When I think of electoral campaigns supporting a particular candidate, I think of all the energy used to outreach to the community, fundraise, and communicate values/vision.
Then I wonder what happens to all that energy after the election?
In most cases that energy disappears and those involved in the campaign don’t apply their skills to pushing ahead issues they care about. The people the campaign outreaches to in the community cast their vote and then that ends their expression of “making their voice heard.” The newly elected leaders then tend to wait until the next election cycle before exerting the same level of energy.
Shouldn’t the time after the election be when the real struggle begins?
I believe the issues we care about would have moved farther ahead of we had kept activating and building momentum.
On the other side, how many of us focused on issue organizing ignore electoral campaigns?
We spend all this energy trying to get new policies implemented and working with elected politicians, but where are we when the election is going on? We allow people to keep getting elected year after year, even though they resist the most basic issues for justice. We often avoid putting in the effort necessary to support those truly working for justice.
Shouldn’t the time during the election also be a moment for us to contribute our energy?
If we had also made sure to get strong candidates elected who are responsive to issues, then we would have had much more success in making change.
What tying together electoral and issue organizing would look like
So if you’re like me and think we need to better combine these two types of organizing, we need to figure out how to do so effectively.
1. Use electoral campaign infrastructure to support an issue
A few months ago I heard Rep. Keith Ellison from Minnesota describe how during one reelection cycle he focused his campaign on defeating voter ID policies, rather than campaigning for himself. At the beginning of his effort, even his allies thought voter ID was inevitable, but he mobilized his resources to a surprise defeat of voter suppression.
He did this by emphasizing heavy field organizing (rather than ads) and voter turnout. In order to accomplish this his campaign really had to train and support new community leadership.
This example of focusing on an issue and building community capacity that will keep pushing issues after an election is a model to follow.
2. Getting those supporting issues to come out for progressive candidates
Rishi Awatramani writes we need to involve “people in conscious political action, winning office for progressive candidates (including those that emerge directly from our base), training communities in direct accountability of elected officials we put into office, and sharpening our skills at running campaigns.”
We who focus on the community side need to demonstrate the importance of ensuring strong candidates get elected.
3. Support the growth of community capacity
Both electoral and issue based often just ask for a “vote” or “sign this petition/become a member/etc.” which greatly limits the involvement of people to impact change.
Instead of just asking them to support our single issue or candidate, we should find ways to engage them in developing their own skills and abilities (e.g. training programs, coaching, creating or connecting them to leadership roles, etc.).
4. Build a culture of cross-organizing among candidates and organizations
From the earlier example of Rep. Keith Ellison, he said he worked with state and local politicians/communities as a coalition. Right now many candidates work in silos (other than the occasional canvass/phone bank for each other), but they could be working in coalitions to support each other.
Organizations do this as well and fosters an environment of competition rather than collaboration. We need to build momentum to enhance all of our collective efforts.
5. Engage in mass political education
In our organizing we often think what can win this issue now or get this candidate elected, but we also have the opportunity to discuss deeper issues (e.g. dismantling oppression, working for intersectional justice, and the role of institutions) rather than just “blander” issues (e.g. “middle class,” “go vote,” etc.).
This takes time to really sit down and have the right space to have constructive dialogue; however, if we’re in this to make lasting and long-term change we should be using every opportunity we have to foster a culture of mass education.
6. Recognize the limits and potential of each type of organizing
Another good quote from Rishi Awatramani specifically about one limit with electoral organizing where he says “We must not mistake the political power we might win through this process as analogous to the power people might win through deeper forms of political change”
He goes on to describe the potential in that “It is equally important that we recognize the potential to create real benefits for oppressed people in the US and beyond through this type of political work. And more than anything, we have to build new organizations for the new emerging majority in this country that can build towards deep, lasting social justice.”
As for issue organizing, one limit is the shorter and reduced lens through which we see our work. We normally don’t work on grand platforms, so we can get stuck thinking of only “what’s realistic.”
However, one potential of issue organizing is we can make specific positive changes in people’s lives. Issue campaigns can stay focused on one thing until it finally becomes a reality.
7. Get out on the streets
Lastly, we all need to be on the streets more and go to people’s doors. It can be really easy for advocacy organizations working on particular issues, just to rely on their particular network.
For electoral campaigns this more applies to after the election. It can be easy to get caught up in campaigns […]
Last week I mentioned I’ve been working on creating a workshop on Strategy and ReStrategizing. I focused on Constituency, Vision, and Problem Analysis.
This week I’m going to share the next 4 sections we covered in our strategy training document. This has some pretty in-depth questions for campaigns to consider, hopefully it will be of use for your next campaign!
4. Ecosystem Analysis/Situational Analysis
You cannot create your strategy in a vacuum! We’ve already looked at your constituency and the problems they face, but you also need to consider a host of other factors that could influence how you implement your strategy.
This section focuses on information gathering. What information should you look for in order to inform your strategy?
One way is to develop your “Ecosystem/Situational Analysis.” This contains all the information about the situation in which the campaign will be conducted including but not limited to: transportation, political climate, communications, opponent’s capabilities, weather, legal system, etc.
You could spend your entire life analyzing your particular “ecosystem,” so you need to choose what to focus on and the characteristics of the ecosystem that don’t have to be quite as comprehensive.
When compiling the information on your ecosystem analysis, make sure to note whether the information is fact or assumption (i.e. a belief in lieu of hard facts). So that way you can update your analysis once you have the facts.
Below are a few potential parts of the “ecosystem” to choose from when conducting your own focus analysis areas.
Key “Ecosystem” Areas to Analyze
Here are some “ecosystem” characteristics to identify for your campaign (from the informative book Strategies for Social Change):
Level of social aggregation (local, national, or international) Type of institution (civic society, economy, education system, family, media, politics, religion) Duration (short term, medium term, long term) Cultural characteristics (attitudes, beliefs, discourses, emotions, frames, ideologies, identities, norms, objects, repertoires of contention, rituals, symbols and symbolic repertoires, traditions, tropes, values) Structural characteristics (alliance and conflict systems, capacities, degrees of centralization, decision-making processes, divisions of labor, dynamics, organizational fields, degrees of formality, communication and mobilization infrastructures, heterogeneity or homogeneity, leadership roles, network, opportunities, and threats, power relations, resources)
Here’s how this Ecosystem Analysis would look for the Montgomery Bus Boycotts:
Level of social aggregation – Local (the City of Montgomery) Type of institution – Focused on bus company (economy) and intersections of families, churches, and broader networks (family, religion, and civic society) Duration – Started as short term (a few weeks or a month) and then expanded to mid term based on ReStrategizing (so lasted just over a year) Cultural characteristics – Sought to dismantle the idea of “Separate but equal” (frame/ideology) Structural characteristics – Aimed to activate the intersections of families, churches, and Black-own taxis (mobilization infrastructures, networks, and allies)
All campaigns definitely need to understand the general political/government climate and how it impacts the short- and long-term campaign.
Current political situation – Analyze the general direction of the political climate (e.g. moving to be more/less democratic or seeking to maintain the status quo) Level of repression – Consider whether the government will use all means at its disposal to limit dissent (e.g. through force, legal systems, and the media) or whether it will only use a few Opposition in government – Look to understand whether the government is united or divided in its opposition to your campaign Level of corruption – Consider whether there is a high-level of political favoritism or money laundering in the current government Opponent’s position – Aim to be an “expert” of your opponent’s position so you will be prepared for anything they say/do. Other factors – Think of anything else that your campaign should be aware of that influences the political/government situation
For additional descriptions of this content, see Core Curriculum: A Guide to Effective Nonviolent Struggle (pages 185-198)
Characteristics of the Area of Operations
Your “Area of Operations” is the physical (e.g. ecological and infrastructural) and specific political situation impacting your work. Look at the following to see if analyzing these areas may support your work.
A. Geography – The geography could impact your organizing and timing.
Topography (i.e mapping out the surface) Hydrography (i.e. mapping out the bodies of water)
B. Climate/Weather – While information is fairly easy to obtain, make sure you consistent gather information on the weather if it could impact your actions.
C. Transportation – All sides in the struggle need to travel, so consider taking time to understand the different options.
Type Availability Speed Locations Vulnerability
D. Telecommunications – What communication methods will you, the opposition, and your allies use?
Type Availability Acquirability Vulnerability
For additional descriptions of this content, see Core Curriculum: A Guide to Effective Nonviolent Struggle (pages 185-198)
5. Pillars of Support & Power Analysis
While your strategy may be aligned to your values in creating the world you want to see, there is almost assuredly some institutions/people that wish to see the continuation of the status quo. These institutions/people may not necessarily be opposed to your values/vision, but they resist any attempts to change how things are currently.
If it turns out that we have the resources we need, but just need to use them more collaboratively, then it’s a “power with” dynamic. If it turns out that the resources we need have to come from somewhere else, then it’s a “power over” dynamic. This idea of “power over/power with” has been expanding over the years, and I learned the most about it from the incredible folks over at the Northwest Institute for Community Enrichment.
Make sure, when creating your strategy you take time to discuss whether this work is more “power over” or “power with.”
Conducting your Power Analysis
It may be helpful here, to refer back to Problem Analysis which I talked about in my last blog post.
We call these institutions/people that uphold the status quo […]
Since the Fall of 2013, I’ve been working with a group of great folks from the Leading Change Network on creating a workshop on Strategy and ReStrategizing. While we took about 5-6 months off from our work, a few of us are back into and are nearing the home stretch of our collective labors!
This project started as a way to build on Marshall Ganz’s curriculum on strategy, specifically adding content on how to “re-strategize” during a campaign. “Re-strategizing” is the idea that strategy should be flexible, and should adapt to changing contexts.
We quickly realized though, that based on Althea Middleton-Detzner’s (International Center on Nonviolent Conflict) and Joe Worthy’s (Children’s Defense Fund) worth on strategic nonviolent conflict, that there was some additional material that could be built into the initial curriculum on strategy (e.g. ideas around power analysis, pillars of support, ecosystem analysis, etc.).
We took a new look at our work and decided to build our workshop from the ground up, and make an adapted workshop on strategy to better incorporate the ideas we learned from the worlds of strategic nonviolence, business, military, and other social change organizations.
With these new concepts in tow, we designed a new workshop comprised of 3 essential components of the strategizing program. A. The Initial Strategy, B. The ReStrategizing Process, and C. Capacity Needed to Strategizing (e.g. organizational structures or individual mindsets).
Over the next few posts I want to share a little of what we found out!
First 3 sections of Strategy: Constituency, Vision, and Problem Analysis
Your constituency are the ones you organize to achieve your goals.
Generally your constituency will start out with a core base of supporters, and your organization’s job is to grow your constituency by moving more people “to your side.”
Later on in the workshop (in the “Playing Field”/”Axis of Allies” section) we discuss the essential idea that you while someone may start as a “bystander” or even “opponent,” you must continually look for opportunities to move people closer to your constituency/side.
When deciding your strategy, you must also take care to ground it in your current constituency’s values and fit with their range of organizing (though if necessary/helpful, you can push what “fits”), because they are the primary ones carrying out the strategy!
The Midwest Academy says the job of the organizer is to figure out what your constituency’s relationship to power and their ability to affect your target or decision maker’s interest.
Below are a few questions you can ask about your constituency:
Who are your people? Who are you organizing? (e.g. low- and moderate-income workers in a rural town in Pennsylvania) What are their values? (e.g. community collaboration, healthy and educated children, and economic self-sufficiency) 2. Visioning
Rinku Sen writes that your strategy should be clear about “what you believe, what you oppose, and the future you aim to create.”
You have to make sure any strategy you create helps pushes against what you oppose, while also propelling your vision. Below are those questions you should ask to help guide your strategy to its clear future.
What do you believe? What do you oppose? What world do you want to live in? What it will look like when you know you have “won?”
In a previous post on Organizing Change, I looked at how to do this analysis in more detail.
Here’s a breakdown for a group opposed to the Prison Industrial Complex (i.e. the interconnection between corporations, politics, and the prison system):
What we believe – We believe in replacing the punitive-based prison system, with one based on restorative justice. We also believe in the abolition of the PIC and the creation of alternative means of community security. What we oppose – We oppose a racist/homophobic and punitive-based prison system that has increased incarceration and institutional racism in the U.S. to the level that with 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s prison population. What world we want to live in – We want to live in a world where people are fairly respected and not immediately thought suspicious because of their race, sexual orientation, or immigration status. We also want to live a world where people have a chance to contribute back to their community if they make a mistake, and not just punished in an inhumane manner. What we want changed – We want to institute restorative justice into our prison/political systems. We also want to eliminate people politically/economically benefiting from the PIC’s rise, heightened surveillance, and the media’s influence on criminal justice policy.
Once you’ve done this visioning, and generally identified what you opposed, you need to specifically understand the problems facing your issues.
3. Problem Analysis
One way to specifically address the problems that prevent you from reaching your visions, is to do a problem analysis.
A “problem analysis,” seeks to clearly identify the negative systems that impact people’s’ lives (e.g. underfunded schools or high rates of pollution near a school).
The problem analysis “grounds” the context of your organizing, by making sure groups understand the problems they are trying to address. Do this at both a large (i.e. institutional/structural) and small-scale.
By answering some of the following questions (some of which should take time and research to uncover), you’ll have a great start on your problem analysis!
The responses listed below are potential ones for a community concerned about gun violence.
What problems does our constituency face? Which is the worst? – The main grievances, day-to-day issues, problems they face include:
People are dying Police have an “enforcement” view of the community, rather than seeking collaboration/service Discrimination
What are the “roots” of the problem (you will also refer to these again in the Power Analysis, which will come later):
Economic injustice (e.g. discrimination in financial system, hiring practices, etc.) Punitive-based discipline (e.g. prison industrial complex, school to prison pipeline, and […]
I first learned that instead of creating “power over” I had the possibility to create “power with” from training workshops put on by Nathan Jones at the Northwest Institute for Community Enrichment (NICE).
I had internalized the Alinskyist approach (i.e. “power over”) to always focus on a single decisionmaker in a position of “power” and organize to make them bring about your goals.
Then the NICE showed me that by having every strategy address this individual “decisionmaker”, we missed an opportunity to build our own collective power.
This is not to say that sometimes we may need to focus on a single decisionmaker, but it’s important to always have the option of thinking “what can we do together” (i.e. “power with”) instead of “what can they do for us.” We need both options, not one or the other.
This means we need to both develop leadership so folks have the support and self-encouragement to take on projects, along with keeping our government institutions accountable to providing the services it ought to be providing.
For example, if you want to increase the amount of food grown within your city’s boundaries, instead of going straight to a city councilperson asking them to start a municipal farming program, you could create “power with” by just starting to grow food in collaboration with others.
However, you might consider aiming for a “power over” strategy if you mobilize people to push your city councilperson to challenge city regulations that strictly limit areas where individuals can grow food in the city boundaries.
Basically, the point is that if we hand the “power” to a decisionmaker, we are limiting the potential of our own communities to start the process of change immediately. With a little skill, patience, and luck our collective power may even lead to some cases where the decisionmakers are trying to join us!
How to decide between a “power over” vs. a “power with” strategy?
While it may seem obvious to know what strategy to use when moving forward a campaign, just consider the possibilities of what other strategies might look like.
Below are a set of questions to consider before quickly setting your course.
Can you push forward BOTH a “power over” and a “power with” strategy? In other words, can you both push for someone else to make the change you seek, while working to fulfill your goals yourself/with others? Do you have the resources (e.g. people, time, money, etc.) to do both?
When to consider a “power over” strategy
Is there a service an institution (e.g. government, business, nonprofit, etc.) ought to be providing or policy they should be creating/upholding? If so, then it makes sense to address the institution directly through a “power over” strategy.
Does the realization of your outcomes require substantial resources or impact a large area or number of people? Sometimes what you set out to accomplish can be so large that it could benefit from securing the resources of an established entity to implement what needs to be done.
When to consider a “power with” strategy
Would your outcomes (e.g. projects, programs, etc.) be more resilient if those impacted created and maintained them? If this is the case, to have those involved maintain and manage the outcomes, then a “power with” strategy would be ideal for this work.
Do you aim to significantly increase individuals’ and communities’ capacity and confidence through your organizing? Once people realize what they can achieve with each other, then often they have the skills and attitudes that they can make even bigger changes.
There are many more factors that must go into whether to use a “power over” vs. a “power with” strategy, as I learned from Nathan Jones at the NICE, however the above questions provide a conceptual framework to get started. Just remember, try to think of ways when you can use both strategies concurrently!
What other questions should we ask ourselves before deciding whether to go with a “power over” or a “power with” strategy? Post your comments on the Organizing Change Facebook page!
I launched Organizing Change about a month ago so I thought this would be a good moment to discuss more about what it means to be a strategic changemaker.
While many organizations are still focusing on single issue campaigns, the desire to connect our multi-issue values to our activism continues to grow. This demonstrates the urge folks have to build on our history of activism (both single issue and those more intersectional) and construct movements that tie together our visions.
Analysis of what we need to do to build strategic cross-issue efforts, has been dramatically escalating in the past few years. From Rinku Sen’s movement building vision to Organizing Upgrade’s drive to “Engage Left Organizers in Strategic Dialogue,” I can see how my writing here is only a small part of a larger push to ensure resilient shifts occur.
6 Elements of Strategic Changemakers for the 21st Century
Through Organizing Change I aim to highlight 6 key elements of strategic changemakers. Below I describe these 6 elements in more detail and reasons why they matter.
1. Strategic changemakers lay the groundwork for “movement moments.” This means organizing for the long-term, and working to institute rigorous movement building practices. As I looked at earlier, this also involves developing your individual and organization world vision and detailing out concrete steps to get there.
2. Strategic changemakers recognize the power of words and, thus, endeavor to make our language and culture intentional by “changing the narrative.” Whether this means addressing how our history of oppression led to ingrained cultures or learning how to make our moral values manifest themselves, strategic changemakers have the responsibility to conscientiously mold language/culture.
3. Strategic changemakers consistently aim to hone their skills and develop the leadership of themselves and others. Individuals learn concepts and techniques in multiple ways, and thus organizers must support the leadership capacity of those around them.
4. Strategic changemakers dedicate themselves to the process of ending injustice. This means looking to see whether our own intentions lead to the desired results, and confronting oppressive institutions that limit our expectations of ourselves.
5. Strategic changemakers learn about historical struggles and how current systems formed. This means we must analyze ways movements pushed forward positive change, and take time to understand how our efforts fit into the timeline of activism.
Celebrating Organizing Change’s 1st month of posting!
This week marks the completion of Organizing Change’s 1st month (!!!) of posting on these organizing attributes.
I just want to thank you for reading and everyone else who has supported me in the launch, from my brother Tony who has read every post and given me feedback on each one, those who helped share the blog’s launch and posts (thanks Ruby, Claire, Marie, and Kate!), those who commented (thanks Kaitleen, Matt, Heath, and Mom!), and to those who gave me encouragement such as Jeremy, Meaghan and my sister Hayley!
I’m looking forward to this continuing and I am super grateful to all of you for making me excited to keep writing!
To see more discussion of these key changemaker elements, click to subscribe to Organizing Change.
How often have you thought “ideology is so inflexible!”
I know I used to say ideology hindered folks from seeing the whole truth. While this is definitely true in some cases, after reading Rinku Sen’s Stir It Up I asked myself more critically if ideology had to have the same rigid dogma that plagues much of the U.S.’s current political systems?
I now have a new appreciation for the role a clear set of values has in resisting those who do have an inflexible ideology.
3 ways to connect issues into a broader analysis
I remember it was only a few years ago that all I focused on was a specific issue (e.g. rainforest destruction) and I avoided looking at the larger forces that instigated the problem (e.g. racism, sexism, and capitalism).
I wasn’t clear even to myself about what I wished to see created/ended, and how to make changes. I would intently argue for a certain policy or plan, but if it came to talking about institutional “isms” that went across numerous issues, I didn’t have the analysis to respond since I didn’t understand the deep connections between issues.
Ideology, if carefully considered and maintained, can be a dynamic instrument that provides a strategic vision connecting issues together and shows what we believe, oppose, and what we want changed.
For an example of this ideology framework in practice consider the organizing against U.S. Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).
What we believe – We believe in the abolition of the PIC and the creation of alternative means of community security. What we oppose – We oppose a system of increased incarceration and institutional racism that has led the U.S., with 5 percent of the world’s population, to have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. What we want changed – We want to eliminate people politically and economically benefiting from the PIC’s rise, heightened surveillance, and the media’s influence on criminal justice policy.
These and other obstructions are not isolated to the PIC, but rather span across a whole host of other issues (e.g. poverty, exploitation of sovereign Native land, and climate change).
It may seem easier to break things down into discrete issues, but we need to define cross-issue, long-term strategies that counter the main power holders and narrative of our times. I will still disagree with some tactics, and ideas, but I will not let small differences in approach separate me from those who I ought to be organizing with.
This framework may not stop the creation of all inflexible beliefs, but it will make sure that folks know what they stand for and what specifically they aim to achieve.
Be vocal about your beliefs
In reality, I have always had an ideology, I just had a hard time expressing it.
There may be reasons why I remained silent (e.g. my entrenchment in white culture that encourages me to avoid confrontation/“disorder”), but I now see that we must be vocal about our IDEOLOGY of what we believe, oppose, and what we want changed in order to bring our multi-issue, long-term strategies to fruition.
Before I would always say “I support X cause.” Now I aim to be much more intentional and open about my views, even though I still may struggle to stand up to privilege (my own and others), power, and oppression.
My transition to clearly and courageously stating my ideology took place over a long period; however, now every time I state what I believe, what I oppose, and what I want changed, my confidence grows.
What do you believe, oppose, and what to see changed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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