Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Please join (or renew) Independent Voters of Illinois, IVI-IPO

I will be mailing my dues to IVI-IPO (Wikipedia) later today. I know many of my friends in progressive politics have criticisms and reservations about the organization. I still want people to join. Your criticisms are valid, but IVI-IPO is good enough to justify the cost of membership.

For my dues, I can meet a variety of candidates at the "meet the candidates" function. And I can participate in the endorsement process. This allows me to ask my questions of the candidates. And I get to form my own impression of candidates running statewide and countywide.
Yes, there are many ways to criticize IVI-IPO. And I'll do some of it below the fold. However, unless you are rich enough to go to a bunch of political fundraisers, IVI-IPO is a way that a regular citizen can get access to a large number of political candidates. If it cost $500 to join, I'd expect the organization to be run better. But for a $35 investment, IVI-IPO is a pretty good deal.

Criticisms of IVI-IPO

Too few members, no plan for acquiring members

Progressive political power is tied to being able to mobilize people to address their grievances with action. IVI-IPO lacks the number of members necessary to wield political power.

Having too few members isn't an organizational sin by itself. What makes it a sin for IVI-IPO is that the organization lacks a plan for acquiring new members.

Too much internal feuding

I admire the Roman Catholic Church--more so in the past--for being able to maintain unity in diversity. IVI-IPO leadership feels like a church that's been stagnating. Key members of the organization are either feuding or playing out long established roles.

I don't get a sense of working toward a goal in the future. IVI-IPO feels like a club for political hobbyists who want validation for being right in the past, more than an organization working to implement a vision for the future.

One of the times David Igasaki recruited me to get active in IVI-IPO he was explicitly trying to get me to join his feud against another long-term IVI-IPO member. He knew I was skeptical of U.S. policy toward Israel and this person was an Israel supporter. Somehow, David Igasaki failed to persuade me that participating in an internal feud in IVI-IPO was going to change U.S. policy toward Israel.

Byzantine organizational structure

A major excuse I've been given for IVI-IPO being stuck doing things the way it does is that the bylaws give each chapter significant ability to thwart anything.

I think this was a defense mechanism against a hostile takeover by the establishment (the Machine) buying up enough memberships to change IVI-IPO. It worked, but its given the organization "feet of clay" in making changes.


Create and implement a plan to acquire members

Joining IVI-IPO requires paying nominal dues. Plenty of progressive organizations have created and implemented plans to acquire new members. The door-to-door canvass and direct mail are probably the two most frequent ways to acquire members. IVI-IPO is small enough that it could get a significant bump by reacquiring lapsed members and asking members to refer their personal connections.

Require chapters to recruit new members

Since IVI-IPO has a chapter-based organizational framework, it would probably make sense to require chapters to acquire a certain number of members a year.

It would do the chapter good to be out talking to new people every year.

And if chapter leaders aren't ____ enough to organize membership acquisition in their area, does it make sense to let them veto other people's ideas? Lead, follow or get out of the way.

Improve candidate questionnaire

This is an area where IVI-IPO does some good stuff, but fails to live up to its potential.

At 120+ questions, numerous people have observed the questionnaire is too long.

I've come around to the position that I can live with a comprehensive (lengthy) questionnaire for state legislative candidates. These candidates often lack a track record on issues. And it's easy to not respond to most organizations' questionnaires. Also, these organizations don't usually publish their responses.

Candidates for federal office (Congress) don't have much potential to fly below the radar. So, the questionnaire should be shortened.

Also, the thrust of the candidate questionnaire is backward looking. The questionnaire seeks to get candidates to say that progressives were right about issues in the past. Asking about ERA? Taft-Hartley? Really?

It seems more useful to ask about a candidate's plans and priorities for the future than to ask about decisions that were made decades ago.

Record candidate presentations and put them online

Having the short presentations and Q&A sessions on You Tube or some other site would be useful to people who want to be diligent voters, but don't have the time to attend the sessions.

Review bylaws

Many of IVI-IPO's quirks are either written into the bylaws or made hard to change because the bylaws make it hard to change direction of the organization.


I don't expect IVI-IPO is ready to embrace "best practices" for non-profits and go to a small board that is empowered to do whatever. This would allow the organization to be more nimble and effective, but it wouldn't feel like IVI-IPO.

But maybe there's a way to have a two-track decision process. Endorsements would retain the current process. And certain organizational matters, like membership acquisition would be decided by a small board of people who were trained in organizational management.

And there should probably be term limits. Usually non-profit board members decline in effectiveness after about six years. The organization should be grooming new leadership.

Create a check against chapters being captured by individual committeemen

Within IVI-IPO there was grousing that one of the north chapters was run by Ald. Gene Shulter's organization. I didn't understand why it was so hard to recruit a dozen people to outvote Shulter's crew, but whatever.

The South Chapter has a similar relationship with Toni Preckwinkle's organization. I went to a South Chapter meeting and volunteered to be a delegate and was officially slated. After the meeting it was learned (by Ivory Mitchell, I assume) that I had made a comment on Facebook, "Nothing says 'independent' like holding meetings at the Democratic committeeman's office." To address my insolence, Ivory's crew ran a write-in candidate against me in the mail-in election.

If the South Chapter is so prickly about being overlapping with Preckwinkle's organization, there's a problem. Chapters should have a critical mass of independent members or they should cease being recognized as chapters.

Expectations of officers

Right now it's not clear what's expected of officers except attending meetings. If IVI-IPO wants to accomplish more, it should expect more of its officers.

Measure the organizations reputation

There are a couple ways to do this.

1. After the endorsement process, IVI-IPO should ask candidates and campaigns that participated if they got a fair shake. I think this would be useful feedback.

2. It's probably worth IVI-IPO coming up with a way of surveying the broader progressive community in the Chicago area. IVI-IPO has been reduced to a source of endorsements. The value of endorsements are tied to the credibility of the organization and the process. Measuring the credibility of IVI-IPO would give the organization a goal to improve its own credibility.


  1. Northside DFA created a far superior mechanism for keeping the Democratic Party hacks from hijacking the organization.

    To vote on endorsements, one has to attend three meetings per year and volunteer on three campaign activities.

    This is a high enough barrier, NDFA doesn't have the problem of a bunch of workers from Streets & San joining the organization to influence the endorsement process.

  2. One of the things that regularly happens in NDFA votes, especially votes requiring 90% agreement (adoption votes) is that David Igasaki almost always votes "no".

    He's usually quibbling over some minor detail, or holding out to get his way on something.

    David Igasaki would rather try to manipulate a process through using (abusing) the rules than try to achieve what he wants by building consensus and persuasion.

    DI is a lawyer, so it's probable that he's been trained to think that way. But it's also indicative of how I see the IVI-IPO culture.

    Instead of creating something that's open, inclusive and transparent, IVI-IPO's instinct is to assert control (in the hands of the right people, of course).

    It's frustrating. IVI-IPO often seems to be the anti-Machine version of an old fashioned ward organization.

  3. Another important difference with NDFA is that membership is free. Not that joining IVI-IPO is expensive (starts at $15 for low-income/student, up to $35 for individuals), but it makes a big difference psychologically as behavioral economics researchers have been learning.

    While the time investment that NDFA requires for voting membership is probably costlier for most people than simply writing a check for $15-35, it's not impossible for the process to be hijacked by a determined machine organization. But it does prevent the group from being sandbagged at the last minute, which is not the case with IVI-IPO where organized mass sign-ups right before the endorsement deadline sounds pretty common.

  4. Carl, if you're trying to combat internal feuding, I don't think calling out David like that is going to help the cause.

    And maybe I'm clueless, but I've never seen David (nor any other NDFA voting member, for that member) use the adoption vote as some kind of bargaining chip. I've been on the 'no' side of adoption votes more often than not, and it's probably been the case that at some point vote's made the difference on whether the motion passed or failed, much to the consternation of the other not-quite-nine-out-of-ten members voting. I can't speak for every anti-adoption voter, but in my case the decision has always been a matter of looking at the candidate, the overall election picture, and what's best for NDFA.

    The adoption voting process highlights two important differences between NDFA and IVI-IPO: size and diversity. Adoption's 90% threshold represents the unanimous sense of the group, along with the recognition that true unanimity is almost impossible in all but the smallest groups. Were NDFA to ever grow as large and diverse as IVI-IPO, much less cultivate a similar cultural heritage, I would be amazed (but pleased) to see any adoption votes pass.

    Dissension is a given for any group who's raison d'etre is political change. As any such group increases in size, so too will the likelihood for dissent. This is even more so when they are culturally, racially and geographically diverse as IVI-IPO's is. The key is to find ways to keep dissension from becoming divisiveness, and to channel it in a way that allows the group see the common goals and be able to focus on those with maximum effect.

    1. When David Igasaki blocked adoption of the Guzzardi campaign he explicitly said he was holding it up until NDFA adopted Zaragoza. Being that the Guzzardi campaign was supporting Zaragoza's campaign, it was socially awkward for all concerned.

      Igasaki has cast more "no" votes on 90% to pass than anyone in the organization--by a whole bunch.

  5. IVI-IPO is an organization that outlived its original mission to fight the Richard J. Daley machine. Since, they do not appear to have the stomach to do it all over again with Richie II or now with Rahm. They need new members and an overhaul of their rules. It would be good to see this organization revive and rededicate itself as it appears to be needed. I agree that NSDFA is more inoculated from being appropriated than is the current IVI-IPO, however, it's not for a good reason. NSDFA, I see it as a social club that features political trash talk and beer. Has there ever been a meeting without beer flowing freely? The group could be useful if it narrowly targeted its mission to very local elections. It does appear to be useful for a self-starter, such as John Arena, to use as a springboard. Giving some confidence to those interested in running in very localized elections is a good thing. These people could probably do it without NSDFA, but having the backup appears to give some people the extra lift in confidence they may need. However,in and of itself, NSDFA has shown that it has little ability to have any real impact on any election. For starters, by their own limited business model, they appear to discourage new membership and using the skills of its membership. They appear to have a monarchical system for transferring power--like modern dictatorships, the new leaders are anointed by the old leaders. They also have a tendency to fall into groupthink and they ignore and ostracize anyone who may disagree rather than exploring the disagreement for potential truth. For example, sending hate mail into the IL-10 referring to the candidate and presumably his supporters as one who... "goosesteps with the Likud fanaticism" was probably not helpful unless you are supporting the Republican. Less beer, better leadership and more strategic thinking and discipline would do NSDFA a world of good.

  6. Well, Ellen, it's very clear you've never been to one of our monthly meetings. Maybe all the events you went to were social events, but to call our meetings as driven by beer is to show real ignorance. Also real ignorance about the flow of leadership within the organization - and the development of new leaders. Our members are independent people who do not march in lockstep with the leadership, so calling NDFA out for the emails of one member who did not send them on behalf of the organization is ludicrous. No one from NDFA sent any mail, snail or email, into the 10th as a representative of the organization. If you don't like NDFA, fine, but your arguments come off sounding petty and vindictive.