Category Archives: Organizing

Protest Moves People, Money, and Votes

New Orleans       Remember not so long ago when one self-proclaimed wizard after another, usually in power in some corporation, foundation, or governmental post, declared that “protest is passé.”  Those of us so atavistic and anachronistic were simply out of step with modern times, the power of internet petitions, and the civil, on-our-knees begging and pleading for change that has been proven to work so well.  Not!  There were always suggestions for what might substitute and make their lives easier, even if any change was forestalled or forsaken.  Vote instead.  Lobby your electeds.   Be patient.  Work harder.  Learn to live with it.

Of course, this was before the recent eruption of protests that are still reverberating throughout the world today, but no matter, it turns out we were right all the time when we headed for the streets to join others and make our voices heard.  Reading Daniel Gillion’s recently published book, The Loud Minority:  Why Protests Matter in American Democracy, I can now cite chapter and verse proving why protest moves the needle on people, money, and votes.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I always knew this was the case, and I’ve spent my life living it, but now I have proof!

Gillion is a University of Pennsylvania political science professor so he brings the full weight of surveys, voter analysis, and donor reports to bear to try and establish how protest works to make change happen.  Simply put, he found that the more there are protests in any particular geography, and the more local the better, the more politicians were forced to respond.  Protests became part of the public “conversation” that communicated to the broader public the cues that they needed in order to instruct their own actions.

Protests inform liberal voters to act, but he also found, contrary to all of the nervous Nellies out there, that the backlash was minimal.  The more protests, the more people turned out to vote, and the more likely they were to vote for progressives.  Furthermore, and we can see this now among us, the frequency of protests sends messages to potential candidates that their “time is now” to run for office against establishment or more conservative officeholders.

Protests also loosened the pocketbooks of potential supporters of change who moved to donate.  Not necessarily on a local basis, but wherever they saw that their contributions might make a difference and keep the fire burning.   We certainly see even more evidence of this in the surge of contributions after the BLM and George Floyd outpourings.

The bottom line is clear.  Contrary to some popular wisdom, if you want change, and god knows we need and demand it now, it’s time to rock the boat and hit the streets.  It might make all of the difference in the world.


Talking Organizing in Atlanta

New Orleans  Having not flown in months, I was curious what was up in the airways.  My 6:15 AM on a Saturday to Atlanta was the first flight out of New Orleans.  That was already strange.  It used to be one of many.  Where was the 5:28 AM to Houston?  The 6:00 AM to Chicago?  The early flight to New York?  Nowhere, that’s where.  The next surprise was that everything went faster.  I was the only one in the TSA-PRE line.  They screen for temperatures at the gym, but not on the airlines.  Better have a cup of coffee at home, because there was nothing open anywhere in the airport.  Not leaving at least.  Only Chili’s coming back.  It was a ghost town.  On Delta, zones were on the boarding pass, but the boarding was by rows, back to front.  Bringing back the old school, and I liked it.  When the bell rang on landing, I jumped up.  I was surprised that everyone ahead of me kept sitting down.  Social distancing, I guess?

But that was all about what’s up in the air, the real takeaway from Atlanta in my meeting with folks about organizing there, is the on-the-ground benefit of being in the same room in a different city taking part in the valuable cross fertilization of ideas that comes from face-to-face-mask-to-mask conversations.   I’ll give you a couple of examples to prove the point.

  • Talking about the long lines in Georgia polling stations and the similar problems around the country in Louisville, Milwaukee, and elsewhere, a constant refrain in the excuses of election authorities is that the reduced number of manual polling sites was because they didn’t have the poll staff willing to work. Anyone who has ever voted has seen the crew at the polling stations.  This is like the waiting room of a Social Security office.  The ones without gray hair are political cronies making an extra day’s wage complete with donuts for breakfast and fried chicken for lunch.  Talking to my colleagues and new friends in Atlanta, here was an idea for a quick campaign:  an organization should mass file names of “volunteers” willing to be trained to handle the polls in November so there would be a full force.  Who could turn that down?  In states trying to run from the mail ballot, it matters that we have as many open polling locations as possible!
  • In cities like Atlanta and Memphis where the rent amnesty is ending July 31st, local activists are predicting a tsunami of evictions. In New York City on July 1st for example they are expecting 50-60,000.  In these cities the new big landlords are connected at the hip to huge Wall Street private equity companies, so it’s a twofer.  In the wave of resistance now, how about a mass protest and campaign to block the landlords from filing to evict that puts pressure on courts and civil sheriffs to refuse to process evictions?  Supplemental unemployment will still be good, so the troops are out there.  Given the massive support of grassroots donors this day for new activism, it might even hit a cord and raise some money.
  • Training? People are suddenly desperate for a way to up skill for this moment!

See what I mean?  The back and forth of listening, discussion, and synthesis is not something that the Hollywood Squares of Zoom is best at handling.  As hard as it always is, and as virtually impossible as it is now, there’s a reason that organizers have to travel to get closer to people who want to make things happen and help them along.  Atlanta was calling, and it was hard not to pick up the phone.  We’re open for business again!