Project Wonderful

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

For Those Of Us Who Are REALLY Campaignsick, Canvassing Flash Game!

One of my tumblr followers turned me on to this street canvassing video game. I have to say, it's embarrassingly addictive and I'm a little iffy on my feelings on street canvassing to begin with. Plus, it lets my character have red hair! I dare you, try it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ask An Election Nerd: What Should I Do in College?

I have gotten sooooo many questions about what to do in college to prepare for organizing jobs. I have to tell you, I am kind of at a loss because I was not expecting to work in domestic politics during college at all and was not particularly political except for my work as an LGBT activist (I know, I know). Some of you have heard this before, but I was actually focused on getting a job with the CIA after college and only took my first campaign job to have something to do during my security clearance. The rest, as they say, is history.

So the good news is there is nothing you have to do in college to be prepared for a campaign job. You can not plan on being an organizer and just come out and be one. You don't even need a college degree to be an FO, although I HIGHLY, HIGHLY suggest you get one. Having said that, here are some suggestions for things that might help.

1) Take Spanish and Computer Science. These are just good life skills to have as well. Many campaigns require a knowledge of Spanish and almost all campaigns value the skill. I was a Russian major who also took French, which I loved, but have often wished I was less like Bob Loblaw in this regard. As a data nerd, who didn't realize I was one until I became an organizer, and now as a blogger I have also often wished I knew some basic HTML or programming. Whatever you wind up doing, it's a really good ace to have in the hole.

2) Join a sorority...or something else. I know that Greeks have gotten a bad rap in the news and especially in the feminist community lately, but being in a sorority was probably the decision that best prepared me to be a field organizer. It taught me time management, how to get along with and lead a diverse group of people, creative problem solving, loyalty, and how to sit through long boring meetings. It is worth noting that Greeks have higher GPA's than overall collegiate GPA's and that 70% of all cabinet members have been fraternity and sorority members. That said, I understand that Greek life at the East Coast liberal elitist institutions I attended is very different from that on some other campuses, so this choice may not be for you. In any case, I would encourage you to become active on campus and take on a leadership role whether it be through the College Democrats, a sports team or a community service organization.

3)Read the news. Back in my day, we didn't have twitter to deliver quick headlines about what's going on the world. I used to marvel at how well informed my classmates were. Sign up for breaking news alerts, especially on topics of domestic politics, subscribe to some good twitter feeds and keep yourself well informed. I feel like I would have gotten so much more out of my class discussions if I had done that. (Yes, I know this sounds obvious in retrospect.)

4)Get B's. Your parents are probably going to kill me for this, but let me explain. One thing you learn about women's workforce participation and the leaky pipeline is that women tend to excel beyond men in college, but earn lower starting salaries and get promoted at a slower pace. Besides good old fashioned sexism, one of main the causes of this phenomenon is that unlike college the workforce is not a meritocracy. In Midlife Crisis at 30, Gail Evans explains that for these reasons rather than excel academically she chose to learn in classes and get experiences. I had a similar ethos when it came to my undergraduate education, albeit for my own reasons. The one time I have ever regretted the choice to settle for a B+ GPA in college was applying to grad school, but I just graduated with my MPA from Columbia so it all worked out.

5)Intern or volunteer on campaigns. One of the best ways to learn whether you want to do something for a living is to try doing it. Many people even take a semester off from school to be organizers, which is great but as I have advised before do not take more than one semester lest you never return. Volunteering will also help you get a head start on organizing jobs, networking and making friends. I am sure many of our readers would be happy to have you! If you are looking for a volunteer position or unpaid internship in your area feel free to message the blog and I am happy to share.

You're in college. You only get to be in college once. So for all of us who look back on that time wistfully, make sure to have the experiences you want, make mistakes and most importantly have fun.

Campaign Love and Mine,

Ask An Election Nerd: Small Campaign Blues

I have gotten this question (in various forms) a lot lately.
I worked for OFA as an FO in NC this past year and loved the intensity, but now I'm on a smaller municipal election and find myself bored and unchallenged. We have a lot of vols and are in a very competitive race but I have nothing to do during the day (I don't understand why we all have to be at the office all day when we can't make calls or canvass). I was looking into a gubernatorial or congressional race in the future, but am reconsidering for fear they will be as boring as this one. Are other races as intense as Presidential ones and what should I do outside of call time and canvassing?

I think I answered some of these questions here, so please read that entry first, but I'd like to use this space to further expound.

First of all, I would say yes, Senate, competitive Gubernatorial and even some larger Congressional races have much more in common with Presidential races. Even the NYC Mayor's race is a pretty huge operation. You get that statewide (or at least several-office wide) family feeling and organizer responsibilities and goals tend to be strictly delineated and hierarchy more enforced. There also tends to be more excitement and media attention surrounding the race. In full disclosure, I prefer this model but there are definite benefits to smaller races. Again, please read more here.

Second of all, all races move more slowly at the beginning. Many organizers did not join OFA until 6 months or later out from the election, when things are naturally busier and more exciting. Longer campaigns are marathons, not sprints. I learned this the hard way when I burnt myself out going from a 3 month Senatorial to a year-long stint as an organizer in the Iowa caucus. Maybe you just haven't geared up yet.

That said, I have been on smaller races that were absolutely as intense a Presidential.You should not feel like you have nothing to do. This seems to me like a failure in management. What's going on here? If you can't do voter contact (why can't you do voter contact?) during these hours I would talk to your boss. Find out what she expects from you during these hours and how else can you be useful to the campaign. Often on smaller campaigns organizers straddle field/finance/candidate staffing responsibilities, so maybe there is work for you elsewhere. I am a big believer in working smarter and harder rather than longer for longer's sake. Like any managerial campaign relationship, your supervisors need to respect your time. It's okay if you're not pulling 12 hour days in the beginning, but if you are pulling 12 hour days, there should be a reason.

I can hear your frustration and I feel for you. Time-wasting is my biggest pet peeve of all! Keep us updated on how it turns out!

Campaign Love and Mine,

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Oh Your God, you guys.

None of my candidates ever claimed they were endorsed by Jesus. This is a real screen shot of this woman's website. I wish I had caught this yesterday before she came in last place. I wonder how she justifies that.

Advocate From Where You Stand: Douchebag Edition

If you haven't heard about the recent backlash to Abercrombie and Fitch owner Mike Jeffries' lame-ass comments about his company's branding, you can read about it here. Basically it boils down to, "We don't make larger sized clothes for women because we only target beautiful popular people and you can only be beautiful or popular if you look the way I, Mike Jeffries, dictate." You can read some of this other greatest hits (including how 'cute' he thinks little girls look in thongs--okay Mister cool-not-at-all-creepy-bro.) here.

I actually feel bad for Jeffries and not in that self-righteous smug "well if he doesn't understand that beauty is more than skin deep will he ever truly be rich" way, although that too. Mike Jeffries is basically a middle school girl and can you think of anything worse than living your entire life as a middle school girl? Anything? Think about it. Who are the only people that think wearing Abercrombie and Fitch makes you cool? Middle school girls. What kind of people think that beauty is a zero sum game? Also Middle School girls. Worse yet, if Mike Jeffries were a middle school girl, he would not be one of the popular ones. A quick google image search reveals what I would describe as Gary Busey on steroids and what the above video even more comically describes as old man Biff from Back to the Future. He would be worse off than the unpopular kids, he would be the unpopular kid that THINKS he's one of the popular kids but who all the popular kids secretly ridicule behind his back. So yeah, he sucks but when I was an angsty unpopular middle schooler I was a pretty big asshole too, so I can't really blame him.

Having said that, there are obvious implications for actual middle schools girl and the population at large about what attitudes like Jeffries' contribute to the public conversation about self-worth and body image. Those implications are bad. I've been meaning to screw up my courage to write about the OUTRAGEOUS fat-phobia and understanding of women's bodies as public commodities that pervades our culture but so far all I can manage is an extended shriek.

However, this guy, this Greg Karber guy belongs in the Advocate From Where You Stand Hall of Fame. He bought a bunch of Abercrombie clothing from thrift stores and gave them out to people who are homeless. HOW YOU LIKE YA BRANDING NOW, JEFFRIES? I a little bit want to do this.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

This is What Voter Fraud Actually Looks Like

Via The Voting News

Prosecutors are investigating allegations of voter fraud in Little Armenia, part of a Los Angeles City Council district where two candidates are waging a bitter battle for an open seat. According to a spokeswoman for L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, prosecutors are trying to determine whether backers of one candidate illegally filled out mail-in ballots for dozens of voters in the Armenian enclave in East Hollywood. The May 21 election will decide who succeeds Eric Garcetti, who is running for mayor. In a complaint sent to Lacey’s office, an attorney for candidate John Choi accused backers of Choi’s opponent, Mitch O’Farrell, of “widespread voter fraud and illegal electioneering activities.”

The complaint alleges that O’Farrell campaign workers filled out voters’ ballots for their candidate while telling them they were voting for Sam Kbushyan, a candidate of Armenian descent who ran and lost during the primary election.

Kbushyan and many of his former campaign volunteers are now working on behalf of O’Farrell.

The O’Farrell campaign rebuts the allegations, saying it was Choi workers who filled out and took ballots from voters. “These are Choi people who are doing this,” O’Farrell spokeswoman Renee Nahum said.

Nahum said the campaign plans to file its own complaint with the district attorney that will include testimony from voters who said they gave their ballots to Choi campaign workers who claimed that they were representing Kbushyan.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Election Words

I'd like to demonstrate one of the many things I did not like about my grad school. I was writing a report with a group of my classmates for a big consulting client and in that report I used the terms "first past the post" and "proportional representation." One of my classmates strenuously objected to me using these terms because they were "jargon" and she didn't know what they meant. First, call me my father's daughter, but I thought we went to an ivy league public policy school where at the very least if you are unfamiliar with a term you look it up. Second, I don't want to live in a world where public professionals not only don't know the difference between a first past the post and proportional representation system, but they assume that the people who work at our most prominent international peace and governance organization don't either. (Spoiler alert: those words wound up all over our report.) So lest you fall victim to my particular brand of snobbery and because as someone who gives you advice, I thought you should know, here are some common electoral system terms and their definitions*:

(Absolute) Majority- More than half.

Plurality (Aka Relative Majority)- Used in elections when somebody gets the most of anyone else, but not necessarily more than half.

First Past the Post- (Aka Winner Takes All or Simple Plurality) The candidate(s) with the highest number of votes win(s).

Single Member Legislative District- A district that returns one member to a body (for example Congress) that has multiple members.

Single Seat Plurality- The winner of the one seat in question is the person with the most votes.

Multiple Member First Past the Post- The first number of candidates, in order of highest vote, corresponding to the number of positions to be filled are elected. (If there are six vacancies then the first six candidates with the highest vote are elected.)

Fusion Voting (Aka Electoral Fusion)- two or more political parties on a ballot list the same candidate, pooling the votes for that candidate.

Proportional Representation- System in which the number of seats won by a party or group of candidates is proportionate to the number of votes received by that group.

Party List Proportional Representation- System in which parties make lists of candidates to be elected, and seats get allocated to each party in proportion to the number of votes the party receives.

Closed List- A party list proportional representation in which the voters effectively vote for party and do not have any influence over in which the candidates who represent them are elected.

Open List- A party list proportional representation in which the voters effectively vote for party and have some influence over the specific candidates who represent them or the order in which they are elected.

Constituency- in this case voting distict (I know, mind blown.)

Preferential Voting/Rank Order Voting (Aka Preferential Voting)- Voters place candidates in order of preference (1st,2nd,3rd...)

Borda Count- Votes are counted by assigning a point value to each place in the hierarchy, and the choice with the largest number of points is selected.

Instant Runoff Voting (Aka Alternative Vote)- Type of preferential voting in which if no candidate gets a majority of votes, the votes voters cast for the candidate that received the smallest number of first preference rankings are redistributed to those voters' second choice and so on until some candidate receives a majority.

Single Transferable Vote- a voting system designed to achieve proportional representation through ranked voting in multi-seat constituencies. Voters have a single vote that is initially allocated to his or her most preferred candidate, and then, as the count proceeds and candidates are either elected or eliminated, is transferred to other candidates according to the voter's stated preferences, in proportion to any surplus or discarded votes.

Supplementary vote- Voters express a first and second choice of candidate only, and, if no candidate receives an absolute majority of first choice votes, all but the two leading candidates are eliminated and the votes of those eliminated redistributed according to their second choice votes to determine the winner.

Range Voting- Voting method for one-seat elections under which voters score each candidate, the scores are added up, and the candidate with the highest score wins.

Bucklin Voting- System in which all votes on all ballots that are above some threshold are counted, and then adjusting that threshold down until a majority is reached.

Exhaustive Ballots- System in which a voter casts a single vote for his or her favorite candidate. If no candidate is supported by an overall majority of votes then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and a further round of voting occurs.

Open Primary- Primary election in which voters can vote in any party primary regardless of their party affiliation.

Closed Primary- People may vote in a party's primary only if they are registered members of that party prior to election day. Non-affiliated voters cannot participate.

Semi-closed Primary- Registered party members can vote only in their own party's primary. Unaffiliated voters can vote in any party's primary.

Parallel Voting (Aka Mixed Member Majoritarian)- System in which voters in effect participate in two separate elections for a single chamber using different systems, and where the results in one election have little or no impact on the results of the other. For example, in the Mexican Chamber of Deputies and Chamber of Senators some Deputies and Senators are election in first past the post election and some are elected in a proportional representation system.

Plurality at Large Voting (Aka Block Voting or Multiple Non-Transferable Vote)- A non-proportional voting system for electing several representatives from a single multi-member electoral district using a series of check boxes and tallying votes similar to a plurality election. Although multiple winners are elected simultaneously, block voting is not a system for obtaining proportional representation; instead, the usual result is that the largest single group wins every seat by electing a slate of candidates.

Direct Election- A system of choosing political officeholders in which the voters directly cast ballots for the person, persons or political party that they desire to see elected (as opposed to voters electing electors who then cast a vote for the office holder.)

*Note that these definitions were crossed referenced with Wikipedia and sometimes ripped or paraphrased therefrom.
** In full disclosure, some of these I did not know before I went to grad school.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sh*t Non-Campaign People Say

The day after this past general election I got a gchat from one of my best friends from high school. This was our conversation:

Him: Last night was so much fun! My friend had an election watch party at her house and we had the cupcakes with donkeys on them. We stayed up all night partying and when he won it was insane people were crying and dancing and hugging each other, even if they didn't know each other.

Me: That's know my candidate didn't win.

Him: Oh, I didn't realize that.

Me: I'm glad you had fun. Why did you have a party? Did you wind up volunteering with the Obama campaign?

Him: No, I was too busy. We were going to have a fundraiser at the law school but I decided it was too much work.

Me: Okay, I gotta go meet my coworkers. I'm glad you had fun.
If you're like me and you work on campaigns, the above conversation made you cringe. It feels like a Highlights Magazine, "Can you spot the mistakes?" I've often teased (and fought with) this friend over his sometimes oblivious behavior, but I also know he is the last person in the world who would intentionally say something hurtful to me. I've been meaning to tackle this issue for a while and last night's loss in conjunction with some recent scandals in New York politics reminded me that it is long overdue. If you have friends or family who do my job or something like it check out these common campaign scenarios for what we do and definitely don't want to hear:

Don't Say...
Did you win? In today's age of google and google alerts, there is virtually no excuse for you not to know the answer to that question. If you are close enough with me to be getting in touch during such an emotional moment, then you are close enough to have learned my candidate's name and find out this information yourself. If the answer to your question is "no," the last thing I want to do is have that disappointing conversation with over and over again while I am still trying to comfort my candidate and my staff and tie up the inevitable loose ends. Even when the answer is yes, it's hurtful that at one of the most important moments of my professional life, you couldn't put in the minimal effort to check the local paper or set up a google alert.

Congratulations! It seems obvious not to congratulate someone until you know whether or not they've won an election, but it happens. I can't tell you how many congratulatory texts I got when we lost last November. I was extremely relieved and proud of our Senate and Presidential victories, and excited for and and proud of my friends who worked on them. I also did feel that I had a personal stake in these races, thanks to the organizers I'd mentored and campaigns for whom I'd volunteered and who read my blog. When I got congratulatory texts that acknowledged my work on these races as well a "better luck next time" in Texas, I was touched. When I got blanket congratulatory texts, I was annoyed mostly because I knew my compatriots who had been working much longer and harder than I had were getting them too. These texts, however well meaning, felt like they were saying, "well but in the grand scheme of things that little Congressional race isn't important." All elections are important especially the ones I work on or I wouldn't work on them. My efforts in Texas were valid, and more importantly my friends' were.

What you can say: (Since you will have looked up the election result...) I just saw that you won! Congratulations! (see below for what to say for a loss.)

On or off a campaign, I can't stand when someone says one of the following sentences:
Someone called/came to my house the other day and I was polite to them because of you. Really? You weren't polite to them because you are a good and decent person? You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't) how cruel and smug people can be when you're just calling them to ask for their vote. Field organizing can be incredibly draining and degrading, but we do it because we believe passionately in these candidates and causes--candidates and causes that will improve your lives as well as ours. It's pretty disheartening to imply that the only people who are obligated to treat us with respect are people who happen to know someone in the campaign world.

I find those phone calls really annoying. Great. No one asked you. That's what I've chosen to do with my life and you might not like it, but it's a necessary evil of my job. I find flossing really annoying, also homework, legal bills, nutrition advice and any form of artistic angst, but that's not the first thing I say to people I care about when it comes to their jobs, because that would be rude.

Those calls can't possibly do anything. You're right. I've devoted my life to something completely stupid and useless because I love getting chewed out by ignorant strangers on a daily basis. Phone calls work. There are studies to prove it. They probably work on you and you just don't realize it. It is a fact, not a matter of opinion or your individual experience. I don't tell doctors what treatments are effective, or sommeliers what wines go with fish. I'm the expert here, not you and I'm telling you they work. End of discussion.

What you can say: I got a political phone call at the house and it made me think of you. You're amazing to put up with all those rude people.

I don't have time to volunteer because... If we ask you to volunteer, that's one thing, but if you're in Ohio and I'm Florida in and you're just trying to assuage your guilt, take it somewhere else. Fundamentally we get that not everyone is going to volunteer on a campaign, I promise we do. On a day-to-day basis, however, the average field organizer spends about four hours straight making phone calls asking people to volunteer and another two hours doing so in the office or at events. It is enervating, humiliating work where people lie to your face and smirk about it. In order to do what it takes to win, we have to temporarily convince ourselves that volunteering on a campaign is the most important thing in the world and that people who don't do it are either ignorant or selfish. We don't want to think of you as "one of those people." When it comes to the issue of friends and family receiving volunteer recruitment calls, it's best to operate on a don't ask don't tell basis.

But you have to have ONE night off to hang out... No, I don't! I wish I did! I don't even have time to shower! I know you miss us, believe me, we miss you too, but it's bad enough to think about what we're missing back home without being made to feel guilty about it. Some things like engagements, break-ups, medical emergencies, deserve our attention and it's on us to be there for you at least via phone call no matter what, but for the most part we are under an enormous amount of pressure and it hurts when the people who we most count on for support don't get that.

What you can say: I miss you, but I am so proud of how hard you're working. I can't wait to do (activity you enjoy together) when you're done!

Unfortunately, a topic with which I have first hand experience.
What's going on? If I'm in a position to know, I can't tell you.

Did you know? Yep! I packed up my entire life and moved to the middle of nowhere at great peril to my relationships and health to work at less than minimum wage for John Edwards knowing he was a lying bag of garbage and that if he were to get the nomination it would be an irreparable disaster for the Democratic party. No, of course, not! How could you know me and think I would knowingly work for someone who would cheat on his wife while she had cancer, not to mention risk another four years of Republican presidency? I think of all the DON'Ts on this list, this one hurts the most. Really? Really?

I never trusted him. Well aren't we Holly Hindsight? I was wrong. I get it. It's embarrassing enough on its own without other people pointing out how "obvious" it was.

Politicians are all scum. Okay, to some extent, yeah. But I still do this job and so I have to believe that there are good guys out there somewhere. Look, in a democracy we get the leaders we deserve. A lack of faith in politicians and the political system is exactly what I'm fighting against big picture, and exactly why sleazy people get ahead. So while I know this is meant to make me feel better, it doesn't.

What you can say: I have no idea how you must be feeling. I love you and I'm sorry you're going through this.

The system is broken. Please see above.

Well what do you expect? It's Texas, South Carolina, etc. I have been guilty of saying this myself. "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown." The thing is a) as a campaign nomad I've already heard enough regional stereotypes to last me a lifetime and b) if we only worked safe races nothing would ever change. Campaign people should be commended for giving it their all in enemy territory, not treated like they've just returned from a fool's errand.

What you can say: I just saw. That's such a bummer. I hope you are proud of all your hard work and celebrating that tonight even though the result blows.

I get it. Campaign people can be narcissistic, one-track-minded pains in the butt. I should know; I am one and I live among them. Please understand though, we live our lives as public commodities all day every day. We take a lot of abuse and we CAN'T fight back because we are representing our cause or candidate. That's why we can be extra-sensitive in the brief interactions where those things are not at stake. The upside is if you can put up with us, we tend to reward you by extending the same passion and dedication we have for campaigns into our personal relationships.

Campaign Love and Mine,

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Ask An Election Nerd: Frequently Unsanswered Questions

I'm finally done with grad school!!!! I was so excited I couldn't fall asleep until like 8:00 AM and I have been watching episodes of the Nanny on YouTube since I woke up. I haven't been this unproductive in....well, never. I'm never this unproductive. Anyway, I am trying to get through my inbox (which I'm sorry, please keep submitting things, I love to hear from you) and I realized two themes keep coming and I keep deleting them. Please see below.

Why do you hate OFA?
I don't hate OFA! I love OFA! I especially love my amazing friends and followers who have worked for OFA! I am enormously aware of and grateful for the huge contributions both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns made to our field. Plus, you know, the President. What I don't love is when some people who have only ever worked for OFA totally discount the contributions of campaigns prior to 2008 or feel that they are entitled to something because they work/ed for the President. I don't like when former staffers or activists try to apply some of the principles employed by the Obama campaign that are inappropriate to more local races. In most cases, you're not gonna get a Neighborhood Team Leader to give up all of her weekends to work on an Assembly race. I recently posted two articles that were great at acknowledging what the Obama campaign did and didn't do. One is by Bryan Whitaker and one is an interview with Jim Messina.

What are the rules on campaign hookups/locationships?
There are rules? Whenever I think of a "rule" (don't do long distance, don't date someone who works for you...) I always come up with an exception. I know two great campaign couples who broke those rules and are now happily married. Every relationship is different and I can't give you advice without knowing a lot about you or your specific circumstance. I could tell you "don't do it" and save you the heartache, but then you would never have any fun. I also don't like to talk about my own or my friends' relationships on the blog because, you know, people read it. Be professional and treat other people with respect, but those are things you should probably do in or out of a campaign or a relationship.

All this not doing anything today is weirding me out and making me sleepy. Let's talk more tomorrow. Keep sending questions for me not to answer!