Correction: I originally said Engage Texas was a 501c3, there are a 501c4, the story has been updated.
On Saturday a statewide grassroots coalition tentatively dubbed “Texas Obama Leaders” met in San Antonio to discuss all of the great volunteer opportunities within the progressive movement of our state. The daylong think tank-styled forum is a follow up to a similar one held in DC with the White House Office of Public Engagement during the “fiscal cliff” discussions. The group is not officially sanctioned by the Democratic Party but is more an organic group of Obama volunteers and campaign alumni from around the state who want to maintain momentum and some organizational structure to help push progressive causes in Texas.
The speakers included Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa and special assistant to the Chair Glen Maxey, Battleground Texas Executive Director Jenn Brown, Southern Regional Director of Organizing for Action Gregory Jackson, and State Director of Engage Texas Katrina Mendiola. All of the participants, about 60, were split into 4 rotating breakout groups, each with a timekeeper and facilitator, to conduct more intimate question and answer discussions with each speaker and each other. The event co-chairs and lead organizers of this event, Ian Davis and Judy Hall, said the purpose of this effort was to identify all of the opportunities to engage our networks in a way that uses all of our resources more efficiently and to allow Democrats from around Texas the ability to share ideas.
Glen Maxey said the TDP and its new VAN Director are focused on getting the VAN set up for grassroots organizers and precinct chairs to be able to get the data they need to organize within their community – including more cell phone numbers and email addresses. Chairman Hinojosa said the party would also like to capture more data from its organizers. He plans for the party to hold more VAN trainings around the state to show county parties and local activists how to utilize the tools that are currently available and introduce others being developed to update the TDP's organizing database in real time. Connecting and supporting organizers is important, but we must also have good candidates to support in order to win. Maxey and Hinojosa said that the party would aggressively move to fill out the Democratic ticket down ballot, especially in places like Amarillo where Republicans dominate local politics but demographics suggest Democrats are competitive.
Read more about the event below the jump.Engage Texas is a 501c4 organization that works behind the scenes to coordinate, organize and help seek funding for nonprofits that share progressive goals, but because of campaign finance laws they can not work directly with the Democratic Party. Their communications for partner organizations comes largely through Progress Texas.
My group's discussion with Battleground Texas started with faith. One participant mentioned that many traditionally conservative rural Texans look to their bibles for guidance, but that many verses and Jesus' teachings actually support progressive policies. Brown said she realized rightwing chain letters that contain misinformation, and often times emotionally-charged faith-based messaging, is an issue in Texas. She said one of her favorite stats from the Obama Facebook campaign was that 99% of the friends of people connected to the Obama campaign saw Obama's messaging, and that Digital Director Christina Gomez was working to create the strong online infrastructure in Texas necessary to answer previously unchallenged propaganda. Candidate recruitment in those same rural areas is another concern that came up. Jenn said, “I am an adamant supporter that we need a competitive 2014. One reason I wanted our launch to be splashy was to show candidates we can be splashy and get press.” She believes that taking pictures of fired up volunteers and showing them to potential candidates could have the effect of inspiring them to run. She acknowledged Texas is a big state and said in her experience, “If you ignore rural voters, you lose elections.”
The organizing for action workshop started with an around the horn introduction with each person saying their name and one word that described why they were there. The most popular word was “hopeful”. The main function of the new OFA will be to facilitate grassroots fundraising, as well as press training and earned media. In the past OFA volunteers had to get permission to speak to media on behalf of the organization, now they'll be trained and encouraged to reach out and develop relationships with local media to have their voices heard. The new OFA will be purely issue-based not electoral related so as election season approaches they will direct volunteers interested in the election to join a campaign.
Participants in the breakout workshops were encouraged to think big – statewide and out of the box. Organizers provided an opportunity for volunteers to meet their counterparts from around the state, share success stories and ideas, develop a mission statement, and propose future plans for the group. The general consensus seemed to be that instead of formalizing a new organization, the group could instead allow its own network to act as a hub for progressives to connect with each other and find volunteer opportunities based on issues, interest, availability and what organizations are active in their part of Texas. Probably the single most exciting moment was when the group got a surprize “wish I was there” shout out from Mayor Julian Castro, who despite having an identical twin could not be in two places at once.
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