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 membersProgressive 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 feudingI 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 structureA 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 membersJoining 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 membersSince 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 questionnaireThis 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 onlineHaving 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 bylawsMany 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.
ChangeI 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 committeemenWithin 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 officersRight 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 reputationThere 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.