Frequently Asked Questions
(Prepared by Tim Hsu, edited by Jim Cowan with help from Jay Lasnik, Will Easton, Alison Fish, and Stephanie Linder)
What is San Francisco for Democracy?
Q. What does San Francisco for Democracy actually do?
A. We're working for an agenda of social justice and fiscal responsibility, and we're getting ordinary people (like ourselves!) involved in politics and their community at a grassroots level. In 2004 we worked at getting out the vote for the November election (voter registration, canvassing, informational flyering, phone banking) in San Francisco and in places like Reno. Since the election we have developed a strategic plan to map out our political direction. We work with other groups in actions and initiatives that promote our values and support our goals. We endorse candidates at all levels. We also do community service through DeanCorps.
Q. How did you get started?
A. We grew out of the San Francisco volunteer organization for the presidential campaign of Gov. Howard Dean.
Q. What is the relationship between San Francisco for Democracy (SF4D) and Democracy for America (DFA), the organization founded by Howard Dean?
A.. Like many other state and local organizations (California for Democracy, Georgia for Democracy, etc.), we are aligned with DFA, and we work towards many of the same goals. We respect and value what DFA has to say, and as a grassroots organization that shares their goals, we believe that they will respect and value our work as well. But SF4D has its own bylaws and leadership and makes decisions independently of DFA.
Q. What are the short-term and long-term goals of SF4D?
A.We are working to promote a progressive, fiscally responsible agenda that will bring together all progressives in San Francisco. (See also "San Francisco Politics," below.). Following our strategic plan, we will focus our energies on the following issues:
- Electoral reform and clean government
- Civil education
- Social Security
- Investment in children
- National foreign and security policy consistent with our values
This focus can take many forms: working with others for or against local, state and national legislation; developing our own initiatives; building coalitions; endorsing and working for candidates who support our goals.
Q. You say you are progressives. What do progressives mean by "fiscal responsibility"?
A. . Experience has shown that if you want social justice, you need to maintain balanced budgets to pay for it. Locally, this means that when we consider new or expanded social programs, one of our organization's first questions will be, "How are you going to pay for this?"
Q. What is the difference between SF4D and the various Democratic clubs in San Francisco? What distinguishes SF4D from other progressive organizations (e.g., MoveOn.org)?
A.. First, SF4D is non-partisan; we welcome participation from anyone who shares our goals, regardless of party affiliation. (See also ``Politics" and "San Francisco Politics," below.) Second, we are completely committed to grassroots involvement. We don't think it's enough to vote, or give money, or to sign petitions on the Internet; we believe that ordinary people need to get active taking leadership on important issues, getting out the vote, educating citizens, performing community service, and running for office. You may have found us on the Internet, but we want you out in the streets!
Q. What is the legal status of SF4D?
A. . SF4D is in the process of incorporating as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization; this means we will be tax exempt but contributions to our organization are NOT tax deductible. We can endorse candidates and engage in electoral campaigns, but most of our work is toward a larger mission of promoting civic engagement and voter participation.
Q. Should I become a member of SF4D, or should I just go to the meetings? What do I get by becoming a member?
A. Even if you're not a member, you are welcome to volunteer for SF4D's activities. However, by becoming a member, you get a voice in deciding what we do, and you can vote to influence the direction of our organization. If you have ideas about how to improve what we do, join SF4D and make us better!
Q. Why does SF4D need more members? What do members contribute, besides $25?
A.First, we want more people to join SF4D because one of our main goals is getting ordinary people involved in grassroots politics. Through SF4D, we hope that more people will progress from simply being voters to becoming volunteers and members and then becoming organizers.
Furthermore, the more we grow, the stronger we become, and the better we can accomplish our goals. For example, right now we have many more ideas about what we should be doing than we have people to implement them. Having more members also brings in new ideas and new connections with other groups.
Q. Other than $25, are there any other requirements for membership?
A. If you are eligible to vote, you must be a registered voter.
How SF for Democracy works
Q. What's the difference between Meetups and membership meetings?
A.. Meetups are held on the first Wednesday of every month, and are open to the general public as well as members and volunteers. At Meetups, you learn how, where, and when to get involved in voter outreach and community service activities over the next month. Membership meetings, although they are open to the public, are aimed primarily at members, and are mainly concerned with making organizational decisions about political strategies and action, candidate and ballot endorsements, and the mechanics of running SF4D.
Q. What do the different committees in SF4D do?
A. . If you're just getting started with SF4D, contact the Outreach committee, which organizes our efforts to register and educate voters, get out the vote; it also organizes our community service efforts through DeanCorps. Go to www.sf4democracy.com and click on "Calendar" for current information and activities.
Our other committees are:
Administration: Keeps records of members and maintains databases.
Communications: Publicizes SF4D's activities and communicates with members and friends through press/media contact, brochures and other printed material, the People-Powered Paper (our online newsletter), and the website www.sf4democracy.com.
Membership: Recruits new members and runs the monthly Meetups.
Political Affairs: Develops political strategies and initiatives, organizes endorsements, and educates the membership on candidate and issues. Advises Steering Committee on which elected officials need to be held accountable or recognized and in what form that action should take.
Steering committee (officers of SF4D): Provides executive direction for SF4D.
Q. What is SF4D's process for endorsing candidates?
A. . For the 2004 San Francisco Supervisor election we began by finding out who the candidates were and where each candidate stood on issues through written questionnaires. Candidates who shared our principles and goals were then interviewed by the SF4D Coordinators Council, (the Steering Committee and specific project coordinators), who then made recommendations to the general membership. The entire membership then voted, also using Instant Run-off Voting. It is important to point out the recommendations were only that, and non-binding. Our membership is educated and makes up it's own collective mind.
We may revise this process to make it more efficient, but having the endorsement process involve so many different people insures that it is open, inclusive, democratic, and fair.
Q. Why do you have so many bylaws and membership rules and committees? Why are there so many meetings?
A. In other words, why are we trying to be so organized? Enthusiasm and creativity are great, but organization makes them much more powerful. Organization gives our efforts direction, and makes sure that the valuable time and work of volunteers is well spent. If you have any experience in politics (from the Dean campaign or elsewhere) you'll be able to supply plenty of examples from your own observations.
Q.After the Dean campaign, I decided that the Democratic Party is never going to change. In fact, I think the two-party system is broken, and I'm putting my efforts into third party politics. What does SF4D offer me?
A. . One of the reasons SF4D decided to be nonpartisan is that we wanted to stay independent from the Democratic Party. We do not automatically endorse Democrats; we're looking for the best progressive ideas, no matter from which party they come. Democrats who do not demonstrate the values we hold-for example, that the invasion of Iraq was a colossal mistake-are not likely to get our support or endorsement.
How we relate to political parties in the future will only be decided after we go through a careful analysis and discussion of how we can best further our progressive agenda. However, with Howard Dean as chair of the Democratic National Committee, we believe that working for change within the Democratic Party can be one way of furthering our progressive agenda.
Q. I'm putting together a coalition - will San Francisco for Democracy sign on?
A. It depends on a vote of our membership, who have the power to endorse or not endorse issues that are brought before us. Coalition sign-ons, or endorsement requests, are first reviewed by our Political Affairs Committee, which usually meets the second Tuesdays of each month. Then, they present a recommendation to the General Membership for a vote; Membership meetings are on the third Tuesdays of alternating months. (Check our calendar for specific dates.)
So the first step in the process is to contact our Political Affairs Director, Demarie Dizon, with your request.
San Francisco Politics
Q. I loved the people I met through the Dean campaign, but most of them are to the left of me politically. I don't work for a nonprofit, and I'm an entrepreneur/capitalist at heart. What if SF4D supports issues I don't agree with?
A. One of the great things about the Dean campaign in San Francisco was that its supporters covered a broad spectrum of people who thought of themselves as progressives. We had Greens, Democrats, independents, and even a few Republicans.
As San Francisco for Democracy, we are pursuing a progressive agenda that will advance the goals of everyone in this broad spectrum. We are developing this agenda through open and serious debate, where all members will be encouraged to contribute their ideas. Out of this we offer progressive and practical solutions for San Francisco's problems that rise above the factional divisions and power plays that sometimes dominate politics here.
That said, we recognize that local politics often involves conflicting interests and that we cannot satisfy everyone; we have to come down on one side or the other. You can be assured that our decisions will be based on our progressive principles.
Q. Why is the bridge in your background the wrong color?
A. Dave von Ronk complained about how sailors hate International (lead) Orange, & asked why our bridge couldn't actually be golden. We have tried to accomodate him.
San Francisco for Democracy
95 Red Rock Way M310
San Francisco, CA 94131