The Need for Old Fashioned Organizing
Last April Democratic Assembly majority leader Wilma Chan held a series of district meetings in Oakland to organize her constituents to do tabling and walking door to door to publicize the need to fund services, reinstate higher tax rates for the wealthiest Californians and stop the Bush tax cuts for those in the nationís upper income brackets. More than 3000 postcards in support of Assembly Bill 4 and against the Bush tax cut were collected over the course of five Saturday mobilizations.
The Dragon spoke with Chan at a local school.
DRAGON: What are the objectives of your neighborhood campaign?
ďI think we need to build local support and a model to give to other legislators to organize for a fair budget. If we do this throughout the state, we can reach people frustrated by the war and tax cuts to billionaires. I think it is important to keep people active and organized. I see so many people who are disillusioned. They donít vote. They are upset because they donít feel there is anything they can do. My solution to both the short-term and long-term frustration people are feeling is to organize. I grew up in the 1960s and that is what we did. You start out small and get bigger. That is the only solution when you have a White House that is totally Republican and a governor who is hesitant to do things. We may start out small, but I believe we will have an impact over the next couple of years.
ďThe fact SEIU was up in the capital last year was really helpful to legislators in terms of moral support. The budget we got wasnít great, but it would have been much worse without people speaking up. And this year is even more important. Even if we donít get the budget we want passed, the fact that people are active, people are saying they want a balanced approach, people are saying they want schools to stay open, they want health care, that at least helps avert the worst type of budget we can get.
ďAs you know, people who vote in California tend to be very moderate. So we need more people involved and we have to get them active. Unfortunately some of the Democratic clubs donít do too much between elections. They just have their own meetings. I think it is important for them to do more grassroots organizing. ď
What do you think can be done to revitalize the Democratic Party?
ďThe problem with the Democratic Party right now is it is defensive and tails behind the Republicans. It doesnít have its own clear message. It is not aggressive or out there organizing. I tell the Democratic clubs, ĎYour purpose is not to just have meetings. Why donít you get out there and do something for the community?í There is no rule the Democratic Party can only do things between elections. Why donít we get out there and do something like painting houses, something that means something to people? That is how to get them involved, not just by talking to them and having them come to meetings. That is not the way to get people involved.
ďWhen people came to the capital it made a huge difference. The group that came up regularly was SEIU. You are very identifiable with your purple shirts. It made a huge difference to know that someone outside the building was watching what we were doing and cared about how we voted. I canít tell you what would have happened if you hadnít been there. It keeps people honest; it keeps people grounded. You brought workers from all parts of the state, and it meant a lot to legislators. It really does.
ďPart of our struggle is shoring up our own colleagues and making sure we stay on message. The Assembly is made up of very moderate people, even in our own party. As majority leader I need to give the Democrats some direction in terms of what we should be doing now. During the energy crisis I started a grassroots campaign to give out free light bulbs. I wrote a prototype for it, and about 15 or 20 other members did it.
ďA lot of times health care and education get pitted against each other, because they are the largest component of the budget. For myself, I came from county government, and from being on a school board, so I have the perspective of both. I donít think you can have education without social services, especially in urban areas, because a lot of these children donít come to school ready to learn. The two things go together.
ďAll of us who care about these things that affect families and working people, children, elderly and vulnerable people, we need to get active in this period of time. We need good old fashioned organizing.Ē