- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hired canvassers have replaced volunteers in many community organizing projects, undermining interest in activism among young liberals, said panelists at a recent Hudson Institute event.

Sociologist Dana R. Fisher, author of “Activism, Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America,” said liberal organizations, including the Democratic National Committee, have begun outsourcing activism to grass-roots organizations that hire canvassers to raise funds.

In 2003, Ms. Fisher interviewed 115 active canvassers for an organization she called “The People’s Project.” A year later, only 12 were still working for the organizations. Four were working for other political organizations.

“They felt used as replaceable cogs,” she said, saying outsourced fundraising canvassing hurts the future of democracy. “The majority of these young people are being burned out and turned off to politics in general.”

Audience member David Lipowicz, director of the Fund for Public Interest Research’s partnership program, identified his organization as Ms. Fisher’s “People’s Project.” He said some summer canvassers eventually took leadership positions in the organization, but Ms. Fisher said many of Mr. Lipowicz’s examples were from the time before his organization began outsourcing.

Ms. Fisher has received criticism for her coverage of the Fund for Public Interest Research. Ed Johnson, national canvass director for the organization, said Ms. Fisher did not tell the fund of her 1993 job there or her subsequent resignation because of her disagreement with the fund’s tactics. In addition, the fund did not know until May that her research would become a book. She never interviewed any staff members for the book, Mr. Johnson said.

Panelist Cynthia Gibson said nonprofit lobbying organizations may no longer advocate the interests of underrepresented groups, such as blacks or women.

Ms. Gibson said 80 percent of those organizations did not survey their members or constituents, so she questions whether they can accurately represent their views to members of Congress.

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