09/25/2007 12:10 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

From Tear Gas to Soccer Balls -- Engaging the Community Outside the Convention Hall

In 2004, the most interesting activity at Republican National Convention wasn't inside Madison Square Garden -- it was in the streets. With protests not seen since the '68 Democratic Convention in Chicago, hundreds of thousands of activists packed into pens and crammed the streets of midtown Manhattan. More than 1,800 were arrested.

Next summer, the 2008 Democratic National Convention will be held in Denver. In the coming months, there again will be an abundance of activity outside the convention hall; but it won't just be civil disobedience -- there will be civic engagement.

In an effort to give back to the community hosting the 2008 Democratic National Convention, last week the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) launched a campaign of community service projects that will last through next year. For its kickoff event, the DNCC teamed up with Democrats Work and MLS soccer players to host a soccer clinic for at-risk urban youth. In the coming year, the DNCC service projects will focus on youth, environmental projects, homelessness and hunger.

Part of this effort is simply about being a good neighbor to the Denver community while the DNCC preps for the convention and the desire to leave Denver a little bit better off than it was before the Democrats came to town. At the same time, this effort merits consideration as both an important electoral experiment in a critical swing state like Colorado and as a microcosm for a national movement among Democrats.

While many Democrats are targeting the "Purple West" in the 2008 election, Democrats Work and its partners has taken its new politics of service into the heart of Denver, its suburbs, and beyond -- with rousing success. This year we've mobilized nearly 300 volunteers at more than a dozen service events in Colorado, cleaning up neighborhoods and parks, planting trees, and sponsoring soccer clinics.

We believe that through sustained, tangible community service, Democrats Work and the volunteers it helps mobilize are changing the perception of the party and bolstering the Democratic brand among critical voters. And the need to bolster the brand couldn't be more pressing.

In a 2003 "Mind of Colorado" survey by the Wells Fargo Public Opinion Research Program and the University of Colorado at Denver, researchers found that the least trusted institutions in all of Colorado were political parties. Only 12 percent of Coloradans had confidence in political parties, a disappointing trend for more than a decade. By contrast, charitable and volunteer organizations were among the most trusted organizations in the state.

Would Democrats be more successful in swing states like Colorado, Nevada or Arizona if they were trusted as much as volunteer organizations are? Could a more robust service campaign begin to blunt the erosion of public confidence in the Democratic Party, which, according to a recent poll has only a 34 percent approval rating? We're out to show that it will.

We also believe that the "soft-sell" approach of Democrats Work will resonate not just out West, but across the country. In the next year, Democrats Work will continue to partner with the DNCC on community service projects throughout the Denver metro area, and we will continue to build a new, service-based approach to politics elsewhere as well. From Georgia to California, we are showing that our party and our people are devoted to helping Americans in their communities.

The more Democrats get involved -- whether it is on the streets of Denver, on the rivers of north Georgia, in the schools of Reno, or on shorelines of California -- the more we gain the trust of voters, rehabilitate the image of our party, and the more we can expect electoral success.