|WEAKNESSES OF RTC MODEL
If you live in a place that has a good RTC, competitive local elections, and enough Republicans, the RTC is a great place to combine effort across all levels of government.
But, there are all kinds of problems we have:
- If you live in places like Lawrence, Lennox, or Brighton - there isn't really any local committee that you can get involved in that does a lot of stuff. They mainly exist to support statewide races to the extent they can. It actually makes no sense to set up RTCs there. Take Brighton - where I live - as an example. Me and the 6% of Brighton that are Republican have only one thing in common: Brighton. But if we are only motivated for statewide elections (Boston City Council and Mayor are out-of-reach when Dems have 55% registration), our "Brightonness" is meaningless. We are just a headcount for the Scott Browns of the world who can't make political promises to my section of Brighton. We can't really sustain an active local organization that just helps a rare, motivating statewide candidate once in a while. That's not enough to get people to come to meetings.
- There is no easy way to know what events are happening near me, but not in my RTC or Ward. (RMG has a calendar, it is very incomplete and not that many people use it. The main state party website has only a few events in it.) Perhaps one town near me has a great event that I would gladly drive to.
- The average RTC is not a very diverse group of people, and people from non-traditional Republican demographics might not feel comfortable entering the Republican party by attending a meeting, even if that committee is in fact, very welcoming. We need additional entry points into party activity.
- People form powerful political relationships online (such as on RMG) yet there often is no place they can go and do something constructive for the party.
- RTCs don't share best practices. Rick Green said in his WTAG interview: "We need to take best practices and spread them throughout the commonwealth." We don't have a way to do that now.
A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: STARTING OVER
Here is an experiment to get the creative juices flowing:
Lets say that in the beginning of 2013, all existing Republican organizations statewide were dissolved. There is no legal requirement to have RTCs and Wards at all. You are tasked with organizing Republicans in Massachusetts. You are given the following information:
- There are ~450,000 Republicans in the state
- They are not only unevenly distributed, there are hardly any in some parts of the state (Boston, Lawrence, Lennox, Provincetown, etc.)
- Some are in places where there won't be any Republican office-holders above them (city, state rep, state senate).
- People are allowed to give time or money to any campaign they want in the state.
With that information, and with the power of online organizing and collaboration tools, would you really set up the RTC and Ward system statewide?
Of course not.
What would you do? Well, here is what I would do:
- Using registration records, I would set up RTCs in towns that met three conditions: where there Republican registration was above some threshold (15%?) and there were many unenrolled in our favor, and where there were local and state legislative races that were winnable, motiving local Republicans to elect people they know to govern their town. All other RTCs would be put on hold unless someone made a strong case. (Kirsten Hughes has sort of endorsed this, saying that we should stop focusing on places that don't have RTCs.)
The general idea is to plant RTCs in localities where they have a mission and opportunities to succeed. The rest of the effort is to connect all of the people in the state who can help on campaigns or donations or issues to those that need them, regardless of where they live. Every Republican should have some online home that gives him or her something useful to do, whether they live in Norfolk or Cambridge.
- I would get all RTCs into the same project management environment so they could all share resources and that the state committee could observe what they area all doing. (Probably Basecamp or maybe even Google Apps)
- I would set up a statewide site that showed all the races we were running, let people browse them according to several criteria, and then donate. (I covered this in the fundraising post.)
- I would set up a statewide voter database that would be usable by any Republican campaign or committee in the state. (I will do a separate RMG post on just this issue.)
- I would provide a simple, campaign-in-a-box toolset for any small or medium-sized campaign that wanted it and give it to them for free. (This would almost certainly be a NationBuilder site with a standard template, providing website, volunteer management, social media integration, email and text campaign management. I will cover more of this in the voter data post also because these sites should all be connected behind the scenes.)
- I would set up a public, online statewide directory of people with useful campaign skills that could be contacted, contracted, or asked questions about what they knew (movie editing, web development, graphic design, fundraising, etc).
- I would set up a statewide calendar of calendars that had the events of every RTC, online special interest group, and campaign. It would be searchable by zip code and interest so people could easily see what was going on that they could attend.
- I would create a variety of statewide special-interest sites, allowing sub-sites if they were warranted. The goal of each would be to get people interested in Republican issues and/or doing useful stuff to help the party. Some might be (yes we already have a few): Fishermen, Technologists, Business Leaders (yes, we have MFA), Women, Urbanites, and Religious Issues. I will get into what these sites might be like below.
- I would figure out how to enable Republicans in other states to help. I would keep that in mind when designing special interest sites for things like technology. If people from New Hampshire can collaborate on some piece of campaign technology, and both the NHGOP and MassGOP get it, we're all better off.
- I would create an online curriculum to train our activists and put it on the web for all to consume. It would feature campaign and organizing skills, material on running for office, social media instruction, and some political technology skills. This would be in addition to regional and local in-person training.
I will submit a more concrete plan to the SC, but here are some important things:
1. The RTCs should be able to see what all other ones are working on. If one has a great idea about holding an event, it should be discoverable by others. This environment will also be a repository that will hold assets during transitions and turnovers in RTC members. All of this activity should be exposed in some kind of RSS-type feed that the state committee could subscribe to. There are tools that can accomplish this cheaply.
2. The special interest group sites have to be thought out carefully. It won't be that helpful for them to be just a brochure and have discussions. Yes, there are good example websites like Rick Green's Mass Fiscal Alliance but I think we need to take it to another level. I think these sites should: route people to campaigns that are favorable to their issues, donate money to people and committees, promote online content that is about their needs, invite other people to join the effort, and discuss and improve various policy positions for campaigns and state legislators. I would consider a site that had gamification options (competitions for points and status), question and answer features and voting (like Quora and Stack Overflow and Google Moderator), and some focused discussions. Each site could also have regular group video chat Google+ Hangouts. (In fact, Mass Fiscal has a little of this already as a NationBuilder site, but it doesn't look like these features are being used. You could argue that using NationBuilder and sub-sites would link the people into one database. I guess it comes down to what value you'd get out of this.)
3. The statewide calendar project is much harder than it looks. The calendar on the current massgop.com site won't be able to do this for several reasons. Yes, you could try doing lots of Google calendars and combining them. But that won't work either and there is no straightforward way I know to combine that many sub-calendars and allow searching. The answer is most likely to use Bedework - a large, free calendar system used by many universities to contain all events across every department and club they have, but still be searchable and useful. I don't know of anything else like it. Also, while it is free, it is very tricky to get set up. But having this calendar would be truly fantastic. No one would ever miss something again!
4. For organizing technology people, you want to embrace proven models and tools. You want to follow what Code for America is doing. (They are non-profit that provides tech volunteers and solutions to cities.) They have a github account as a repository for community projects, social media feeds, pointers to free online training, and other stuff. They, like us, started with a lot of people who wanted to help, and trained them to do basic programming with awesome free training from places like Code Academy.
5. There are lots of cheap online education platforms that could help with the training - things like Moodle come to mind as it is good and free. We should also consider fun recognition programs to reward people who complete various modules. Note: trying to keep this training in the hands of only Republicans is a waste of time. If we want to make it easy for Republicans statewide to consume this, any effort to try to check voter registration - or some other onerous step - will drastically reduce the amount of people who will consume it. The training will be sprinkled with Republican themes and resources - sure to turn off non-Republicans. :-)
While the RTC model is important and legally required, it is a pre-Internet organizing model that won't, by itself, serve our needs. We need an online-based model that includes all Republicans statewide, gets them doing productive things online, and directs them to local and nearby events and campaign activities. We need to do lots of online training also, in order to make Republicans more effective in their local communities, in campaigns, and on the internet.
I know this is quite a list of things to do, and while some stuff is pretty cheap and easy - like putting all RTCs into a BaseCamp site - some of it is going to be a lot harder - like creating the right kind of special interest sites or getting the statewide calendar set up and configured or creating content for activist training. But this stuff is, in my opinion, well worthwhile and goes directly to solving some of the long-standing organizational problems we have.