, and somewhat by the non-computer capabilities of our telemarketer, who was also in poor health.
If we ever have such a combination of talents again, it could be a very worthy project.
It’s been a couple of years since the last time, but speaking opportunities can also happen at random. A teacher or representative of some group might actually look us up and invite us to send a speaker to a classroom, club meeting, rally, or whatever. This is where infrastructure really comes in. How easy is it for someone to look us up and get a timely
Snailmailing – Lotsa variables in this one, in how many people you want to target, how much you know about their potential interest in what you’re pitching, how much money you want to put into it. What’s probably NOT variable is that you need a pretty good degree of literacy and compositional understanding for producing the mailing piece.
Targeting the mailing list is where a high “infrastructure” requirement comes in. A little general data processing knowledge is needed, and someone who reallly understands the nature of the list.
Maybe you’re only interested in raising money with the mailer, so you target past donors and others who’ve shown a lot more interest than most.
Maybe you want to advertise very broadly and don’t mind losing money on the mailing, hoping the response in other ways will make up for it. Something like “all registered Greens” is a sure money-loser and will result in many postal returns, but “all registered Greens who voted in the last two elections” would be a fraction of that and generate
a much higher response rate, for instance.
Leadership is required. Writing a timely mailing piece that will make people want to read it should be done by a very small committee. If you do regular mailings, someone needs to keep a handle on fulfilling the conditions for keeping a bulk mailing license.
We’ve done this, in various ways over the years, with varying results.
Phoning – no general-purpose literature to hand out here, but someone needs to compose a script for the phoning, and explain it to the people doing it. The list needs to be targeted, just as with a mailing. Bad phone numbers found in the course of the project need to be marked,
along with other notations, and sent back to the list keeper for coding. This avoids wasting time in future mailings and phonings.
Phoning is second only to knocking on doors for its intrusiveness, so pleasant, stable personalities must be employed.
We’ve done this, again, in varying ways, with varying results.
Web presence – Whole e-books are written, and whole courses taught, about promoting one’s brand on the web. I suspect that much of what’s taught is nonsense, and a great deal depends on luck. Do you have a slogan, graphic, or video that for inexplicable reasons people find entertaining enough to pass on to their friends? That’s when something really catches fire on the web.
One thing that I know will NOT get attention on the web, except negative attention, is just someone standing in front of a mic speaking for more than about three minutes, with very rare exceptions. It would have to be an exceptionally talented speaker, with something really rare to say, and good production value. I’ve seen far too many YouTube videos posted just for the sake of posting that will never get a broad audience because they are painful to watch, regardless of how well- intentioned the speaker might be.
Failing any viral luck, just having a web site at all obliges you to keep it current, and post new content once in a while. Otherwise, no one has a reason to look at it more than once. That can be one more damn thing for someone to keep track of from week to week, one more chore for someone to do. We’ve often been very short of people for mudane chores like this.
Some kind of forum for discussion among members can
be useful. We have this in the form of a Yahoo group. Other kinds of arrangements all have their pros & cons. There’s also the broad announcement list for anyone who cares to subscribe. I’ve written about this elsewhere, focused on listserves, but one can make a forum or bulletin board pretty easily, with a choice among many hosts. What’s crucial with any such thing is that someone needs to take responsibility for it. Look at it every day. Police the spam and rudeness. Help noobs with how to use it. Hassle with the host when it screws up. Who wants one more daily task?
TV & Radio advertising – This might be a lot easier to arrange than many of us imagine (See How I Ran an Ad on Fox News), but we’ve never done this locally.
Someone would need to look up all the particulars and get acquainted with putting audio or video files in the format that the broadcasters like (probably with software most of us have already), as well as the process for buying time. There might be many options.
Most important is having a good script that will get attention, send a message suitable to the audience being targeted, and be entirely within the image that the party, candidate, or whatever, wants to project. The quality of the production is everything here.
Print advertising – We’ve occasionally done this in the past, with no particular rate of success measured. No money has been available for any big-circulation publications, but
there were occasions in the past when we got comped an ad (coalition projects).
Again, someone needs to specialize and pay attention to this. Composing a nice graphic is a more common skill than composing a nice video, but it still takes some savvy. When in doubt, it can be kept very simple, like “Contact your local Green Party here”, but that’s not much of an attention-grabber. The possible effect of different words needs to be thought about carefully, and the attitude of someone flipping through the publication needs to be considered.
Activism in other groups – This is an indirect way of building our good reputation among people who might be opinion leaders in their own groups. Simple enough: whatever you do in your community, do it well, and at some point break it to people that you’re a Green. It can help the Party’s reputation and maybe gain us a few registrants and voters. Many of us have done this for some years, and no approval from the Party is needed. It’s a very freelance kind of activity, where each person finds a suitable niche.
One thing such activity probably WON’T gain us is any volunteers working for the Party or its candidates. If you’re mainly hanging with fellow activists, they probably have plenty on their plates already without trying to attend to internal Party matters. On the extremely rare occasion, it might convince a fellow activist to run for office as a Green.
What I’ve tried to do here is just make it clear to people who might propose the things above what they’re proposing. Where leadership is required, you, the one proposing it, are likely to be anointed. Lotsa potential for discussion and telling me I’m wrong here. Have at it.