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The Key Question For The MCDP — How To Motivate More Democrats To Make The Needed Effort

The quadrennial “reorganization” meeting of the Montgomery County Democratic Party scheduled for this June is a big opportunity for county Democrats to plan for the future. On MCDP’s To Do list — goals to accomplish before the next such meeting in 2018 — I’d like to see MCDP commit to working on and accomplishing “big picture” goals, like:

  1. Connect Democrats together at the grass roots level and create opportunities for grass roots leadership and service.
  2. Inspire and nurture Montgomery County young people to be engaged in the local party organization and to seek to become public servants via elected office.
  3. Educate the public about the historical perspective of current public policy issues and give citizens the information they need to analyze these issues.
  4. Hold the Republican Assembly and Republican Governor accountable by illuminating and making transparent how their actions impact the general good.

Big goals are seldom discussed and accomplishing such goals are never attempted by the MCDP. The reason? Working to accomplish big goals would require commitment and effort by county Democrats at a level far greater than any level of effort evidenced in recent memory. MCDP lacks the motivated workers needed to accomplish serious and important goals. For an organization is to be successful it must inspire motivation — “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something” — in its members. But, the MCDP is failing to do this.

Organizations commonly use elaborate systems of rewards and punishments as a means of “motivating” their members. Schools, for example, use grades and diplomas to push students. But, although extrinsic motivation works to accomplish minimum levels of compliance, it is the motivation that comes from within — intrinsic motivation arising from one’s values, character, and experiences — that brings the highest achievements. Volunteer organizations who support and empower the intrinsic motivation of their members are more likely to be successful than those who do not.

The power of the traditional political boss system to reward and punish is now much smaller than in previous times. Before progressive reforms, political parties controlled lots and lots of government jobs that today are non-partisan civil service jobs. The hope of getting or keeping those patronage jobs inspired many Democrats to work for the party. Also, political parties at one time had much bigger budgets than now. Today, much of the money previously allocated to political parties goes to Political Action Committees or to individual election campaigns. Resources controlled by the local party organization are relatively meager.

Political party organizations, such as the MCDP, still cling to a top-down system, and, though the group is much diminished compared to a previous age, many of the most active members of the party still hold patronage jobs.  But, it is obvious, to be successful the MCDP needs to greatly expand the membership of its active community. It needs to engage more volunteers. There is a whole group of county Democrats who are waiting to be invited into meaningful action. The current MCDP system is failing to do so.

Volunteer organizations, such as political parties, must find ways to attract volunteers and to inspire, engage and empower volunteers. In Montgomery County, there are about 35,000 Democrats who vote in every Democratic Primary, but only a tiny number of these Democrats are active within the party. If only 10% of these Democrats could become productively involved in their local party, the results would be transformative. The June reorganization meeting is a big opportunity for Montgomery County Democrats to plan for the future. If the MCDP is to become stronger and more effective, delegates at the reorganization meeting must agree on policies, goals, and restructuring that will address this key question: How Can the MCDP motivate more Democrats to make the needed effort?

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