The ‘Recruiting Pilot Project’ in Illinois

February 22, 2002

Report to the National Committee

The renewed emphasis in our Party over the past couple of years on immersing ourselves in mass struggles, working with coalitions, unions, and mass organizations has been highly positive. We’ve heard many reports about such struggles here this weekend, a good number of which have led to victories. We’ve multiplied our contact with many new, young activists and trade unionists in the course of these struggles, and we’ve made many significant contributions to important battles.

A recurring theme in these reports, however, has been the observation that we could do so much more if we had more members. We could be much more effective in organizing, in educating, in leading the working class and people’s movements if we were numerically stronger. Comrades, we need a stronger and bigger Communist Party USA. We need a stronger and bigger Young Communist League.

The excellent report on building our clubs is right on target. Similarly, the report of this NC meeting’s ‘working group’ on Party Building contains many valuable ideas for recruiting, holding on to our new members, and strengthening our Party on the grass roots level.

The need for a stronger, bigger Party is appreciated by some of our coalition partners, too. In Illinois we’ve had a number of meetings with leaders of mass organizations and trade unions, we’ve received special invitations to be on steering committees and planning committees of mass coalitions, and we’ve had a most impressive response to our annual People’s Weekly World Banquet–and in each case we’ve gotten comments like, ‘We really need your Party to be part of these movements. We really appreciate your approach to political questions.’

This kind of appreciation and respect for the Party was also reflected in the response by non-Party forces to our 27th National Convention in Milwaukee.

So, when we look at the issue of recruiting and building our Party, we need to remind ourselves that we already enjoy considerable respect among many workers and activists.

This appreciation for the Party has resulted in semi-spontaneous recruiting in Illinois over the past year. For example, in the context of an important but difficult strike at a factory near Chicago, we’ve had three Mexican-American women workers join our Party. Key to this great development was the dedicated work of a couple of our comrades in helping organizing support for the strike effort. We also have had several Party leaders visit the picket line to show our support. The challenge now is to build on this achievement, to help win the strike, and to firmly establish a Party club there.

We had a leader of an important labor-community coalition join our ranks in the current period, a long-time activist, an educator, an experienced unionist who also has considerable experience in teaching Marxist theory. She has already added a great deal to our Party’s work on a number of fronts. We’ve had two or three Party members from outside Illinois recently move here and, in some cases for the first time, become integrated into a Party club. We’ve also had a couple of persons who have contacted our Party via the internet join our ranks, although getting them to meetings integrating them into clubs has proven more challenging.

In each case the consolidation of these new members and transfers remains a ongoing concern, and we are fully cognizant that our Party clubs have to be places where all members can feel at home and make an effective political contribution. We need a stimulating educational and social life. These remain very important objectives.

Given our greater involvement in mass struggles, and given this semi-spontaneous recruitment as a backdrop, the National Board proposed that we undertake a pilot project to ‘test the waters’ and see if we might be able to win additional members with a more planned and conscious approach.

Although the project was proposed to us on short notice, and although we may have been a little slow in clinching the details, we eventually settled upon a plan: during one weekend, Feb. 1-3, we’d organize three house meetings (an ‘open house’ or ‘reception’) in and around Chicago-one on the South Side, in South Chicago, one on the West Side, in Oak Park, and one on the North Side-featuring the presence of comrade Judith LeBlanc, one of our national vice-chairs. We’d invite our fellow activists, friends, acquaintances, and family members to meet one of our national leaders and get the Party’s perspective on the Bush administration’s ‘unending war’ program, the Enron scandal, and the economic crisis.

Organizing for these meetings forced us to review our current and old mailing lists, PWW subscriber lists, and to brainstorm about whom we’ve been working with and whether they might be interested in attending such an event. This, in itself, was a very useful exercise.

In each instance we sent mailings, made phone calls, and sent e-mails to about 30 to 40 persons. Phone call follow-up was particularly important. In this connection it’s worth noting that many of the people who we spoke with over the phone and who said that they wouldn’t be able to make it went out of their way to thank us for the invitation and to express regret that they couldn’t be there. Again: this was an index of our Party’s prestige.

The meetings took place on a Friday night, a Saturday afternoon, and a Sunday afternoon. They began with very informal socializing over light refreshments. Then comrade Judith LeBlanc spoke. She did a terrific job. She took a very personal, conversational approach and focused on the most current developments in Bush’s war drive and the economic situation. She impressed old members, new members, and potential new members alike.

In South Chicago, 40 people were invited. Eighteen persons showed up, of which six were non-Party, including nurse, two teachers, a retired worker and two university students. Two of the non-Party attendees were African American. After Judith spoke and while people were socializing afterwards, the nurse joined the Party and the two students said they’d be interested in writing for the People’s Weekly World.

On the West Side, in Oak Park, about 30 people were invited. Fifteen persons showed up, of which six were non-Party. Three people joined–a mother and son, long time activists in progressive politics in the area, and the ‘significant other’ of a current Party member. The latter person, a young woman worker, had attended some of our Party district’s seminars on political questions (e.g., ‘Socialism: past, present and future’) and had thereby been drawn closer to joining.

On the North Side of Chicago, the club invited about 30 people. Eleven showed up, of which four were non-Party: two women of Latin American ancestry, longtime activists in the Cuba solidarity movement, and two students-both of them daughters of current Party members. One of the young women joined the YCL and will hopefully help us establish a new YCL club at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and all three of the remaining persons said they’d think about joining and appreciated the invitation very much.

A relatively new member of the club–someone who had recently relocated to Chicago from Nebraska–indicated that she was particularly inspired by Judith’s presentation. Again, in addition to our guests, both older members and newer members were impressed by Judith’s talk and drawn closer to the Party as a result of her talk.

In the course of this meeting one of our members made an interesting argument for joining–specifically, a reply to the concern expressed by some would-be Party members who say that they are reluctant to join the Party because they’re ‘too busy already’ and that they ‘can’t handle another meeting.’ This comrade argued that by joining the Party you actually stand to multiply your contacts and effectiveness: ‘The Party has many connections-in labor, in the people’s movements, statewide, nationwide, and even internationally. These contacts will make your work easier in many ways, not more difficult. You can tap their experience. You can raise your issue in ways that will get them an even wider hearing. That’s been my experience.’

In the end, the three meetings yielded five new members for our movement-four women, one man; four for the Party, one for the YCL. This was a very positive gain for our Party and League in Illinois. So thank you again, Judith. And thanks to the National Board for urging us to take the initiative.

But that is not the end of the story. While Judith was in Chicago, we were able to organize a one-on-one meeting with a former Party member, an African American activist. This person left the Party in the early 90s. The meeting between he and Judith and another comrade was very cordial and warm. The person expressed his appreciation for the Party’s viewpoint on the issues, and stressed that his departure from the Party was not because he identified with the faction that left the Party during that period, but for other reasons. He said he would seriously consider rejoining the Party but expressed concern about his ability to continuing to participate in his current political work if he were to rejoin. We assured him that his current work would continue uninterrupted. Dialog with this person will continue.

Still another former member–in this case a former national committee member–expressed a willingness to meet and exchange views with Judith while she was in town. While we were unable to work out a mutually good meeting time, this person will certainly be able to meet with another Party leader sometime soon.

And yet another former national committee member, in this case a African American veteran from the ‘great generation’ referred to earlier today recently called one of our current State Board members and expressed an interest in meeting with our new district organizer, John Bachtell. This person reiterated his appreciation for our paper and stressed how he has continued to financially support its growth and circulation.

Comrade John Bachtell likes to speak of the ‘ripple effect,’ and I think in this case the impact of this series of meetings will continue to ripple for weeks and months to come. Word will get around that the Party is on the move, that it’s growing, that it’s influence and prestige are continuing to expand.

There were other gains, too. For example, the South Chicago club now has a database of potential new members. This, in the words of one of the club’s members, is also a gain. Could we have done better? Yes. We did not attract sufficient numbers of industrial workers, African Americans, or Latinos to these meetings–and of those who joined, none fit into these key categories where we need to strengthen our ranks. We are certainly pleased with each of our new members, but we need to find ways to build our Party among these crucial sectors, too. We could have worked more closely with the YCL, and either brought more young people (there were some, to be sure) to the three meetings or organized an appearance of comrade Judith before a YCL meeting that took place that weekend. We could have done more to arrange one-on-one meetings with trade union activists, peace and solidarity activists, or–because of Judith’s unique experiences–Native American Indian activists. We could have done a better job of having Party and Marxist literature, recruitment brochures, up-to-date membership blanks, and PWW subscription forms at our meetings.

But overall it was a very successful experiment. It showed that we can build the Communist Party and the YCL during this period. Other opportunities on the horizon–the Party’s anniversary in September, the YCL National Convention in November–are additional special opportunities for recruitment events. But the Party and YCL need to be built week-in and week-out. Let’s go out and do it!


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