When my fellow interns and I would grumble about our tasks at the ACLU of Michigan a few years back, the legal director would like to remind us that he got his start in politics canvassing for the nuclear freeze movement in suburban Michigan — in winter.
Is political canvassing — specifically outsourced canvassing — a harmless rite of passage, or does it squander the energy and ideas of a generation of potential political leaders? That’s the question asked by Dana R. Fisher in her new book, Activism, Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America. The question is a good one, and I was excited to hear of this book as I think it’s an important story to tell about contemporary progressive politics. I’m interested to see how well she places outsourced canvassing within a broader context. The ongoing professionalization of American left politics have meant broad outsourcing among progressive political organizations for a variety of functions, including advertising, research, online marketing, membership, and even campaign strategy. Much has been written about the high-profile consultants blamed for major Democratic losses, less about the practice’s broader impact on politics.
U. of Maryland professor Peter Levine has more about the book and the associated ongoing online debate on his blog, where I read about it in the first place.