Campaign Strategy and Tactics is Gangster

Amani United campaign planning charts

Milwaukee       The leadership and organizer training with Amani United in Milwaukee had gone very well for two days.  The general theme of these three days was identifying issues and how these issues can be distinguished and then be transformed into winning campaigns that build power for the organization.  We had made great progress in the second day and had gotten to the point in the dialectic process of the training between me and the leadership where we were examining the definitions and differences between tactics and strategy.

We were using a specific issue that the leaders had mentioned in the afternoon session as an example.  In order to flesh out this topic, the leaders had chosen a proposal by the Milwaukee city bus service to eliminate the #80 bus line.  Conversation was energetic and engaged.  Feelings were unanimous and deep that this was deadly to the neighborhood.  Stories abounded of the extra half-mile or more that residents would have to walk to be able to catch a bus to work, downtown, or grocery stores from Amani if the 80 was taken out of service.

We looked at the potential targets.  We diagrammed additional pressure points that we could potentially leverage to join with Amani United in order to impact the targets or that we would need to neutralize.  Then we got to the point of discussing tactics and strategy for the potential campaign.  We agreed that any tactic repeated too often lost its effectiveness.  We agreed that tactics needed to have proportionality and be appropriate to the target.  We agreed that strategy and tactical selection had to be adaptive enough to gauge the actions the organization took against the reaction of the targets and response of the public, and constantly evolve.

Earlier I had made my usual pro forma apology for the militaristic nature of some of the discussion and the terminology.  I made my usual joke that the alternative was often to use more sports metaphors, but goodness knows that would be inappropriate as well.  The organization’s president, Rice Bey, then blurted out that he “got” all of this now that we were talking about tactics and strategy, jumping up and saying, “this is all gangster!”  Without exactly saying so, a light seemed to go off for many of the other leaders in the room.

The old metaphors were gone.  The metaphors with real meaning, the ones that worked in looking at strategy and tactics were embedded “in the streets,” as several said.  We had suddenly jumped from the room of the religious social services center where we were meeting into lived experience of many of the leaders.  These weren’t episodes of “The Wire.”  We were part of the thrust and jab, cat-and-mouse of moving product with a hundred different strategies and tactics to win against the police and make a living.

Building the organization, finding issues, launching winning campaigns, and, in fact, winning and losing made sense suddenly within all of the leaders’ experiences.  As one leader then said, “Hey, Wade, I get it:  this is for real isn’t it?”

Yes, brothers and sisters, this is totally for real.  Winning matters and losing hurts.  Organizing is the difference.


Keeping the Issues Real in Milwaukee

Milwaukee       In what will be a monthly set of sessions for the over a six-month period focusing on leadership development, organizer training, and organizational planning and development, we started discussing issues to get the ball rolling.  It was a good experience, and the response was excellent by the dozen or so participants from the lower income, Amani neighborhood in Milwaukee.

We began at the basics.  What separates an organizational issue from a personal problem or grievance?  The point of course is to allow people to build an internal checklist allowing them to filter through the myriad issues that are visible in the community, but do not trigger action or build organization either because they are amorphous, seem unwinnable, or people don’t see a way to act and make a difference.

The examples focused on propositions that the community leaders understood well like lead and poverty itself.  Lead has been outlawed in paint for decades.  The dangers have been well known and widely documented for children and others.  Yet, only recently has lead become a front page issue in Milwaukee and in Amani where tests have determined it is the worst, when the connections to drinking water and the city’s lead pipes have emerged as the biggest culprit.

“End Poverty Now” is a great slogan but a poor organizing campaign.  I raised the issue of welfare to see if that would get the discussion going by citing the researchers view from the book about living on less than $2 per day that many lower income families no longer believe there is a welfare program.  I couldn’t get a bite the first time I threw that question out.  Everyone in the session said they knew there was a welfare program.  We went on, as I searched for another example, but then about fifteen minutes later a woman raised her hand and told about her experience in recent years in trying to get on welfare when she lost her job with a young baby.  She was rejected because she could not verify the income of the baby’s father who of course was long gone.

A dam was broken then.  Another woman had been an intake worker at W2, the Wisconsin welfare department.  She told of the problem for the homeless and people facing evictions in getting welfare or food stamps without a “stable” address.  Another person suggested the work around there of using a family member’s address.  We were flooded with examples of issues concerning welfare and the systemic efforts that were ongoing to prevent people from receiving benefits.  When I then asked who knew the discount rate for trying to convert food stamps to cash, everyone raised their hand, and the market of 50% was universally agreed, and everyone knew where it could be done.

All of which confirmed what so happens in doorknocking for these leaders.  People often don’t respond when asked about issues until they realize that what they may have seen as a personal problem is revealed to be a common occurrence and therefore an issue throughout the community that demands action and solution.


Please enjoy Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones with Florence Welch

Thanks to KABF.