Election groups: where are they now?

During the 2004 election season, a historical whirlwind of activity ensued among progressive organizations, with volunteers ardently fighting for a political change by encouraging voters to stand up, get involved and most of all, to vote.

But on Nov. 2 the polls closed around the nation and the dramatically divisive election officially ended with a Republican leader still in the White House. So now that the ballots have been cast and counted, what are some of these progressive organizations and their volunteers up to?

"My beef with the political habit of the modern world is that we build many temporary institutions and then we shut them down immediately after the elections," said Jefferson Smith, chair of the Bus Project.

"On Nov. 3 the lease is up, the computers go back to the store and the staff is dismissed. Poof. Everything is gone."

The Bus Project, was founded in 2001 to "engage, educate, and elect" progressive thinkers and has mobilized thousands of volunteers and activists around the state of Oregon.

They helped with Trick or Vote, the largest voter canvass in Oregon history, which involved volunteers knocking on doors Halloween night.

Now that the election is over, one of the main goals of the Bus Project is to become a sustainable and lasting organization, according to Smith.

Since the election, the Bus Project’s volunteer office staff has dwindled from 17 to seven, Smith said.

"Too many have gone the way of the dodo bird," he said.

Nevertheless, the Bus Project is still communicating with the 7,000 who signed up to volunteer, "We don’t un-sign them up," Smith said.

Many of those volunteers were people who got involved for the first time, and Smith wants these election-intensive activists to know that, "Hey there’s still stuff going on."

"We need to focus on winning the argument, not just the election," he said.

The Bus Project currently has several projects in the works to help determine key issues for the state of Oregon and start advocating for them.

One of the organization’s ongoing projects is its "Third Thursday" event, where new leaders, volunteers and others who are interested can come together once a month to discuss Oregon’s progressive movement.

According to Smith, 100 people attended on Nov. 18, two weeks after the election. An indicator that, Smith said, "there was a bunch of people who wanted to pick up and keep cracking."

As the Bus Project regroups, gathers resources and builds for the future, Smith said, "I’m maybe more energized now than I was before the election."

One of the many other activities the Bus Project is involved with in their efforts to aid in their own growth and to assist in their progressive mission in Oregon is building a statewide network of advocates for public interest issues. They hope to have 10,000 people communicating by the end of the year.

They are attempting to maintain a youth caucus for high school kids, which would concentrate on stable education funding. Smith said they currently have 2-300 members, but that they had 800 in the heart of the election and that they hope to rebuild up to 1,000.

The Bus Project also has six public policy councils each set to focus on issues dealing with the economy, the environment, the election process, the educational system, health care or a safe and peaceful society.

The Student Vote Coalition (SVC) was another notably active organization during the election season, which succeeded in breaking its own campaign goal, as well as the record in Oregon, when it registered 31,952 new voters across the state this year.

The coalition was a non-partisan collaboration of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, the Oregon Community College Student Association, the national New Voters Project and the Oregon Student Association (OSA).

According to Melissa Unger, organizing director for OSA, the groups that formed the SVC debriefed together after the election with a feeling of success in Oregon, but have now broken apart to continue with their ongoing individual projects until the next election when they plan to rejoin.

Many of the volunteers for the coalition, she said, were recruited by student governments, or were previously involved with the individual organizations and have returned to those.

"We’re very different organizations," Unger said, adding that what joins them together during election seasons are the shared goals of getting students more active in general and strengthening the collective student voice.

The Oregon Student Association is also working on organizing a set of "legislative strike teams," Unger said. These will be groups of students on campus that are informed of certain issues, or bills, being worked on in Salem, and can head to the capitol on a moment’s notice if sudden changes occur or the need otherwise arises.

America Coming Together (ACT) is a democratic organization and one of the largest voter mobilization projects in history. They had 40,000 volunteers working for them on Election Day, according to their website.

They are currently looking for thoughts and future activist plans from their volunteers in an effort to plan the future of their movement.

MoveOn.org, an online grassroots organization "working to bring ordinary people back into politics," has also been reaching out to its volunteers for future guidance.

The organization began in 1998 with just a couple of guys frustrated with what they believed was a wasted national focus on the impeachment of then-president Bill Clinton. It now includes a "network of more than 2,000,000 online activists," according to their website.

They recently threw a nationwide round of house parties that were hosted by various volunteers throughout the country, and involved conference calling by the organization’s staff.

According to the email that went out to volunteers, the point of the parties was to "debrief the election process, celebrate the incredibly hard work so many…did, and talk together about the next steps for MoveOn and the progressive movement."

The 21st Century Democrats are a national political action committee, also known as Young Voter Project and perhaps most recognized as the VoteMob. As Election Day drew uncomfortably close, the volunteers in this group could be seen walking or running through campus at Portland State University in bright red ponchos and screaming, "VOTE!"

During this year’s election season, according to their website, they "completed over one million voter contacts on behalf of progressive Democrats, launched an innovative Get Out The Vote program focused on young voters in swing states, and trained over 2,000 activists and field organizers."

For now, however, the bright, energetic and vocal volunteers for this organization seem to be resting; the phone number for their Oregon office is disconnected and the website says, "There are currently no events listed."