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September 14, 2008


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You could teach such a person how to register people, which is generally, I guess, how to close a sale, but such people tend to be not teachable.

When I think back about the voter registration work I've done, it's really pretty easy.

You either get voter reg or you don't. Not to say, if you don't get it that you suck as a person. Some people are salesmen; most aren't. Some people have the patience to do voter ID on the phone; I don't. Find what you're good at and do that.

And so my volunteer time goes to indirect political causes. The element of self-righteousness by organizers and "senior" volunteers is nowhere near as prevalent. And if they've clearly screwed up in organizing an activity or event, first-time and long-time volunteers alike are not subjected to blame that's at the least contemptuous and not uncommonly hostile. Sure, there are useless volunteers and if you've done much of any you can spot them easily (corporate volunteers, those who have to log some hours for their job, are often the most problematic). A good manager will weed those people, find an activity they're somewhat suited for if possible, or at the least neutralize their effect on slowing up everyone else. And a good manager will do it without personal insult because ultimately this person is far more engaged in promoting your cause or candidate than the rest of the population, if only because they showed up. (With the corporate volunteer exception.) If they're not sent away with a no-bones-about-it message that they were deemed useless or idiots then they're still going to be out there talking to their friends and family about your cause or candidate. There is value in that. It can be a pretty effective form of awareness, which, uh, I believe is what most of this comes down to.

So I like volunteering for things like HIV/AIDS causes, direct environmental impact activities, etc. It's rare to feel any contempt, let alone blanket, from the organizers. And especially in causes related to disease, illness, or have some component where physical or mental capacities are inhibited, it's about ensuring people are treated humanely and so that attitude tends to be pervasive...even when it comes to dealing with volunteers who just aren't helpful. That's too rare in political causes. I don't care how important one thinks their cause or candidate is. It never justifies being an asshole to people who simply wanted to help.

Yeah, I try to give first-timers a good experience by pairing them up with an experienced person, telling them it took me a couple of hours to get one registration the first time I did it, etc. But the fact is, at the end of their first shift, if they don't love it, it's not for them. They need to know that, because otherwise it's a waste of their time and mine.

But honest feedback is sometimes hard because volunteers for "causes" are the very worst for self-righteousness. "How dare you tell me I am not great at this? This is my passion!" Etc.

Find what you enjoy, and do that. Then it doesn't matter what someone thinks of you.

Good post. We need to recognize the difference between blogging with a purpose and blogging as a masturbatory exercise.

For me there's a lot of psychological value in blogging and visiting blogs because it helps to create a sense of empowerment and connectedness among we the people. If all we could do is pick up the morning paper and read AP stories, we'd all be depressed and thus rendered politically ineffective. Information gets passed around and ultimately bubbles up and sometimes finds its way into big media. Some of the dirt on Palin came out of Alaska via bloggers. And a really big story like the corruption inside Gonzalez' DOJ was uncovered by Josh Marshall.

But I suppose a case could be made that even the least effective dipshit blogger is now engaged in the political process, and that's a good thing...

He stands around with a clipboard but all he does is talk, talk, talk to voters and other volunteers...

I blog. But I also register voters. And I hate having these yakkers nearby when I'm trying to get new registrants. They do make it hard to get the job done at times. Another problem can be when currently registered voters come up and start yakking. You don't want to blow them off, but you also don't want to miss potential voters either. It becomes a juggling act.

Here's what I'm doing...
more to come

Here in California we have a freeway blogger.

I've seen his signs, mostly with the single word "IMPEACH", placed all over the Bay Area, but he does travel. Right now he is doing a west coast tour, placing signs calling for PEACE anywhere they can be seen from the road, repeating the antiwar message.

Brevity is necessary to reach freeway drivers. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of signs of signs with a simple direct message have been read by thousands and thousands of drivers... and voters.

He has instructions on his website for anybody else who'd like to hang signs. :)

Very true -- I've definitely witnessed the least-helpful/most-righteous volunteer thing. Precisely because people volunteer based on what they enjoy, or feel passionate about, the atmosphere is far more personality driven than a workplace. It's not uncommon for people to volunteer as some form of therapy, whether they know it or not -- they're working some very personal shit out, which can be messy. So I don't envy organizers and activity leaders and really admire good ones (my own case of 'don't because I can't'). Unlike a workplace, they don't have the inherently coercive things, like the need for a paycheck, to assist in getting people to efficiently do what's necessary.

That also gets to the heart of why the track record of community organizer is more important than corporate or public office "executive" experience. Community organizers live or die on diplomacy to get people on their side. They don't have those inherently coercive benefits like privileged access to the authority of law (politicians) or "you're f***ing fired" (the boss man).

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