Andrew Murcia

Winning Liberty: Grassroots Precinct Organization

by Andrew Murcia

Many Libertarians may be skeptical of taking advice from a Republican—especially a Republican passing along lessons he learned from a Democrat. Lucky, then, that “most political technology is philosophically neutral,” as Morton Blackwell, founder and president of the non-partisan Leadership Institute, is fond of saying. Even if we won’t be borrowing from the old parties’ platforms, we shouldn’t be shy about borrowing their tactics.

With that in mind, I tuned in to a recent Leadership Institute webinar on grassroots organizing. The Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides training for conservative activists. The webinar was hosted by Kyle Baccei, Communications Manager, and JC Hernandez, Director of Grassroots Coalitions and veteran of the Romney and Rubio campaigns.

So what is grassroots precinct organizing? It’s building an activist and volunteer base from the ground up, and organizing it at the neighborhood or precinct level. Traditionally, this has meant appointing a “Precinct Captain” to oversee voter outreach in his or her neighborhood.

Why is grassroots precinct organization so important? According to JC, “person-to-person contact is still the most effective method in organizing and persuading voters”. And the numbers bear it out: in 2012, the Obama campaign was able to use neighborhood organization to register hundreds of thousands of new voters in key swing states like Florida, Colorado, and Nevada. In all three states, the number of new voters registered by the Obama campaign was greater than Obama’s margin of victory on Election Day. In other words, it’s very likely that grassroots organizing won the 2012 presidential election.

We can emulate the Obama campaign’s best practices to build the Libertarian Party, neighborhood by neighborhood. Let’s examine what those are:

 

1) Start Early.

 

“You can’t throw up some phone banks in late summer and call that organizing,” said Jeremy Bird, National Field Director of Obama for America.

As party activists, we’re well positioned to take this advice to heart. We can do the hard work between elections that will bring us success when election season finally comes around.

As a party, it’s important to start building our organization at the neighborhood level now. But that still leaves open the question of how our organization should be, well, organized.

 

2) Build an organic, decentralized grassroots organization.

 

The Obama 2012 campaign succeeded in part because it organized its grassroots efforts by neighborhood, rather than by artificial precinct boundaries. People have a much better idea of where their neighborhoods begin and end than where obscure precinct lines start and stop.

After establishing organic areas of responsibility for each volunteer, the Party must prepare for the eventuality of losing people. Even for dedicated activists, life sometimes gets in the way of giving a campaign all you’ve got.

The Obama campaign’s solution was to decentralize responsibility. Rather than appointing a single “Precinct Captain” responsible for all outreach within a given area, it implemented a “Neighborhood Team Structure”. Campaign staffers would recruit a “Neighborhood Team Leader”, who would be charged with recruiting and training “Core Team Members” such as a Phone Bank Captain, Door-to-Door Captain, Digital Captain, and coalition-specific Captains (Students for Obama, Hispanics for Obama, etc.). These core team members would, in turn, recruit still more volunteers to pitch in an hour here or there. And this structure was repeated in countless neighborhoods, building a formidable and flexible network of grassroots support.

A happy side effect of giving out all these titles was to increase volunteers’ “buy-in”. Volunteers in leadership positions are much more likely to feel they have a personal stake in the success of the campaign. 60% of Neighborhood Team Leaders, for instance, spent 10+ hours volunteering per week.

While local Libertarian Party volunteers won’t be able to sustain that kind of weekly time commitment when no election is pending, even a fraction would yield huge dividends.

 

3) Keep the information flowing.

 

Libertarian Party events, student organizations like Young Americans for Liberty and Students for Liberty, and community meetings are all great places to find new Neighborhood Team Leaders and other volunteers. Failing there, cold calls and knocking on the doors of registered Libertarians works too. However we find them, we should keep good records. Maintaining a supporter database is crucial, whether it’s on a platform like Nation Builder or Voter Gravity, or a simple Excel/Google Docs spreadsheet.

Volunteers should be kept up-to-date on the Party’s message. And they should update the Party’s voter database whenever they find supporters, undecideds, or detractors.

When it’s time to campaign, the Party can use such records to turn out supporters, persuade undecideds, and avoid wasting our time on that small percentage of voters who just don’t like freedom.

 

Building an effective grassroots network is key to the Libertarian Party’s long-term success. Even if we can’t replicate the scale of the old parties’ campaigns (yet), it can only help to start building now.

My thanks to the Leadership Institute for the informative webinar. I strongly encourage anyone interested in shrinking government to attend one of the Institute’s many trainings—you can find a list at www.leadershipinstitute.org/training.

And be sure to catch the next free online webinar on Video Activism, scheduled for Wednesday, March 18th, at 12 p.m. PST. Register at http://www.leadershipinstitute.org/live/?ID=26867.

 

Andrew Murcia lives in Sherman Oaks, and will be attending law school at UCLA in fall of 2015.  He is a graduate of USC with a B.A. In Political Science and History, and a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Law.