Don't Get Mad, Get Organized

I am determined to stay positive. It is Wednesday, one day after the election, and Sen. John Kerry has just conceded. We are faced with another four years of George W. Bush in the White House, another four years during which all the things I believe are important will be under assault.

But I refuse to allow myself to get down. I refuse to allow my anger and sadness to get the best of me.

The reason? Progressive groups kept this election in play until the end, nearly toppling a war president that appeared likely just a year ago to win by a significant margin.

The final tally, however, was nowhere near the landslide most wartime presidents can expect. Bush won 51% of the popular vote and the election appeared up for grabs well into the night -- thanks to the mass energy channeled into the campaign by grassroots groups like America Coming Together for Victory and

ACT was formed early in 2004 by groups like EMILY's List, the Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO for the express purpose of defeating Bush. It focused on mobilizing voters in 17 states that were up for grabs, placing money and volunteers on the ground to increase voter awareness and registration.

According to an Election Day story in the Washington Post, ACT "may have poured as much as $125 million into building a sophisticated voter database, registering millions in the swing states, then maintaining contact with those voters by joining old-fashioned shoe leather canvassing to newfangled Palm Pilot biographical data."

In the swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, which had a combined 41 electoral votes, ACT focused on black neighborhoods, particularly in the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus "to offset the more conservative and rural areas in both states." By bringing more black voters -- and young voters -- ACT hoped to swing Ohio to the Democratic column and keep Pennsylvania in the fold.

The Post reported that "ACT registered 85,000 new voters, and its partner group, America Votes, reported an additional 215,000, according to ACT's Ohio spokesman Jess Goode. Volunteers and paid staffers began canvassing in September 2003 and knocked 3.7 million times on doors."

According to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, ACT had 45,000 volunteers -- including 12,000 in Ohio -- making a final get-out-the-vote push., a web-based organization that helped organize some of the major early opposition to the war in Iraq, was also active, running ads and organizing phone banks.

My friends Bill and Julie became involved, spending several weekends in October working the phones in Philadelphia. It was the first time they had done anything like it, but they felt they had to do something.

They weren't alone. Mitchell Bock and Polly Mattson, husband and wife filmmakers from Utah, told the Plain-Dealer that they decided to volunteer in Ohio for Kerry because they believed they could do the most good there.

"We realized we couldn't change the five electoral votes going to W in Utah," Bock told the paper. While the efforts of ACT and ultimately proved unsuccessful, they offer progressives a model on which to build.

On Election Day in the Cape Cod Times, the columnist Sean Gonsalves reminded us that it is the activism and the moral imperative that the activist and organizer creates that leads the change. Elections are the mechanism through which democracy alters its face, but no change occurs without the people forcing politicians to act.

He offers a laundry list of major reforms -- the 40-hour week, the end of Jim Crow, withdrawal from Vietnam -- triggered by the mass activism.

What ACT and offer is organizational infrastructure that can help amplify the voice of average Americans. Bush maybe president for another four years, but that does not mean we have to sit on our hands and whine about it.

For more information:

America Coming Together, 888 16th Street NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20006; phone, 202-974-8300; at

Hank Kalet is a poet and managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press in New Jersey. Email

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