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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Street teams

Matt Stoller

Ok, we're going to post up a series of articles on the Lamont-Lieberman race and end with my post on Lieberman and how he lost the support of Democrats

The JGG-mobile and the Lamont Street Team Strategy

by Matt Stoller, Sat Aug 05, 2006 at 04:22:12 PM EST

Your organization could be sponsoring this blog post on the Lamont-Lieberman primary. Click here for more information. Or click here to make a donation and encourage more of this type of coverage/activism at MyDD in the fuure.

One of the best things about this campaign is the innovative techniques that have been embraced by the organization. It's not just the internet, which has been literally a textbook case of internet messaging. There's also a willingness to test and refine models that worked in 2004, such as new ways of engaging in youth organizing. I just sat down and talked to Alexis McGill, who organized Vote or Die and was the political director for the Hip Hop summit. She's now a consultant for the Lamont campaign organizing street teams. In 2004, there was an 18 point bump among African-American youth, and a 22 point bump among Latino youth. No one really knows why the youth vote increased because there hasn't been a lot of research, but the environment of celebrity embrace of politics, combined with organizing work on the ground, probably has helped.

Alexis is a political scientist who taught at Wesleyan and Yale, and focuses on urban politics. She gave me a brief history of organizing. The civil rights movement era organizations worked through the churches and through campus networks. This generation is different. Though the church and campus networks are still critical, they aren't reaching everyone anymore, and it's possible to identify and work through different social networks as a complement.

For inexperienced and drop-off voters in urban areas, the message and the messenger have to be linked. In order for a message to be credible, the information has to come through outlets that are trusted. If your barber says something, you know it's meaningful because that person can relate to your life and community in a fundamental way. They see life like you see life. TV is just not trusted, and though it's very powerful, it doesn't create the framework through which you can understand the politics. It tends to have little effect on drop-off voters, except to encourage them not to vote because it's all meaningless.

McGill's specialty is testing and organizing non-traditional field strategies for people of color. Her teams are not going church by church, but barbershop by barbership, club by club, and salon by salon. I've put up pictures of the vans that the teams travel in - the Kiss float has become famous all around Connecticut, having been on the road in a relatively small state for a few months, as well as in and out of the news. People love the van and recognize the float. It's nicknamed the JGG-mobile.

The street team strategy is an important way to complement and connect and meet people where they are, with the same messaging that this election is about accountability. What's capturing people is not just bring the troops home, but the idea that our spending priorities are out of whack. Alexis is saying that ever since that $80B number came out, the discussion has been about the money going into the sands in Iraq instead of schools, health care, etc.

Lamont's messaging of accountability and new priorities has successfully tapped into the mindset of the African-American community, and the celebrity culture has arrived. Maxine Waters, Danny Glover, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson have all stumped for Lamont, and they bring crucial credibility to the Lamont campaign, as they are all extremely influential celebrity figures in the African-American community. Now the the street teams, which have been operational for two weeks, are bringing the messaging through trusted influential local figures.

Of course, it's not at all clear that this is going to work. The street teams haven't been operating for that long, and there's huge disaffection in urban communities since Democrats often just show up and ask for votes a few weeks before an election. Ned gets a little break from the cynicism, since people know that his race wasn't viable until a few months ago, and the messaging environment that has been created has made the organizing much easier. People are more receptive to the conversation about getting rid of Joe Lieberman, and Lamont is generally well-liked when people meet him.

I just also met Allen Taylor and Randall Jennings, who are one of Lamont's street teams. They say that the messaging is working, and that people haven't seen Joe in their communities for a really long time, if ever. Say what you will about this strategy, but it's very much not Beltway thinking, and very much not the Beltway consultariat.

What Matt may not realize is that the van is done like a record company street van, which creates a visual language that is immediately apparent to anyone under 40. It says the campaign has a clue in a way endorsements don't. It also speaks to Latino and Black youth in a familiar idiom.

If Lieberman and his people had had a clue, they would have hired Professor McGill instead of that "urban" expert, in really, the street money bag man, they got from DC.

While vote or die has been the source of much humor among black comedians, it was effective in getting people to the polls. McGill, realizes, like I've said, that reaching black voters goes beyond buying off a few ministers.

While I haven't harped on it to the people in Connecticut, because they're nervous, I thought the Lieberman plan to hire a bunch of people was doomed. Lamont has been able to harness the community persuaders to work for him, and they are not teenage kids.

The Lamont campaign seems to understand that you cannot reach black voters on raw emotion alone.

Anothet thing McGill did was make sure that the Lamont campaign wouldn't run away from people like Sharpton and Waters, who while unpopular with whites, especially white Republicans, they have a great deal of credibility with black voters, as well as Danny Glover does.

Lieberman is hurt by the same thing in the cities as in the towns, he simply hasn't been around.

Which is why Chuck Schumer won't be going anywhere. He is on TV every week dealing with a local issue. You don't have to guess at what he's doing. He may not be on my block, but I know he's working for the city.

posted by Steve @ 12:54:00 PM

12:54:00 PM

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