Wednesday, March 07, 2007

March Madness

I got an email today announcing a new online petition asking people if they support the idea of a march on Washington DC in support of open records. I have planned a direct action or two, and been responsible for mobilizations. I’ve had the good fortune to have been trained by some excellent organizers, and what I’m about to say is simply what I was taught.

1. Community leaders have a duty to their community to efficiently and skillfully use political action to achieve strategic objectives.

2. Political action should have a specific goal. Organizers of a rally, march or other mobilization should have a specific target, a group or individual that will feel political pressure as a result of the action.

3. Political action should have internal goals as well. The success of an action can be measured in many ways; the total number of attendees, the media coverage of the event, the number of elected officials or other leaders attending, etc.

4. Community leaders are accountable to their communities, if their strategies and tactics do not meet the objectives of community, then these leaders lose credibility.

There have been many marches for Open Records in WDC. I don’t know why, exactly. The federal government has devolved jurisdiction over adoption records to the states, so it’s not like getting Congress, the President or the Federal bench’s attention is going to help much in the short, medium or long term. I suppose WDC is attractive because it is the nation’s capital, the belly of the beast, the heart of the nation. It’s the Big Show if you’re going to throw a demo. The problem is that the movement to open records isn’t ready for the Big Show. Let’s look at a picture of the Sunflower Birthmoms in WDC, and then take a look at the same real estate back in 1963…

Past marches on Washington by Open Records organizers were a bad idea, poorly executed. I think it’s fair to say that they had minimal effect in changing any laws. Worse, by bringing together a few dozen Open Records supporters in the largest possible venue, they create the perception that the Open Records movement is weak and small. Bad political actions discourage people from participating in further actions. Why should they follow leaders that waste their time and resources?

The picture above of the march on Washington by the SCLC, the NAACP, organized labor and other civil rights groups was the culmination of twenty years of organizing, focused on getting that particular Congress to move on the Civil Rights and Voting Acts. The picture of the Open Records march shows the result of just the sort of “Gee whiz, let’s have a rally in WDC” amateur-hour organizing as the one being promoted through the online petition.

If Open Records leaders wanted to get the loudest bang for their buck, they would take a pass on WDC and go to Boston this August, for the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators. These are the guys and gals that hold the keys to our records. We should be dogging their steps. We should be camped outside their hotels. We should be glad-handing at their receptions. We should be demanding that our so-called and self-styled leaders organize a march to the real heart of the matter or get out of the way...

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