Learn How to do it Again in 2008

11/08/2006 05:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The big story you're not getting in the post-election coverage is that in 2006, Democrats finally came up with an answer to Karl Rove's get-out-the-vote "72 Hour Program."

Rove built a volunteer-driven machine from the ground up, backed by the full unity of a ruling Republican Party. The Democrat's answer was was much harder to come by. But this year, finally all cylinders were firing at once -- and what an amazing sight it was to see:

  • Individual campaigns took field seriously by hiring some brilliant young field directors early, and investing serious time and resources into volunteer-driven organizing.
  • State parties began to act like functional organizations thanks to Howard Dean's reconstruction effort of the last two years.
  • The Democratic party and outside groups got serious about data and micro-targeting, and got it right.
  • ran a massive GOTV phone mobilization program that called several times the margin of victory in most key races.
  • A legion of smaller grassroots organizations all over the country (for example, the League of Young Voters) ran innovative voter registration and GOTV programs.
  • Local groups of activists, forged in the 2004 campaigns of Dean, Kerry and others, brought unprecedented strength to the elections -- with big help from several national grassroots organizations, Democracy for America first among them.
  • The fruit of consistent work by training organizations such as Campaign Corps and Wellstone Action paid off in big, visible ways this cycle.
  • Blogs and others sources of netroots power fought smart and hard in hand-to-hand combat with local press and Republican campaigns. (Kos, MyDD, TPM -- but so many others too!)
  • Politicians -- like John Kerry, Maria Cantwell, and Bill Nelson -- replicated the MoveOn/ActBlue fundraising slate model and raised millions for their colleagues. (MoveOn and ActBlue raised tens of millions directly for candidates -- up to a third of total revenue for some candidates, miraculously closing the money gap with the Republicans.)
  • And Democrats would have nothing to celebrate today if it wasn't for the quiet bedrocks that they take for granted but which influence far more votes than everything else combined: the sophisticated and powerful AFL-CIO GOTV program; EMILY's List's deep pipeline of talented candidates; African-American base vote operations all over America -- to name a few.

But look: with all that we did together, we still only just squeaked through. In 2008 -- assuming another batch of Republican pedophiles don't surface the week before the election -- we're going to have a much harder campaign. We've got to get better. We've got to refine what we just did. We've got to learn from each other, improve our systems and make two-year plans that start now for winning it all in 2008.

Here are some events where we can do that together as a movement. If you played a role in the 2006 elections, then you're invited:

           San Francisco. November 11-12
           New York. November 18
           Bloomington, IN. November 17-18
           Columbus, OH. December 15
           Washington, DC. December 2-3

These events (with the exception of DC -- see below for details) are free and open to all progressives who participated in the 2004 or 2006 elections -- or even those who plan on being a part of 2008. These are "open space" conferences that allow all participants to hold sessions about their speciality, present findings, tell stories, or ask important questions. You attend only the sessions that interest you -- and there is plenty of time for learning to take place in hallway conversations.

I suggested this idea to some colleagues a couple months ago and the idea has really gathered steam, with the New Organizing Instutute and Emerging Progressives taking the lead in organizing. I got the idea after attending a thing called "Foo Camp," which is an important and fascinating gathering in the world of cutting edge Internet start ups (don't ask me how I got invited). What makes the gathering so interesting is that people in all sorts of positions are free to learn all sorts of things directly from each other. In one session I attended, founder Jeff Besos was sitting to my left and a 16 year old hacker was sitting to my right. An MIT Engineering PhD student was teaching us, and 20 other people, about some insane things none of us had ever thought about. The weekend was an endless flow of one fascinating conversation after another. Multi-billion dollar businesses and important non-profits have been born at this gathering over the few years it's been going.

When I left, it occurred to me we really need something like that in politics -- and also something like the open and decentralized gathering that spun off from Foo Camp called "Bar Camp" (there's a story behind the funny names). Bar Camps have been organized around the world, getting together similar kinds of groups everywhere from Austin, Texas to New Delhi to Shanghai.

Our Washington DC Roots Camps already has attracted an amazing mix of top political leaders as well as young (and young at heart) innovators from all levels of all kinds of organizations. Because of overwhelming interest, we've had to make the DC event invite-only. We did that to ensure places for a representative group of people who really distinguished themselves this cycle -- and that includes everyone from candidates and campaign managers all the way "down" to local volunteers. The DC event is designed to be a unique opportunity for people at the "top" to learn from rock stars at the "bottom" of the campaign world -- and, of course, visa versa.

After every election there are many debriefs and evaluations. But normally everyone present is from only the top couple of layers of leadership. The purpose of these unique debriefs is to bring together innovators from all levels of the election.

At Roots Camp, Tom McMahon, the executive director of the DNC, will be sitting alongside Democratic Party star precinct captains. Eli Pariser, the director of, will be sitting along side star phone captains from MoveOn's Call for Change Program. The people working on Dean's DNC Voter File project and on the private voter file effort will be in the same room! Ned Lamont hasn't confirmed yet, but I'm going to personally remind him that I reserved and donated for him two days after he announced he was running -- hopefully that'll get him. The point is to get all the peices of the puzzle into one place. We all experience these campaigns from totally different perspectives. Roots Camp is the place to get ourselves together and figure out how to do it better for '08.

All sorts of wonderful, creative madness is going to take place at Roots Camp. So get yourself there: All you have to do is sign up at the links above.