So it turns out there are four Harmony, Wisconsins: phonebanking for Russ

October 27, 2010
Building votes for Russ
A good evening’s work done

By: Thomas Nephew

I went through a phonebank orientation for Russ Feingold remote phonebankers yesterday, and did four hours of remote location phonebanking tonight.

Tell you what: I’ll do four more on Thursday — but maybe you can make an hourly pledge in the comments and then go straight to the Get FISA Right with Russ Feingold fundraising page and make your contribution.

The orientation was attended by at least twenty(!!) people from around the country on a conference call. To get signed up for an orientation, call (414) 727-5682. You’ll get an 800 number and an access code to join the conference call.

Our orientation guy was very good: concise, enthusiastic, organized. He sent materials by email so we had an agenda is and a handout describing the online data entry system to look at.   Obviously, with a week to go before the election, I think it’s safe to say the campaign is thinking about getting out the vote (GOTV) — i.e., Lincoln’s old line “find out who your friends are and get them out to vote.”

And that proved remarkably easy in the phone calls I made.  When I actually reached someone — as ever, maybe 40 percent of the time — it was almost always “Oh yes!” “Straight Democratic ticket!”... “I’ve always voted for Russ!”“We’ll be there!” Some said they’d vote early or absentee, some said they’d vote on Election Day — a sentiment I understand, since I kind of like voting that day too.

Needless to say, some people hung up on me or weren’t thrilled about calls later in the evening. Also, a small fraction turned out to be wavering or undecided voters. Occasionally, people would need to know where to vote early — almost always City Hall or “Village Hall” — and I’d go to one of the votenowwisconsin.com tabs I’d set up for the locales I seemed to be calling — Edgerton, Evansville, Milton, some others.  One of them was from Harmony, WI — and to my befuddlement, four of those showed up.  Wisconsin is clearly a very harmonious state!

Goal Thermometer

The “VoteBuilder” online data entry software works superbly and the data are well maintained — meaning there were never times where the number was wrong, though (again, as ever) there were often times where it was disconnected or not in service. Once one call was over, you entered the “not home” or “support”/”early vote” information, saved, and got a new person to call. Nice features: (1) sometimes other persons in the household were listed, so you could switch gears and ask for Joe instead of Betty Smith; (2) a “note” field let you describe what happened in the call if need be — wants a yard sign, etc.

Folks, I promise this $3,000 goal is the final one — and we’re very, very close.  Could we push it over the top sooner rather than later, so the Feingold campaign has just a little more to work with between now and Election Day?  Let’s support Feingold one more time.    Thanks!


“Seems odd”: the final Feingold-Johnson debate

October 24, 2010

By: Thomas Nephew

The third and final debate between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson was held on Friday night at Marquette University; moderator Mike Gousha posed some questions himself, and citizens from around the state added those of their own. The roughly ninety minute debate can be seen online in two parts provided by television station WISN. As the Associated Press report relayed by WISN noted, Feingold’s primary tactic was to suggest his opponent remained an unknown quantity:

Feingold accused his opponent at least half a dozen times of ducking questions by resorting to vague cliches instead of offering specific arguments. “I’ve never seen a larger gap between questions and what’s said in response than any debate I’ve ever been in,” he said. Feingold said he himself offered specifics, for example a 41-point plan to help control federal spending. Johnson said the plan would cut $25 billion per year at a time when the deficit is $1,400 billion. That “doesn’t cut it,” he said. Feingold shot back that at least he’s providing a plan, whereas his opponent hadn’t done even that.

The debate was also characterized by an almost exclusive focus on the economy and the federal budget. In fact, foreign policy only barely made it into the debate, as moderator Rousha’s final questions: “How long should American troops remain in Afghanistan?” , and “besides the terrorist threat represented by Al Qaeda and other similar terrorist groups, what concerns you most in foreign policy, what keeps you up at night?”

I’ve appended these exchanges to the transcripts of the two prior debates — but both candidates gave essentially the same answers they did in those debates: Johnson felt the war in Afghanistan should continue as long as required to deny it as a haven to Al Qaeda, while Feingold urged a timetable for withdrawal. Likewise, both candidates agreed that Iran was a threat — and Feingold once again made clear he had no qualms even about supporting a military strike to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Johnson added North Korea — and then added, “That’s one of the reasons we should not have moved the missile shield from the Czech Republic and Poland. That was a real mistake.”

That gave Feingold the chance to observe — with a priceless, puzzled expression — “If your concern is North Korea and Iran, I don’t know how a missile shield relating to Russia is the answer. Seems odd.”

Not if you’re Ron Johnson — who seems to specialize in non sequitur answers to every issue of the day: tax cuts for the wealthy as part of a plan to return budgets to balance; opposing the stimulus bill to return America to prosperity, scrapping health care reforms and starting from scratch because health care is that important.

Goal Thermometer
Support Russ Feingold now!

The good news is that Feingold has pulled into a statistical tie with Johnson according to a recent Wisconsin poll. The bad news, of course, is that the political climate is such that Feingold has needed to come back at all to get to this point, and that the election remains a toss-up, given the vastly unequal resources being spent on it.

But for those of us who value Feingold as a consistent voice for civil liberties and for a rational foreign policy, this debate and those before it should also be troubling in other ways.

First, it’s telling that not a single citizen question focused on either of those issues. While an economy that remains frail at best is undoubtedly going to be uppermost in people’s minds, the side effect is to relegate fundamental questions of war and peace, liberty and security to the back burner at best — or to some forgotten jar in the cupboard at worst.

Second, should Johnson win, he has given ample signals (e.g., repeated, Cheney-esque emphases on missile defense and “very strong intelligence capability”) of being a nearly 180 degree turnaround from Feingold’s positions. Johnson stands for a return (to the extent we’ve even managed to leave it behind) to the Bush-Cheney vision of America as a kind of militant Stratofortress, intervening and bombing wherever there’s even the prospect of enemies finding a haven. Not only that, but with his view that Senators should discuss such matters in private, rather than take public stands, Johnson affirmatively believes in permanently relegating such issues to “back burner” or “forgotten” status.


Still the right symbol for
“Get FISA Right”?

Finally — and this is simply my personal opinion, not one that should unduly influence allied groups like “Get FISA Right” or others — we should recognize that we need not always fully agree with even a Senator we esteem as highly as we do Russ Feingold, just as we don’t always agree (to put it mildly) with President Barack Obama’s decisions before and after assuming office. If the past ten years have shown anything, it’s that peace, security, and civil liberties are closely connected issues. It may be time to put our own allegiances to to civil liberties and to peace ahead of those to parties, men, and campaign slogans or insignia when the situation calls for that.

To get to the point, as scary as Iran could be with nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union was scary too — and we emerged from that era with our planet intact and our hands clean of beginning at least that war. There is little we could do that would more certainly guarantee Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons than attacking their enrichment facilities; those facilities are dual-use, to be sure — but one of those uses is legitimate. Nuances get lost in debates, but Feingold’s repeated insistence that “nothing is off the table” with respect to Iran are words he may want to have back some day, just as many of us wish we hadn’t supported the Iraq War at any juncture. Let’s hope we don’t have to repeat the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan — with the people of yet another country paying the fullest price for it, but ourselves paying ever higher prices in fear and curtailed liberties as well.

All that said, I have no doubt whatsoever which man I’d rather have in the Senate if this issue is debated. We need Senators like Russ Feingold who aren’t just willing to say “seems odd” about the non sequiturs of men like Johnson now or Bush and Cheney in the past, but to speak out against and vote against their plans. I continue to be proud to support the most independent, principled, liberty-defending man in the Senate: Russ Feingold. Let’s continue to stand by him in every way we can.


Dissent is not a crime — DC activists to hold forum on FBI raids

October 22, 2010

By: Thomas Nephew

Protest of FBI raids 22
From “Protest of FBI raids” series by Alan
Wilfahrt, on Flickr. (Photo used with permission)

On September 24th, 2010, the FBI raided anti-war and solidarity activists in Chicago (two homes) and Minneapolis (five homes and the office of the Anti-War Committee). During the raids, the FBI took computers, cell phones, documents and personal family items. In total, 14 activists in Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan were subpoenaed to appear before a Grand Jury. They have subsequently refused to appear.

“Get FISA Right” activists recently decided to add the organization’s name to a petition protesting these raids.   Now there’s a chance to learn more about them, and lend support to activists opposing such infringements of First and Fourth Amendment rights.

On November 6,  civil liberties activists and experts will gather from 1-4 pm the Friends Meeting House in Washington, DC (2011 Florida Ave., NW) to examine the FBI raids and other attacks on activists, our legal rights, and how our community can respond.  Admission is free, the event is open to everyone.

The event program and other details are below the fold.
Read the rest of this entry »


Feingold Closing The Gap

October 20, 2010

By: Harry Waisbren

I discussed the latest fantastic news about Feingold’s surge in the polls in my update and retrospective post, but I dare say it’s worth expanding upon as we up the ante in our fundraising campaign for him to $3,000.

First, here’s Wisconsinite John Nichols analysis of the polls:

Now, however, one of the oldest and most respected polls of Wisconsin voters, the St. Norbert College Survey Center poll, sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio, has the race narrowing to a toss up.

According to the St. Norbert Survey, it’s Johnson 49 percent to Feingold 47 percent. That’s well within the margin of error for this—and other—surveys, meaning the race can reasonably be described as a toss-up.

Nichols further elaborates on how Feingold has typically polled better than the average democrat, and right now is “running dramatically ahead of his party.” This shouldn’t be too surprising, as Feingold’s independence is one of his hallmark values, and his adherence to principle ahead of party is why I am so proud personally to call myself a Feingold Democrat.

If you needed any more evidence for why it’s so integral to keep someone like this in office, look no further than this video of Senator Feingold explaining FISA in 30 seconds:

If you care about FISA and civil liberties at large, you should care immensely about losing our issue’s greatest advocate. The contrast between his opponent couldn’t be starker either, with Jane Hamsher going so far as to compare Ron Johnson to Joe Lieberman.

We couldn’t appreciate the donations of your hard earned money more, because we know that Senator Feingold couldn’t appreciate it more either! On the flipside, you can also certainly donate your time to Feingold as well—the Progressive Congressional Change Committee has a very slick tool that lets you phone bank for your choice of candidates from a slate of progressives, including Feingold. If you have a few minutes of time and care to talk to some Wisconsinites, please do so—we really are a friendly folk!

It’s difficult to imagine what will happen if he does lose, and it’s a prospect that I personally find very frightening. If you can donate, even a small amount of money or a morsel of your time, please do so. There isn’t any other politician in our country who has earned it more in my book.


Get FISA Right Update and Retrospective

October 19, 2010

By: Harry Waisbren

We’ve had some big headway on our latest initiatives lately. Our support for Senator Feingold’s reelection has blown past our latest goal of $2,500, and groups just like us stepping up have certainly helped him as he has closed the gap to make the race a dead heat. We also have now concluded what has turned into a unanimous vote to sign the IAC Letter, which I have taken the pleasure to officially sign us up for–and simultaneously reach out to help more as an organization.

Considering we are at transitionary points with these two initiatives, I thought now might be a good time for a look back to remind everyone about some of our history. Our crowdsource model can really make it difficult to keep track of everything going on at once amongst our group, especially considering that we are likewise talking with so many other groups. Anyways, here goes…

First things first, the Get FISA Right concept began June 26, 2008 with a post from Mardi. He created a new group on the Obama social network, My.BarackObama.com, asking then Senator Obama, Please Get FISA Right.

Mike Stark kicked off what would become a robust blogosphere discussion about civic engagement and if Obama will feel the sting of social networking through his stance on FISA. The members rallied behind signing an open letter to Obama, and as the number of group members skyrocketed to 22,000, in unprecedented fashion, he was compelled to respond.

The mainstream media picked up this story in a big way, and beltway insiders and tech luminaries alike recognized this social networking based engagement as a new style of democratic discourse. Despite not successfully convincing Obama to get FISA right, we did force the issue into the national discourse, and simultaneously provided a model exhibiting the power of social media-based political activism.

Initial leaders spreading the word & coordinating discussion included Dawn Teo, Ari Melber, Aviva Dancis, Chip Pitts, John Joseph Bachir, Carlo Scanella, Andy Famiglietti, Jon Pincus, and more. Despite Obama passing on getting FISA right, that strong base of support helped keep our momentum going to bring attention to FISA and civil liberties in other new and innovative ways.

From that base, the tactics we used developed quickly, and soon we were utilizing a crowdsource model to conceive and fund 30 second TV ads through SaysMe.TV, taking part in the Change.org/MySpace Ideas for Change, and making sure that our language was adopted as part of the Netroots Platform.

Our transition to the post-election environment was catalyzed even more during the 2009 Computers Freedom and Privacy conferences’ birds of a feather session: New Strategies to Fighting FISA & the Patriot Act. Afterwards, we began holding regular conference calls and online chats, in addition to calls specifically for bloggers, to coordinate online activism stemming from our Patriot Act Action Hub.

The conference calls and online chat model facilitated writing transcript style notes, and ‘key takeaways’ were further recorded from every meeting on this very blog. Such tactics have provided us with a meticulous documentation of the development of our strategy, and is a very useful resource for anyone looking to catch up to what we have been up to or that wants to go on a trip down memory lane.

The individuals and organizations taking part in these calls have changed with the legislative timeline and individuals’ personal capacity. Organizations participating include the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, FireDogLake.com, the Association for Research Libraries, etc. New Get FISA Right leaders emerged as well, including Mark Dorlester, Korkie Moore-Bruno, Thomas Nephew, Sally Jane, Jim Burrows, Amy Ringenbach, Talat Gilani Hamdani, and many more.

Despite changes to the members involved and the particulars of our tactics, our group’s core strategies have always stemmed from the recognition that social networks provide a unique opportunity to engage diverse audiences in which we can convince them to activate. The consistency of this message can best be measured by its similarity to the goals from 2009 Computers Freedom Privacy conference, where building a broad-based coalition, including students and migrant groups, was the #1 recommendation, to the 2010 edition.

In that vain, I gave a presentation at CFP during the Activism and Social Networking: Advocating for Privacy (scroll down and hit the designated panel tab for video) this summer on this very topic. In fact, we still have hopes to engage further in the online/offline tactics detailed by my fellow panelist, Shahid Buttar of the BORDC, through taking part in their inspiring local model legislation initiatives.

We have come a long way as a group, but as anyone following civil liberties debates over the last few years recognizes, we still have a long way to go. Even the turning points in our current initiatives represent but a shift, and there is certainly more work to be done on both making sure Feingold gets reelected, and to further help promote the IAC letter as well.

Nevertheless, I for one am extremely proud to have been a part of this group, and am very much looking forward to moving ahead with all of you!


Stand By Me

October 17, 2010

OVER TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS raised for Senator Russ Feingold — and counting! We are standing with our friends. We are standing with Senator Feingold. And we are standing tall for civil liberties, the rule of law, and for real democracy.

To all the good people who make up “Get FISA Right” — give yourselves a huge round of applause.


IAC Letter Voting

October 16, 2010

Hey everyone, here’s your final opportunity to weigh over whether or not we should sign on to the International Action Center’s letter to Stop FBI Repression of Anti-War Activists NOW: Condemn the FBI Raids and Harassment of Anti-War and International Solidarity Activists.

To vote ay or nay, just write a comment to this blog post. This way, you will also be able to explain your reasoning if you care to.

Update: and it’s unanimous! 16 ay’s to 0 no’s. We sign the letter.