Good Advice for Big Organizing from Sanders Campaign Innovators

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!


Clinton Wins, Sanders Sulks

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 10.05.44 AMNew Orleans   In the last major bout of voting, Hillary Clinton decisively sewed up the Democratic nomination for President to become the first woman nominee of a major party, and making history in the bargain, 95 years after women first won the vote. She prevailed in indisputable fashion, winning the California primary decisively at 56% with 94% of the vote tallied, as well as primaries in New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota.

Furthermore for all of the carping, Clinton “succeeded in winning a majority of pledged delegates, a majority of the states that have held primaries, and the popular vote.” There will be a lot said, though I bet little in real terms that will be done, about the status of superdelegates in the future, but this was not a “rigged” victory. Clinton won fair and square and California was a stake through the heart of the Sanders campaign.

I interviewed Sanders organizer and longtime organizer and activist, Pat DeTemple, on Wade’s World last week about a paper he had been circulating around the Sanders camp that is part of the edition of Social Policy now at the presses. He had confidently predicted victory in California for Sanders, and was arguing that even so, it was time for Sanders to take the next step, organize an independent expenditure committee, start going after Trump, and make sure that Clinton, (gulp, sneeze, and cough) wins in November. Sanders winning North Dakota and Montana doesn’t do the job. California was his Battle on the Little Bighorn, and he was massacred. It’s time for him to shift to a new battlefield and leave this one. The nomination is Clinton’s.

Reportedly, President Obama called Sanders over the weekend. They are supposedly meeting on Thursday. It may be the White House, but it could be the woodshed. Obama is stepping up as the leader of his party to give Sanders a chance to exit on the lawn, arm in arm with the President, with a huge measure of the kind of grace that Obama can bring to such an event. The clock has wound down and the opportunity is now gone for a Sanders scowl and sulk. He’s had the opportunity to watch one Republican princeling after another walk the plank, so he knows the walk, and this is the best path for him – and the rest of us — to take.

Revolutions are about sacrifice, and they start with knowing that’s it’s not about you, but about the people. Senator Sanders fought the good fight and now there are other fights that wait for him, when he’s ready and willing, so he needs to help lead in that direction. In the meantime it’s worth remembering, that in this situation even the Beatles gave good advice, singing….

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re all doing what we can
But if you want money
For people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead


Is a Progressive Future Ours to Lose?

02supertuesday-sanders-superJumboLittle Rock   Ok, puzzle me this, joker, if Bernie Sanders doesn’t go out of the box as I’ve argued he should to gain increased leverage, but instead gets lost in the arcane minutia of Democratic platform politics, what is the progressive future? There are several scenarios that are possible, even if unlikely, but at least worth strategic consideration.

We’ve learned two things that we shouldn’t forget in the 2016 primaries thanks to the Sanders’ campaign. First, to use a sports analogy, small ball can at least stay on the court against the big guys, meaning in politics that small donors can equal big fat wallets. The money primary can be won with the right candidates and program as we have seen with Obama in 2008 and now with Sanders in 2016. Secondly, to quote Nate Silver’s data crunching, FiveThirtyEight website, “The Democratic electorate turning out in 2016 has been a lot more liberal than it was in the last competitive Democratic primary, in 2008.” The tide is turning our way.

To Charles Blow of the New York Times that says that the “moderate/conservative portion of the Democratic primary electorate [could] become a minority in the next 10 years.” He worries that that could create the kind of divisiveness within the Democratic Party that the rise of Trump is creating for the Republicans. Maybe, but let’s say Clinton wins the presidency as a moderate/liberal/hawk having survived by the reckoning of many as the best of bad choices. The Sanders constituency that stays in the Democratic Party won’t be happy and an evolving progressive base will still be looking for someone or something to carry its banner, so my bet is that Clinton will face a challenge on the left in the 2020 primaries, especially since she won’t solve inequality, the betting odds are that we will be more likely to be in military conflict than not, and Sanders has created more space that someone will want to fill. She would still win the Democratic nomination in 2020, because there’s no way a sitting President doesn’t, remember Jimmy Carter, but the Republicans will learn from the Trump trouncing, and might then hold her to one term. Sadly, that would leave the progressive faction discredited, farther out of power, and estranged from its own growing base.

I think progressives get trapped in that scenario because we are competing with a significant base, but in an arena so alien to our core competency on rules that so radically privilege incumbents and elites that we can’t win, and worst can be ignored. All of which argues that we do better building an independent base either through an alternative party, a national Working Families Party style fusion strategy, or a temporary free floating ad hoc coalition strategy of running and winning with independents. There is energy for such strategies, and there are young, savvy candidates who will emerge as well.

Implementing any of these strategies means years of hard work in the vineyards, but at least there’s something real at the end of the rainbow. The short term strategies that depend on taking down the establishment with an inside coup, seem destined for failure and leave us holding an empty bag, and, worse, starting over from scratch on a job we should have started yesterday, but at the least need to get busy with today.


Democratic Elite Ignoring Voters – We Need an Exit Strategy

88776009ff348958c30cee7e2ee1cc2cNew Orleans   Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has now taken 16 states while Clinton has taken 20, including what would normally in politics be called a landslide in Wisconsin by 56.5 to 43.2 besting Hillary Clinton in all but a couple of counties in the state. Everyone who is anyone seems to know that Sanders campaign is a loser, yet he keeps winning, and in March he raised $44 million from mostly small donors compared to Clinton’s $29.5 million for the same month, as she was in the process of being anointed. The delegate count is close now after Wisconsin as well. Clinton has a significant lead at 1279 to 1027, and has to be favored to win, but the Democratic elite also has a big, fat foot on the scale with 469 super delegates from the party bigwigs and electeds compared to Sanders teeny little 31 supers. Grassroots Democrats are voting with both their dollars and their feet, but rather than the Democratic elite wringing their hands and pretending they are learning something, the way we see on the Republican side, they seem to be just hiding and hunkering down.

Progressives, the young, and a bunch of others are still stubbornly pulling the lever for Sanders and digging deep because they are trying to be heard, rather than ignored. Sure Clinton has had to make some adjustments. She’s crawfishing on trade and the TPP, though it is hard to believe her heart is in it. She’s claimed she would really make it hard on frackers, while Sanders says that he would just say no. The chattering class claims it will get better for Clinton in coming elections in New York, but common sense says that California could be a climb for her.

Nonetheless, despite Sanders calls for a revolution, if, and when, Clinton is the nominee, that cry becomes a whine, because from the coronation at the convention onward Clinton knows the only option progressives will have to continue the protest against the elite, Washington consensus will be to stay home. Looking at Trump, Cruz, or Kasich, she and her advisers have to believe they can yell, “Supreme Court!” and “Look over there!” enough to scare most progressive folks to soldier over and vote.

Progressives get taken advantage of time and time again, because we have no exit strategy. We have not been willing to embrace a new party and step up with the discipline and commitment it takes to prove we could win with a multi-year election strategy to insert a progressive alternative into political equation. Liberals claim we are afraid to “waste” our votes, but the lessons from multi-party contests around the globe is the opposite: progressive parties do force change even from conservative forces, especially if they build a solid local base. Building an alternative party is a progressive strategy of investing our votes in the future, rather than wasting them now.

The Working Family Party floated a creative strategy some time ago arguing that in a number of states, despite fusion being banned, it was likely legal to fuse on an alternative party line on the presidential ballot. If that strategy were implemented widely and survived politically and legally, it would allow alternative parties to rise at both the state and federal level, either separately or amalgamating state formations, while still “protecting” federal votes during the building process.

The Sanders’ campaign proves that our voters and our votes are there and ready. What are we waiting for? It’s time to do the work, rather than just voting our protests.


Sanders, Warren, and Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Bernie Sanders campaign appearance in Portland last summer. Bukaty/Associated Press

Bernie Sanders campaign appearance in Portland last summer. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

New Orleans   Run for President in the United States or anywhere around the world, and everyone is a Monday morning quarterback, and some people even make their livings that way.

Like it or not, and believe me, there’s a lot not to like, more than a dozen Republicans threw their hats into the ring and took a shot, and three are still racing to the finish. For many of them it was “go big or go home,” and home is where they landed often bruised and battered permanently like Dr. Ben Carson and former Governors Bobby Jindal and Jeb Bush, and likely Senator Marco Rubio.

On the Democratic side, as more and more of the story trickles out, it seems like the real story of the now almost inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton may have simply been that she had won before the formal campaign even began. Like a world class athlete she had trained and worked harder before the game began, and by doing so intimidated her opponents into seeing their real chances as quixotic rather than competitive.

In an afterthought, seeing how the campaign has unraveled for Clinton and her vulnerabilities, the biggest favor she got from the outset was the reticence of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who took herself out of contention early and often. Given the mood of the electorate on both sides of the party line, it is almost inarguable that with her history of taking on Wall Street and a host of others, and winning, she would have ended up in the White House.

But, at least Warren was clear and consistent. As the story trickles out from the Sanders camp, it seems that they are already in the doldrums of debating “woulda, shoulda, coulda” given his unexpected success thus far. Though the public storyline has consistently been that he was “in it to win it,” reports from everyone from his campaign manager to wife to key supporters and observers are now conceding that he entered the race believing he could not and would not win, but would use the campaign as a platform for his issues and interests. He was not exactly a protest candidate, but neither was he ready to “go big or go home.” He was one foot in the water, and one foot on the solid shore, campaigning on weekends and holidays and making sure he kept his day job while he hit the hustings.

Politically, I’m not sure what this is? Maybe it’s a pre-post-mortem, if there’s such a thing as that. Somehow we’re getting the fatal diagnosis even before there’s a cadaver. The campaign insiders are essentially saying that he lost the race in the locker room, even though he was winning on the field. They say he should have gone all in during 2015, been earlier in Iowa, built better bridges to African-Americans in the South, and organized more extensively in Nevada. They also believe he gave Clinton a pass on the emails and kid gloved her on her cozy Wall Street speeches and Clinton Foundation conflicts, rather than hitting hard on those troubling issues, which I can guarantee you we will hear endlessly before the election is finally over in November from the Republicans.

What’s the story for progressives? Is it that we would rather be right, than win? We owe ourselves and our people better than a good fight. We owe them going hard and bringing home the victory. Politics and elections are not “hey, good game, you came so close,” but winners take all. Trump knows that completely, and Sanders seems to be discovering that too late in the game.


Fat Lady Hasn’t Sung, but She’s Warming Up

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 10.33.50 AM

Source: AP. Graphic: Kevin Schaul and Samuel Granados. Washington Post

Newark   How many Tuesdays can be super? We must have calendared three or so by now?

In the latest, Donald Trump obliterated the field, besting the combined totals of both Florida’s own Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, sufficiently to force Rubio to drop his bid for the nomination. Trump also won North Carolina and Illinois and may end up taking Missouri in a close battle with Cruz, only losing Ohio to favorite son and current Governor John Kasich. Kasich says he’ll hang in, believing that the rest of the primary calendar with states like New York, New Jersey and California will favor his more middle-of-the-road effort. The math though says that there’s no way anyone catches Trump.

Hillary Clinton smashed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in Florida and North Carolina and beat him solidly as well in Illinois and Ohio while leading the race in Missouri for an overwhelming takedown. The signs of a momentum swing in the rust belt after Sander’s upset victory in Michigan disappeared without a trace. My email inbox was missing its usual exhortations from the Working Families Party and Move-on boosting Sanders’ campaign. It’s man against the machine now, and all over but the shouting.

Paul Begala, a longtime Clintonista, political operative, CNN commentator and, frankly, a pretty funny guy, cracked wise in a discussion about a potential someday Rubio comeback that “Rubio’s future is behind him.” David Axelrod, Obama big campaign whoop, argued that there is no way that the Republicans can deny Trump the nomination even if he lacks the exact number and comes close, saying it would “be ludicrous” to assume that someone who didn’t run could be nominated in Cleveland at the Republican Convention or that someone who lost to Trump throughout the primaries could be nominated ahead of him. Begala quipped that with half of the Republicans saying the party would be destroyed if Trump was the nominee and the other half saying that the party would be destroyed if Trump were denied the nomination, he planned essentially to sit back and simply enjoy watching the show.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is now inarguably and incontestably in the catbird seat. Super delegates are noncontroversial; her nomination is now inevitable. Sanders has the resources to keep going through June, but strategically it may be time for him – and us – to make the best deal for Sanders’ Nation with both the Clinton campaign and, potentially, the next Clinton Administration. Clinton needs Sanders’ young supporters and his disaffected blue collar base to win in November, and she needs to dramatically move out of the hip pocket of Wall Street, the elites, and the establishment to embrace with sincerity a real program to decrease inequality. She needs Sanders on side. Sanders shouldn’t want to be a spoiler, and Clinton should resist being vengeful. It’s Democratic détente time.

On the Republican side it’s hard to see a deal, because only Trump is a dealmaker. Cruz is a last-stand-at-the-Alamo guy. Anyone who will try to shut the whole government down doesn’t care if he’s splitting a Republican Party and an establishment that he disdains. Rubio is totally damaged goods at this point. I would bet that Trump is going to have to talk to his new buddy New Jersey Governor Chris Christie about whether they could make a deal with Ohio’s John Kasich to be vice-president, but if Kasich stays in, they can’t do that until Christie tries to help deliver Jersey and New York to secure his own place on the ticket. Cruz might have the stomach for a third party bid but Rubio doesn’t, and with people like New York’s former billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, saying he’s against a third party bid, then how would it be financed, and who would be willing and able to lead it? They’re stuck in the muck.

November is what matters now. It will be interesting to see who has the skills to pull all of these Humpty-Dumpty pieces together.