She may have a famous last name, but Christine Pelosi has earned her own stripes as a grassroots organizer…
Democratic activist and author Christine Pelosi has spent years organizing voters on the local and national level. She is the former executive director of California’s Democratic Party and author of the book Campaign Boot Camp: Basic Training for Future Leaders.Politics: Are you concerned that discord that might still exist between some Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton supporters will hurt the party in November, or at the convention in Denver?
Pelosi: No, and I actually see more enthusiasm than anything else. I’m convinced that Democrats won’t let whatever hard feelings may still exist in some quarters deflect them from the goal, which is getting a Democrat back in the White House. The issues are so stark. Either you want to end the war or you don’t. Either you want to provide universal healthcare or you don’t. Those are very clear choices and those differences of opinion far eclipse anything that people said during the primary.
Politics: Do you see any actual benefits that came from waging those tough primaries?
Pelosi: People began to see themselves as leaders. Presidential campaigns are terrific opportunities for new leadership to emerge, for people to sharpen their speaking skills as surrogates and sharpen their organizing tools. Now our job as party leaders is to make sure that coming out of Denver, these new potential all-stars are as excited and enthusiastic as possible so that not only do we elect a Democratic president but we encourage people to get ready to run for office at the local level. I think this year is an organizer’s dream and we have to embrace it and channel it into success in politics and, ultimately, success in policies.
Politics: How do you accomplish that on the grassroots level?
Pelosi: The Obama campaign has begun to mobilize unity networks. I spoke at the San Francisco Unity Rally at the end of June. Our Mission District fandango was the largest in the Bay Area. Local volunteers from the Clinton, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson campaigns came, and they were warmly embraced by Team Obama. As I do more boot camps and field research for my new book, America 2.0, which examines how startup politics are changing public service, I am finding more people using the Internet to instantly fundraise or “friend raise.” Even more so than in 2004 and 2006, people who never gave money before are asking their friends for money and time. More needs to be done, of course, but on the whole people seem to get that we have to build networks to give Obama the courage and the cover to implement our goals. Also, by having more bottom-up organizing, we’re enabling local organizers to rise to positions of leadership much more quickly than with the old top-down model, where you have to wait your turn and “sit in all the chairs,” so to speak, before you are given the chance to lead. To borrow a baseball metaphor, today’s most valuable players are often also rookies of the year.
Politics: Are there things that Republicans are doing better than Democrats right now, and vice versa?
Pelosi: Both sides are focusing on the need to organize people on a peer-to-peer level. Conservatives have dominated talk radio, for example, so every time someone is in their car and they turn on the radio, they are most likely to hear conservative talk, not progressive talk. On the other hand, when it comes to the Internet and social networking, progressives have the edge. Now conservatives are getting better at the Internet and progressives are getting better on the radio, but everybody’s always constantly learning from the other.
Politics: What are some of the mistakes that you’ve seen Democrats making?
Pelosi: Back in 2006, I noticed that we tend to give great advice after the fact, but that we don’t always share what we know up front. So rather than being the Monday morning quarterback, I said let’s try to get in there and train and share the knowledge in advance. For example, when the robo-stalkers started calling and pretending they were [Democratic congressional challenger] Christine Jennings at four in the morning, five days before the election in Florida, we knew there had to be a way for candidates to protect themselves. We actually started having people add to the phone bank scripts: “This is the only call you’re going to get from our campaign.” So some candidates were able to actively combat that. Overall, it’s the idea of having an early warning system and a cross-training program so that people can instantly share information at the grassroots level.
Politics: There are many talented candidates out there locally who tend to make the same organizational mistakes.
Pelosi: Too many candidates don’t understand the balance. Part of running for office is building a campaign, which I define as a fusion between a large social movement and a small business startup. And a lot of people in campaigns are very excited about building that large social movement, but they don’t understand how to harness that energy and measure that energy. There are four metrics in a campaign: management, message, money and mobilization. And they have to be done to precision, and they have to be measured constantly. When it comes to money, for example, a lot of people think you send out fundraising letters to people with lots of money, and then they give you money. But that’s not how it works. So learning how to put together a good plan that matches your values and has all of these organized metrics intact is the key. All the goodwill in the world, as my mom always says, is just a conversation. It’s not a political action until they get to the polls.