I’ve often mentioned that there were times in my life when I had a lot of influence and “power” in some fields. The funny thing is that I never sought that, it just happened to work out that way. It wasn’t because I was wealthy (I wasn’t), it wasn’t because I had a monthly column in a magazine, and it wasn’t because I was outstandingly successful in the field. All things that most people would think would be requirements to get influence and power, I either didn’t have or had in a minor way. But as it turned out, I had far more power and influence than many people who did have all those requirements. Why? Because I said “Yes.”
As an example, I used to belong to a national organization. It wasn’t a huge one, just a few hundred members. Over the years I belonged, I’d volunteer for various things the organization was doing, and ended up as the monthly newsletter editor. I volunteered for it, and since I was the only one to do so, I got it. Then I was asked if I would accept the position of “Nominations Committee Chair.” Which meant that I was the person in charge of getting candidates for all the offices in the organization. In short, I was one of the people who was going to determine who was going to be running and making policy for the organization for the next two years. I said yes, and started in. What I found was that the “committee” was me. No one else wanted to do it. Two months later, a few hundred dollars in phone bills, and many earfuls from various people about what the organization should do and how it should be run, I managed to scrape together a slate. But you know what? All those people who bent my ear about the organization said “No!’ when asked to run. In fact, getting anyone to agree to run involved a lot of begging, pleading, and outright arm twisting. Multiple candidates for a position? That was a pipe dream, I was lucky to find one for each position.
In the article on “Politics 400,” I discussed how you can influence “The Party.” I’ve also spent the past several years listening and reading various people tell the world what the party “needs to do” to attract them, what the party “should be doing,” and how, if the the party would only do that, they’d be willing to show up at the voting booth or do something for the party. I’ve even been lectured on how the party should be inviting people in. There are a lot of them with strong opinions, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of actually working for change in the Democratic Party, they say “No.” Someone else needs to do something. All of which is putting the cart before the horse.
The “grassroots reality” is that many local Democratic Parties aren’t exclusive, or “unwelcoming.” They’re more often than not desperate for help, for anyone to step up and volunteer. They even reach out on occasion to various activists. The problem is that they kept getting “No” for an answer, and after a while, they stopped asking. Sure, if they made all these changes, maybe they might get more people involved, but that’s not guaranteed – and the betting line is more in favor that it wouldn’t work. As the old saying goes “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” or in politics, the people you know are going to work for you and show up to vote are worth more than the people who might think about it if you do something.
The problem with so many of the “activists” and “netroots” is that they’ve gotten extremely good at saying “No.” No, they won’t vote. No, they won’t volunteer or work at the local party level. No, they won’t help. No, they won’t find candidates. It’s a litany of “NO.” But they still think they’re “the base,” and that the Democratic Party should be doing everything they want. I learned years ago that saying “No” all the time doesn’t get you what you want in any organization. What does work? Saying “Yes.” I’ve managed on numerous occasions to effect changes and get listened to, not because I waved a lot of money around or spent a lot of time telling people how it “should be done.” I did it by saying yes when asked to volunteer, and yes to doing the work. It was amazing at how that got me listened to and gained me influence. The lesson for all those that want to tell the Democratic Party what it should do, and have it listen to them? They have to learn to say Yes.