On Saturday afternoon, April 11, 2015, Tim Meegan's campaign gathered 40+ people to discuss creation of an independent precinct organization & ways to organize Chicago's Ward 33 communities going forward.
After an hour I had to leave to visit a friend at Marianjoy Hospital in Wheaton.
[Below the jump is my reaction to the meeting.]
First the positives:
Tim Meegan & his campaign staff did a great job in the February 24 election.
Turning a campaign organization into an ongoing force for good is the right thing to do.
I'm a huge fan of Northside DFA, which grew out of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. Meegan's campaign resonated with enough people his campaign could become the base of a serious political or community organization.
And this is no small thing. Most campaigns don't become something ongoing because they lack the je ne sais quoi that causes people to keep meeting and keep fighting for their values.
Things that are concerns or that I would have preferred be done differently.
Platform vs. values. Chris Poulos, who had been Meegan's campaign manager & led the meeting at times, was very committed to having the Meegan platform as the central organizing document.
At Netroot Nations 2014, Howard Dean emphasized the importance of talking to people in terms of values. People connect with values and question specifics.
Northside DFA has the mission: to elect socially progressive, fiscally responsible & ethically committed Democrats to all levels of government. It's short and it speaks to values.
Asking people to join an organization that supports the values of a campaign for alderman... What about other levels of government? Also, a potential member has other issues, how does s/he fit into the organization?
Diversity. In the 2010 Census Ward 33 was 52.9% Latino, 32.3% White, 9.6% Asian & 3.9% African-American.
Saturday's meeting was overwhelmingly White.
It's a delicate balance. When organizing the people who show-up and are willing to work are the right people. But, it seems like there should be some acknowledgement that outreach needs to be part of building an organization that represents Ward 33.
Decisions. Before I left there was no discussion about how the group was going to make decisions.
On the spectrum of how Left Wing organizations make decisions there are organizations where one leader makes decisions, a small group of insiders or on the opposite, organizations that have members vote on routine decisions.
Campaigns tend to be centrally controlled. There's a candidate. And there's a person who holds the purse strings. These two make most of the decisions.
But in an organization that seeks to be ongoing & dynamic, the decision making process needs some consideration.
Empowering participants. This overlaps with the decision making. What is the process of letting participants in the organization set the agenda?
Lots of reformers really want to be machine bosses, convinced they will use the power for good.
I once got a ride from a close friend of a reasonably successful politician. S/he expressed the aspiration that the politician-friend would create a political machine that was as driven & disciplined as the Melrose Park machine (now run by Ron Serpico, formerly run by Augie Taddeo and before that Ralph Serpico).
Progressive organizers should respect being disciplined about being organized. But there's a reason a large number of Melrose Park figures have gone to prison, including Augie Taddeo & Ralph Serpico. THEY BROKE THE LAW.
How much is the Meegan organization willing to share decision making with members? We shall see.
What's next? There was little to no discussion of this before I left.
How to relate to Deb Mell. The dominant sentiment of the room was to expose Deb Mell as being a tool of Mayor 1% & his allies (privatizers, pension fund thieves & developers).
Deb Mell will do stuff for us if we make reasonable requests.
I doubt very many people want to join a club that aspires to expose Deb Mell as being a bad person.
It's not that Deb Mell will do anything for this new group. But I expect with the right approach she will do some stuff for the group.
Establishing a track record of getting Deb Mell to take action makes the group much more appealing to join than having monthly meetings to curse the Mell family.
Conclusion: The Meegan campaign has a great group of people. It will be a test of the groups leadership to see if the organization can retain the loyalty of Meegan campaign supporters & keep them working on constructive projects in Ward 33 communities.