Organizing for Action with Richard McDaniel

On Tuesday, June 23rd, the Center for Civic innovation hosted a conversation with special guest Richard McDaniel on the topic of organizing communities for action.

Richard is an organizer by trade, having served as the Political Director for the Democratic Party of Georgia, the Political Director for Michelle Nunn’s U.S Senate campaign, and as Georgia’s State Director for Organizing for Action, the nation’s largest volunteer run grassroots organization that advocates for the legislative agenda for The White House. Along with Richard, we welcomed a diverse and passionate group of attendees consisting of social entrepreneurs, consultants, marketers, and activists.

Richard began the evening by introducing himself and his background, and inviting others to do the same. He spoke briefly about his Atlanta upbringing, his years as a sociology student at Morehouse College, and about his unplanned foray into the political world soon after completing his degree. Attendees for the night introduced their backgrounds and the projects they are working on, and touched on how they hope to benefit from learning more about community organizing.

Attendees were interested in applying organizing tactics to a variety of work, ranging from bringing about self-sufficiency in villages in Tanzania to putting together relief efforts for the community devastated by the tragic shooting in Charleston. Over the course of the next hour and a half, conversation revolved around questions that were brought up by participants:

Q. What is the difference between campaigning for a cause and campaigning for a candidate?

  • A cause propels you to do something.
  • A cause must be found within a candidate. If you find something that makes someone angry, that anger can be turned into hope, and that hope can be turned into faith and action
  • From Richard’s experience, issues and causes seem to remain consistent across the country.
  • A candidate must be likable and personable; they must be able to tell their story.
  • It is more difficult to organize for an issue or cause than to organize for a candidate

Q. How are national and local politics different?

  • Local politics can be surprisingly nasty, since more people in the area know candidates personally or know more about them
  • National-level politics are more structured and mechanical, and candidates and constituents often don’t know much about each other personally
  • Most people don’t know the difference between state senators and US senators
  • It is equally as important to vote in midterm elections as in presidential elections to organize and set the stage for the presidential election
  • All senators keep track of how many calls or emails they receive per issue or cause, so they can better understand their constituency and what the most important issues are for the people

Q. Why do you think Michelle Nunn ended up losing?

  • The campaign didn’t focus on our base enough; figuring out what resonates with your base is integral to a successful campaign.
  • The campaign suffered from clashing personalities.
  • The media plays a huge role in elections, and didn’t focus on the important things.

Q. How do you educate the community on their legislators and about the laws or issues they support in an engaging or innovative way?

  • “Start meeting people where they are. Meet people in long boring lines where they are waiting and have nothing better to give their attention to.”
  • There isn’t much innovation we can bring to the process of asking people to talk about political issues and listening to them. Consistency and persistence are key.
  • “Ask, response, ask”: ask questions, listen to responses, and ask again.
  • Digital interactions can never replace face to face interactions. The ability to sit down and listen to people is crucial

Q. What’s the best way to have a successful organizing campaign of any sort?

  • The most important component of a successful organizing campaign is to have a well detailed and well thought out plan. A plan consists of: talking points, resources, key people, roles, base recognition, email chains, goals, timelines, obstacle identification, etc.
  • The next most important steps are (1) ensuring adequate training for those working on the campaign and (2) having accurate data.

At the end of the conversation, we recapped on the key takeaways from the evening:

  1. The impact of organizing is immense; people coming together and working together is powerful
  2. Meet people where they are when asking for something or trying to get something done
  3. Don’t make too many assumptions
  4. Digital innovations can never replace human interaction
  5. Don’t overlook proper planning

Before closing out for the night, we made sure to ask Richard our favorite question: Who is your hero or heroine? With no hesitation at all, Richard answered, “My mom of course!”