Sunday in the Park Without George

Democracy in the Park puts the grass in grassroots organizing

Want to defeat Bush and Cheney without suffering the mobs at the RNC? Want to show your support for Kerry and Edwards, but worry that what time and money you can give, if any, are too scant? Want to stick a No RNC poster in your window, but have a window without a view? Finally, a volunteering opportunity for the political procrastinator.

Democracy in the Park, a grassroots group founded by John Raskin, allows you to simultaneously donate your time and spend Sundays in the park while helping them in their mission to "uproot a particularly malignant Bush." Back in May, MoveOn asked its list members to participate in a nationwide day of house parties in which partygoers called folks in swing states for free on their cell phones. Raskin, a community organizer in Hell's Kitchen and MoveOn list member, liked the idea so much, he decided to throw his party in Central Park which he called Democracy in the Park. "Because of the unique and quirky system of American cell phone plans, we have this opportunity to make an afternoon of long-distance calls for free," he says.

That first Democracy in the Park event drew 120 people. Encouraged by the turnout and the feedback he received, Raskin had another day in the park in June. For an earlier July event, he spread word on MoveOn's website and in Time Out New York. Raskin found 450 people on the field just inside Central Park near West 93rd Street. In that afternoon Democracy in the Park called 15,000 numbers, registered between 200 and 300 new voters, and recruited hundreds of new volunteers, though the group probably went unnoticed. "It just looks like people sitting in the park on a weekend. There were people in the crowd who weren't involved and had no idea that anything substantial was happening around them, which is fun to see and participate in."

Democracy in the Park gets its lists of phone number from organizations like MoveOn, ReDefeat Bush, and America Coming Together (ACT). Since the caller doesn't have to be in the same state as the person called, Democracy in the Park frees up time for ACT's on-the-ground volunteers, who are aiming for 21 million door knocks before Election Day. There are three types of phone calls, for which Democracy in the Park provides scripts. The first involves filling out voter registration forms as much as can be done over the phone. The form then gets sent to the unregistered person so he or she can fill out a few fields of private information and send it away. The second identifies voters' inclination so that they will be called closer to Election Day and reminded to cast their vote. (This past Sunday the group identified a few hundred reliable Kerry voters in New Hampshire.) And the third reaches voters already identified as Democrats and asks them to volunteer.

Each call lasts about three minutes. "Sometimes you get hostile people on the other end, and sometimes you get people who are absolutely thrilled to hear from you. . . . The country is evenly divided, and when you're calling blindly you find that is true."

There are 14 Sundays left until Election Day. You can spend any one of them or all of them at the field inside Central Park, near 93rd Street from 3 to 7 p.m.

 
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