Campaign Strategy and Tactics is Gangster

ACORN Community Organizing
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.