New Orleans Having already read a number of pieces about the guts of the Bernie Sanders campaign from different perspectives, when I saw that my friends and comrades Becky Bond, who I’ve known back when CREDO was Working Assets and I would run into her in their San Francisco office, and Zach Exley back to his early days at SEIU, had written a book, I made a mental note to put it on my long to-read-list, but I wasn’t in any hurry for another slog in the “look at me, I was there” campaign book genre. I was wrong. This is an organizing book and should be on the top of the pile for anyone who wants to see serious organizations and social movements built from the ground up to build power and make change. I mean it. This book will be required reading for our organizers meeting in January.
The book is entitled, Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything, which is a little tongue and cheek riff off of some of their slams at old school Alinsky organizers and precepts. I actually agree and embrace their critique of one-on-ones and the wrong-headed cult of paid and so-called “professional” organizers and the limits of its scalability, although some of their other shots miss the target, but “big organizing” as the title would have spread the net wider, and this book needs to be read by anyone who wants to organize for change. Having just spent months with a political party in the Netherlands devising a system to maximize their volunteers and go whole hog with phone auto-dialers, I read the book excitedly in the way scientists in different parts of the world might marvel at how parallel our work was without having any idea that others were on the same track. I found myself scrolling for their emails and excited to reach out for them.
This is not the Sanders model book. Becky and Zack are clear that they failed to convince the campaign to endorse their approaches as fully as they felt warranted by the results. Like all organizers running field operations, they rue the millions spent on sending television ads out into the void, rather than investing more in the field where the differences are real, immediate, and measurable. Of course a lot of the book is a thank you note to their colleagues and props for their stars, but the meat of the book is invaluable as an outline for their “barnstorms” and phone operations.
Importantly, for real-police organizers, the book is also refreshingly hard headed and pragmatic and aligns well with what so many of us do day to day. Here are some examples from the one chapter that specifically lists “rules” of a sort:
· Be outcome-focused
· Respect and learn from volunteers
· Practice “high input, low democracy” as a team
· Choose speed over perfection
· Embrace productive conflict but not yelling
· Keep out of email trouble
· Operate on East Coast time
· Don’t be defeated by meetings
· Eat your own dog food
· Take care of yourselves and each other
· Be grateful for your team
See what I mean. This is actually great, solid advice for any organization and organizing effort. I might add even for political campaigns. It’s not the Ten Commandments. For example you could pick any time zone, but picking one would help reduce confusion, but all of these “rules” are good examples of the kind of solid, nuts and bolts, no baloney advice that Zack and Becky provide in this book that, taken seriously, will advance all of our work.
Read this book!