By Amanda Eckerson ’07
In the last few days of any campaign, regardless of your party, a virus passes around the volunteers and organizers on the ground. It isn’t the flu, because they’ve been working hard. It isn’t strep, because they’ve been phone banking for hours. It’s a vicious case of Gidoudavote (pronounced Get-Out-The-Vote). Common side effects include cold feet, amnesia and a tendency to repeat the same motions over and over.
I was first exposed to this virus as an organizer for MoveOn.org in the 2004 election cycle. MoveOn’s message was beyond politics. While they supported Kerry, the idea of their campaign was community building. They wanted to create something sustainable, that lasted beyond the election cycle and could grow into a base for the next election and the next. It was a great idea. But then, like every other campaign in recent history, they devolved into the last three days of door knocking and literature dropping that had every symptom of Gidoudavote.
Unfortunately, we still have no cure. Despite all of the candidates talk about bringing change to Washington this year, they all ran identical and very traditional Get Out The Vote campaigns in New Hampshire this past week. Roughly 70 percent of volunteers were from out of state. Directives were top-down and based on models developed in the 1970’s. It was all walk-sheets and pencil scratchings, information collected only to be thrown out the next day, a massive influx of people and energy all directed at a non-sustainable form of interacting with people. It was “town hall meetings” with only a handful of locals, squeezed out by traveling fans (who can’t vote) and the media. It was Gidoudavote in full swing.
Today’s world, however, is different. While Gidoudavote lies dormant and cleverly disguises itself as semi-useful to our body politic during election years, it is clearly an unhealthy, if not harmful, disease for candidates and campaigns now. There are no housewives sitting at home waiting for their door to be knocked on. Recorded messages from your candidate have no effect if every other candidate is doing it. Literature that is glossy and unspecific is left on doorsteps and are practically indistinguishable from each other, despite the names. The media plays an unprecedented role, but the campaigns have very little influence over what is said. While there is the capability for bottom to top feedback between young organizers and local volunteers on the ground, they remain unable to change the system they are placed into, even when they know their “turf” better. This disease is paralyzing our politics.
Seeing the extent to which Gidoudavote has infiltrated campaign running exposes the extent to which politics and primaries have become hollow remnants of themselves. New Hampshire was like the carcass of the American body the disease was feeding off of, and if the heart of our politics wants to survive, it needs to kick this virus. The first step in doing that is understanding where it comes from. GOTV preys off the model of a community. Making three visits in one weekend to a house was designed for an age when neighbors knew neighbors. They weren’t Californians knocking on your door or tape recordings asking for your vote. They were people who knew you and cared about how you voted. Actually creating sustainable community groups would be a good place to start.
Furthermore, the root of GOTV is the idea that it’s all about numbers. In New Hampshire, however, people were already going to vote; they just didn’t know for who. If candidates want to distinguish themselves, running a campaign identical to everyone else is not the way to change that. Not only are there new and better ways to reach voters nowadays, there are also more creative ones. Let’s see these candidates take risk in the way they operate, maybe then we’ll have a real race.
In short, politics needs to truly be local again, and candidates need to pay attention to the states they’re running in, instead of importing a model that just doesn’t fit all. Instead of simply talking about change, a truly savvy campaign would change the way they run. They would integrate their organizers and their volunteers in a dialogue for change and activate their energy to generate new tactics and concepts for their states. They would focus on creating a sustainable base for their party, or themselves, in the general election. They would be daring enough to generate their own media, by staging events that were worth covering, to give us all a break from 24 coverage of nothing. The result would be a candidate, and a campaign, that was actually involving their supporters and generating a national dialogue.
That is the first step in bringing real change to America.