How the GOP is "Showing Up" in Democratic Strongholds While Dems Dither
More on the poverty of Democratic organizing, this time on the absence of community centers. Plus, some national groups that do support local hubs; the future of protest post-Rittenhouse; and more.
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I wasn’t planning on writing another post about the problems with Democratic organizing after last week’s, which got picked up by Blue Tent (a great new site run by David Callahan, the longtime publisher of Inside Philanthropy). But then I stumbled on this post, titled, “There's a reason the RNC is opening a field office in a Hispanic area of Milwaukee” and I went down the Internet rabbit hole, looking to learn more. The post, written by an data geek who only goes by the first name Connor, details how majority-Hispanic wards in Wisconsin, and especially Milwaukee, shifted towards Trump in 2020. I clicked on a link in Connor’s post to a Wisconsin Public Radio story on the Republican National Committee’s new Milwaukee office, which is in the Lincoln Village neighborhood. They’re calling it a “Hispanic Community Center,” and it’s actually the RNC’s second in the heavily Democratic city. The first one, which opened in February 2020, is in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
"Why is this so important? Because the Democrat party has taken the votes of these people and this community and your state taken for granted for far too long," Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said at the opening of the Milwaukee Hispanic Community Center. "And as a party, we have to show up in communities that have been habitually Democrat and talk about the values that we share in common."
Where else is the GOP showing up with these new community centers? Here’s a quick list:
Asian Pacific American Community Center, Westminster (home of Little Saigon), California (opened June 2021)
Black Community Center, Cleveland (opened August, 2021)
Hispanic Community Center, Laredo, Texas (opened August, 2021)
Asian Pacific American Community Center, Berkeley Lake (Atlanta suburb), Georgia (opened September, 2021)
Hispanic Community Center, Doral, Florida (opened October, 2021)
Black Community Center, College Park (Atlanta suburb), Georgia (opened October 2021)
Hispanic Community Center, McCallen, Texas (opened October, 2021)
Hispanic Community Center, San Antonio, Texas (opened October, 2021)
Asian and Indian American Community Center, Coppell (Dallas suburb), Texas (opened November, 2021)
So far, the RNC has opened 10 community centers and says it is planning to open about two dozen more. All are in places where the 2020 election showed some minority groups shifting towards Trump. Now, this isn’t a totally new strategy for the RNC. In 2020, it had field offices/community centers in Michigan, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Florida, and some of the centers it is opening now are actually just re-opening after being closed last November. But this program is starting earlier and seems more devoted to local engagement than last cycle. “They’re going to be community centers where people can come together to watch movies, hold religious services, to do many things, to give people in McAllen and in these other cities a space to be able to enjoy each other and also to talk about a common ideology,” Macarena Martinez, the RNC’s Texas spokeswoman, told NBC News back in October. Movies and other events will be bilingual, she added. (Say what?)
Paris Dennard, an RNC national spokesman and director of Black media affairs, said they wanted communities to see these spaces as a resource. “We don’t want people to look at them as just a stuffy office where you just come, and there’s a table and chairs, and all you do is phonebank,” he told the Atlanta Daily World. Indeed, next week the McCallen RNC center is hosting a “financial literacy seminar.” Other events have included a “Mommy and Me Tea Time” and a Halloween costume party.
Democratic leaders have been responding to these announcements with a mix of bombast and concern. In Wisconsin, the party’s interim executive director Devin Remiker insisted that Latino voters would see through the GOP’s efforts and would remember its anti-immigrant, extremist views. Regarding Texas, Lucas Acosta, a spokesman for the DNC, brushed off the RNC effort, arguing that it was unlikely to resonate because Democrats have been and will continue to be on the ground in the region “organizing Latino voters and ensuring Republicans can’t run away from their extremist record.” Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the state Democratic party, was less sanguine. “The problem we’ve always had in the past is there is limited resources coming into the state of Texas, from outside and from within, and most of those resources have been spent where there are swing districts, like the Dallas-Fort Worth area and where several state House seats were in contention,” he told NBC News.
Try Googling “DNC” and “community center.” Nothing comes up. That’s because national Democrats don’t have a local field program. What they do have is a “Campaign Pipeline Program” that was launched in July, which is described as “a train-to-hire boot camp pipeline at the DNC with the goal of supporting states in their recruitment, training, and hiring of diverse, talented, and local staff for specific roles and skill sets on coordinated campaigns.” Signaling that the DNC intends to double-down on what it thinks worked in 2020, the announcement adds, “The first group of organizers hired will focus on building critical supporter and volunteer infrastructure, utilizing state-of-the-art distributed organizing methods. The same distributed organizing model was leveraged during the Biden-Harris campaign, allowing them to mobilize and train the largest volunteer program in presidential campaign history. The program will kick off with a series of boot camps to offer young people the tools for success with the goal of embedding them in state parties and coordinated campaigns by September 1.”
Well, gag me with a spoon. While the RNC is spending money on renting and staffing storefronts in potentially advantageous (for them) Democratic strongholds, the DNC is going with “state of the art distributed organizing methods” that rely on overworking youthful digital organizers who focus on farming contact lists for clicks, donations and just-in-time sign-ups for atomized actions like phone-banking and canvassing. Democrats do have events in community centers, of course. But they don’t create or sustain places where local community members can come together to socialize and learn what Democrats stand for at the same time.
Everything we know about building lasting political allegiances says the DNC strategy is thin and the RNC strategy is thick. That is, most people don’t get and stay politically active because one day they have an ideological awakening and then go looking for the party or cause that meets their ideological needs. (Well, some people do, and they are often the most tiresome and doctrinaire of activists, like the ideologues inside the Democratic Socialists of America who want to expel my Congressman Jamaal Bowman from their ranks for being insufficiently critical of Israel.) People get engaged in politics when someone like a friend or acquantance invites them to come to a meeting, they are welcomed, and they start to make friends. Along the way, they learn what the group is about. Often, they are converted and then become more ideologically committed. Sociologist Ziad Munson demonstrated this convincingly in his study of The Making of Pro-life Activists. Movement researcher Hahrie Han has found the same dynamic in her comparative work on the gun-rights and gun-control movements.
While the DNC is fighting the last war, the RNC is fighting the next one, placing bets in what 2020 showed may be arenas of opportunity for Republicans. It’s not too late for Democrats to do the same thing, by opening their own community hubs, not just in places where various ethnic and racial minority groups may be growing disenchanted but also in rural areas that are suffering from decades of economic neglect. One group that is already doing that in various places around the country is RuralOrganizing.org. But I don’t know of many others; if you do, let me know.
Semi-related: In last week’s post, I mentioned how few national progressive groups support local chapters with subsidies, and two readers responded with pointers to interesting resources.
--Randall Smith, the whiz behind PowerLabs, emailed me noting that the Sunrise Movement was sharing a substantial sum with local hubs and individuals. Its Hub Materials Project offers up to $3000 per local (a mix of c3 and c4 money), up to 4 times a year, on a rolling basis, for things like art supplies, space rental, printing, food for meetings, Sunrise merchandise, PPE, sound equipment and child care. Sunrise also runs a Hub Finance System to help locals raise and spend money, and says that “The HFS has processed over $300,000, allowing Sunrise hubs to move toward financial self-sufficiency. The average hub on the system has raised just under $2,000, while the highest grossing hub has brought in over $100,000.” It also gives local hubs subsidized Zoom accounts and shares access to contact emails and texts. As of this November, it has launched a financial support program for poor and working class volunteers that has $1.6 million allotted to support roughly 150 volunteers with stipends of between $100 and $800 per month for four months. And in the past it supported several movement houses and dozens of fellows with more than $600,000. Movement houses!
--Reid McCollum, the co-founder of Postcards to Swing States, a project of the Progressive Turnout Project, tweeted at me that PTP has launched a new Grassroots Grant Program offering individual grants of up to $250,000, to a total of at least $1 million, in early funding to grassroots groups. If you are in one of the project’s targeted states and are testing new voter contact strategies, this might be for you. That said, I can’t mention the Progressive Turnout Project without dinging it for its spammy and deceptive email fundraising practices. The ends don’t justify the means.
Odds and Ends
--Stu Trevelyan, the longtime CEO of EveryAction/NGP-VAN, is stepping down from his post as of tomorrow. It’s hard to overestimate his impact on the field of digital organizing, as he steered NGP through its merger with VAN (the Voter Activation network), its acquisition of National Field, BSD Tools, Salsa Labs, ActionKit, and Mobilize, among others, building a powerful set of products used by Democratic campaigns and nonprofits alike. While the accolades are rolling in, one still has to ask: Now that this product set is owned by a private hedge fund, Apax, who’s minding the store? All the questions that Betsy Hoover of Higher Ground Labs raised back in September come into sharper relief now.
--Robin Carnahan, the head of the General Services Administration, gets a well-deserved moment in the sun as a gov-tech innovator from Shira Ovide in the New York Times.
--Digital Democracy, one of my favorite civic tech long-distance runners, which does incredible work supporting appropriate technology uses with remote and marginalized communities around the world, is looking to hire a lead back-end developer.
--Richard Zoglin explains in The Washington Post why those begging, nagging political emails are breaking us.
--Remember when people thought New York governor Andrew Cuomo was doing a good job handling the COVID crisis, despite his other flaws? I sure hope those people have learned a lesson. Newly released transcripts of interviews investigators did with his health officials shed a lot of light on how his maniacal management style and obsession with his media appearances damaged and hindered the state’s response.
--Dana Fisher has some in Slate on what the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict may mean for the future of political protest in America, now that armed vigilantism is being celebrated by everyone from the Orange Cheeto down to the troll caucus of the House Republicans. If you want to dig deeper, this 2019 paper by Nathan Kalmoe and Lilliana Mason on “lethal mass partisanship” is a good starting point. All the experts on this problem are hair-on-fire worried.
Here’s a chaser to get rid of the bad taste of that last item. Best with the sound on.
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Good piece. Great chaser. Why are Democrats so self-destructive?