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Thursday, August 19, 2010

the political industrial complex

Last Tuesday (8/17) the Dem candidate lost his bid to represent District 15 in the California State Senate. I mentioned his name in my first blog post (5/16) when I first dipped my toes in the blogging waters. It was not a big political splash or a commitment of any kind on my part, just your typical "go vote" nudge to friendly sympathizers.

At the time, I was volunteering at the Dem campaign headquarters, hoping to make a little difference and fulfill my civic duty. Very quickly I realized that there were very few things I could do to help my candidate. The two main activities that the political campaign offered to people like me were not my real cup of tea: one was calling registered Dems and asking-reminding them to vote on elections day, and the other was hanging sleek, colorful fliers with all kinds of graphics on the door handles (or knobs, if you wish) of registered Dems homes.

The first activity intimidated the hell out of me. Making cold calls is something I simply can't do. When I get this kind of phone calls I hang up without worrying about what kind of impression I make on the poor caller. I don't bother to be polite (I know, I'm a bad person). I can tell that people are trying to sell me something the moment they say my name. They don't pronounce it correctly. So I hang up. I'm already on the "don't call" list, so I feel I have a right to do it. Unless it's someone from the Dems headquarters, in which case I speak politely and promise to come help and do whatever they want me to do even if I don't really mean it, because I know I might run into the caller one day and will have to explain why I was so mean.

The second activity made me nauseous. After walking several blocks looking for non-existent door handles on which to hang my fliers, climbing noisy staircases that looked into spacious living rooms and attracted the attention of the people who were sitting inside, avoiding dogs and curious onlookers, and apologizing to the mail delivery lady who caught me cheating and stuffing the colorful fliers in mail boxes - something I learned was unlawful - I needed to go home and hide. I felt sick to my stomach. Not only was I wasting expensive resource (paper!), I was breaking the law.

After I recovered from the traumatic stint as a hanger of campaign fliers I decided to look for a better way to contribute to the campaign. The organizers suggested that the volunteers write letters to the editors of different local newspapers. So I picked up an information flier, wrote a short letter and emailed it to the editor of our local newspaper (which I never read, by the way). It was more like an advertisement sort of a letter, "vote for bla bla bla because bla bla bla, on such day bla bla bla" and so forth. Nothing too deep or informative, just the general superficial slogans. Only the title was kind a' cute. The rest was pure mediocrity. And the paper published it on elections day!!! Or more accurately, it was published on one of the elections days, because we still had another election day ahead of us.

I felt very accomplished for about two seconds and basked in my glory, already seeing my bright future as a political writer. I did it. I can do it. We can do it. Yes we can.

With my new sense of accomplishment, I felt re-energized and ready to get my candidate elected, only to discover that all I was asked to do was... making phone calls or hanging fliers on door handles.

I took a step back and looked at those two activities and realized that I had a serious problem. I didn't believe that personal phone calls or robocalls and fliers could help my candidate get elected. Call me crazy, but there must be a better way to do it in the twenty first century, the century of ipods, iphones, email, text messaging, twitter, facebook, popups ads, youtube, and all the other social media out there in cyberspace.

I mean, if I hang up my phone so rudely in people's face, I bet others do it, too. Especially when they get 3 robocalls and 2 personal calls a day. And worse, some people become resentful of all the phone calls. Even I, a volunteer for the cause, get totally irritated when Dem volunteers call me. Come on guys, don't you think I would vote for a candidate I volunteer for? Why are you bothering me on a Saturday morning? Get a life.

And the fliers, those really get under my skin. I can't imagine how much the candidate pays to design them and then to print them. I am sure the graphic designer and the print shop did not volunteer their hours and material for the cause. So why waste the money? And all that paper? How many people really stop to look at those fliers? They probably assume it is another pusher from the local Chinese restaurant or pizza parlor and dump them in their recycle bin on their way upstairs. Who has time to look at these fliers with all that boring information and pictures and then process the images, evaluate them, analyze them, and make a decision? No one!!

"But some people do take these calls, and some people do read those fliers, and the form letters which we send by snail mail (with a real stamp that has to be licked by... who else, volunteers). So what do you suggest we do?" That's a cool response, I agree, but I think that the people who take the calls, and the people who read the fliers and open the licked envelops are those who will vote for the candidate anyway. Like me.

What we need to do is persuade those who don't care about politics and elections. Those who don't read fliers or letters to the editors. Those are the voters who make the difference. Everybody who follows political campaigns knows it. The political machine and its industrial complex is so sophisticated by now, they can tell you how many hours each voter sleeps and where they shop and what magazines they subscribe to, and how they voted in 1958, and what the name of their cat (or dog).

It's the quiet ones and the super busy ones that we need to reach and awaken to a possible reality that they might not like if the wrong candidate wins; and the young ones, and those who care about one issue... let's say.... NO OFF-SHORE DRILLING, for example. It's California central coast after all, and we have all these cute seals and otters and whales and birds and butterflies who would die if we have an oil spill, need I say more?

So here I am, driving on the freeway, noticing huge signs planted on the dunes with the names of candidates printed on them. And that's all. One sign is dark blue with gold letters and the other is light blue with green letters. And I'm thinking to myself, hey, I like light blue, I'm gonna vote for the light blue sign, because it's prettier. So I have a bunch of people who vote dark blue and a smaller bunch who vote for light blue, because that was all the information we get on that sign, beside the name of the candidate, but who ever remembers those names anyway. It's not like they are really sexy or have the coolest video on youtube...

Or maybe they do????

If you have a better idea how to get out of the grinding orbit of campaign action, please let me know. I'll be more than happy to share with my friends at the Dems campaign headquarters. Remember, we will always have November.

And to all the volunteers who put so many hours into this campaign I say: Thank you!

related stuff:

This article was sent to me by one of the Dem's campaign managers just before the mid term elections, Oct 2010.

From the Onion: Yard sign with candidate's name electrifies congressional race

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