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Politics by Walking Around

The basic notion in "managing by walking around" is that one stands a better chance of understanding what is going on by getting out of the office and going to visit folks where they live or work.

"Stacey Abrams got to this point by systematically going around Georgia and talking to the folks in its 159 counties." (Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

"Stacey Abrams got to this point by systematically going around Georgia and talking to the folks in its 159 counties." (Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

When I was a technology developer, in Silicon Valley, I adopted the technique of "managing by walking around." Recently I've talked to two outstanding 2018 Democratic political candidates who've adopted this same technique in their campaigns. While it may not be obvious, "politics by walking around" addresses one of 2018's burning political questions: what does the Democratic Party stand for?

"Managing by walking around" was originally developed in the 1970's at Hewlett Packard.  I adopted "managing by walking around" because I was working on a large IBM campus, in Santa Clara, and the engineers who were developing different aspects of my product were widely dispersed.  While I could have relied upon emailed progress reports or formal meetings, I found it more informative to talk to them in person.  (I also thought that engineers were likely to be more candid in a face-to-face conversation.)

In fact, "managing by walking around" is a technique long-used by community organizers.  After returning to India in 1915, Mahatma Gandhi would routinely leave big Indian cities and walk through the sprawling countryside visiting village after village, talking to peasants about their concerns.  Barack Obama used this same technique when he was a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980's.

The basic notion in "managing by walking around" is that one stands a better chance of understanding what is going on by getting out of the office and going to visit folks where they live or work.  Interestingly enough, that's the technique being used by two formidable 2018 Democratic candidates: Stacey Abrams, who is running for Georgia governor, and Beto O'Rourke, who is running for Senate in Texas.

One of the notable political characteristics of 2018 is the fact that a disproportionate number of Democratic candidates are women.  Stacey Abrams ( https://staceyabrams.com/) is the Democratic candidate for Governor of Georgia.  If I only told you that Ms. Abrams is an unmarried black woman, you'd think she had no chance in this race.  But if I introduced you to Stacey -- a graduate of Yale Law School, who is the Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives -- you'd come away believing that she is the most qualified candidate.  (On May 29th, Ms. Abrams won the Democratic primary with 76 percent of the vote.)

Stacey Abrams got to this point by systematically going around Georgia and talking to the folks in its 159 counties.  Ms. Abrams is the founder of The New Georgia Project which, for the last four years, has been working to register voters, primarily people of color.  (In 2008, Barack Obama lost Georgia by 200,00 votes and there were 700,000 unregistered black voters.)

While walking around Georgia, Stacey Abrams learned what issues were foremost on the minds of Peach State voters.  The first is economic fairness: “building a diverse economy with good-paying jobs and expanding opportunities for families to thrive.” Stacey learned that Georgians are much more interested in economic issues than they are in Republican shibboleths such as "cracking down on illegal immigrants."  Another major concern is education: "Georgia must invest in addressing the needs of the whole child from cradle to career – and our investment must extend beyond the walls of a classroom to acknowledge the totality of their needs."

Does Stacey Abrams have a chance in November?  Yes, says the 538 website ( https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/can-stacey-abrams-really-turn-georgia-blue/) but she's a long shot:  "Georgia is one of the most [inelastic states], its electorate is composed mostly of solid Democrats and solid Republicans, with very few persuadable voters. The result is that Democrats have a tendency to get close in the Peach State, but they have a very hard time getting over the hump to 50 percent plus one."

Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke is in a similar tough race for Senate in Texas (https://betofortexas.com/ ).  He's the underdog to incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz.  The Cook Report classifies this race as "Likely Republican."  The 538 website notes: "Texas is about 12 percentage points more Republican than the country overall. If the national environment favors Democrats by, like, 7 points (where the generic ballot has been lately), that might make Texas have a 5-point Republican lean in this political environment."

If you talk to O'Rourke, you won't know that he is an underdog.  So far he's raised more money than Cruz.  And he's made himself more visible by traveling to each of Texas' 254 counties -- often going to communities where in recent memory no Democrat has visited.

Like Stacey Abrams, Beto O'Rourke has learned a lot by walking around his state.  This is reflected in his " We should all have a chance to to succeed" platform: "Jobs for Texans who are ready to work and the education and training to be competitive for them.  It means that every one of us is able to get healthy and stay healthy..."

As we approach the critical November 6th midterm elections, many Democrats lament the absence of a unifying national theme.  The Dems most recent attempts targets Trump's culture of corruption ( https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/democrats-new-2018-strategy-targeting-trump-s-culture-corruption-missed-ncna880006).

The campaigns of Stacey Abrams and Beto O'Rourke indicate that rather than adopt some abstract national theme, state and congressional Democratic candidates should instead practice the politics of walking around.  Democrats should talk to their constituents and run on their concerns, which differ from state to state and district to district.

Talking to voters; a winning concept.

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Bob Burnett

Bob Burnett

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley Quaker, activist, and writer.  In other life he was a Silicon Valley executive — co-founder of Cisco Systems.

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