A plan of action for Democrats: First meeting (part 1)

A plan of action for Democrats: First meeting (part 1)

The article that you are about to read is a 6-part series that was penned by a columnist that is not on the SUAVV Magazine staff. Though the articles and views are going to be posted to our site, they are not the direct views of the magazine or our staff. 

By John Jensen

Imagine you are leader in a local Democratic organization. At an evening meeting you face a roomful of thirty volunteers.  Most have already been active in some way by phone calls, leafleting, or knocking on doors. While each feel deeply about certain issues, they know the stakes for the system overall, and look to you to help them make a difference in the months until November.  With the group’s other business accounted for, you say to them:

“Good evening everyone.  I appreciate your coming and your willingness to work for the good of the country. We have three months to the November elections which will be a decisive turning point for America, and we want to be as effective as we can be.

“There is already a money-and-advertising effort underway. We’ve all received many notices about where our dollars can help.  But the big resource you represent by being here tonight is person to person contact. Think of this: there are about 43 million registered Democrats in the country now.  If each one could bring just a single Independent or Republican across the line in three months, we would have 86 million on our side.

“There could be many reasons we aren’t doing this already.  Because Democrats have not yet unified around a single message, they may feel they can’t offer any message.  They may think people are so closed that it’s no use trying to talk them.  But you know from your own family experience that there are much better and much worse ways of handling disagreements.  We do it every day. And with people we care about and respect, we typically work things out. So we need to use our own commonsense experience and also apply some tips that are available to us.

“One thing to recognize is how a single basic activity can make all the difference.  It is something like going to a foreign country and having the right dollar or franc or mark or peso in your pocket so you can buy things.  About changing people’s thinking, this coin of the realm is a personal conversation, two people exchanging ideas. That’s the most motivating condition we actually have control over, and we can do more of if we want to.  It’s a matter of numbers. We know perfectly well that sheer numbers determine election results, but the same principle works right up to the election in the sheer numbers of ideas passing from one person to another. No matter how many big ads we buy, good conversations still stick with people, and the more of them we have, the better our results will be.  If we are not having those conversations now, that is a simple thing we can change today.

“So how do we make that count most? A fact we know from our interest in sports or business is that counting our results, up or down, is a motivating factor all by itself. How long would we watch even our favorite basketball or football team playing a scrimmage with no score?  Probably not long. The score tells us who is succeeding. When success matters to us, we value every single digit of the score. Looking at polling statistics, for instance, we catch our breath for a moment when one number goes down against us or another goes up for us. The changed number tells us whether our effort is on target—are we spinning our wheels, going nowhere?  

“I make a point of this because I want to ask you to do something that can change our results fast. Find yourself a sheet of paper at home, write “Contact log” on the top of it.  Then every evening, think back over your day and count up the number of conversations or contacts you had with people, and tally them on your check sheet. Bring that total to the meeting next week.  We will begin keeping track on a wall chart that lets us see exactly how much of this effort at connecting we are doing together. Are all of us here just talking to ourselves or are we a force for change?  The count of our actual contacts will tell us the impact of our activity.

“Keep separate tallies for two goals.  Both are very important but in different ways.  One is talking to either an Independent or a Republican.  You make the conversation pleasant and respectful regardless of how extreme or closed they may be.  You mainly listen to them, and if they will even talk to you, that constitutes a score, because it means they see you as worthy of their attention, and it opens the door for an eventual turning point when they are willing to listen to you.  If your person happens to be among the rock-rigid 40%, it’s a great opportunity to practice on them. Sustain a respectful exchange so you can pick it up later, and work on them step by step. Researchers have found that a significant proportion of people changed their opinions about the transgender, for example, after a 10-15 minute conversation.  The canvasser drew out their views and ideas, focused on their experiences of being discriminated against, and then linked those to how transgender people feel. Such an approach has many applications–listening to people carefully and then inviting them to take an alternate perspective if they were the one experiencing the problem, for instance, in education, pay, working conditions, immigration, health care, or pollution. How would they feel if they were the one on the receiving end of the problem?  

“The conversation itself constitutes a positive score, and if you make a single point that fits the conversation, it is even better. Especially with people you see frequently, you want to work gradually from safe, neutral, neighborly issues to common concerns about the community, and later on to contentious issues after you are comfortable talking together. Often you can make a single brief point that fits the person.  Next week we can discuss how exactly to do this with different people you run into and hear each other’s suggestions that seem to work.

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