Koch Brothers Teach Community Organizing

grassroots-leadership-academy900x507px-opt_0New Orleans   This is scary, and not because it’s the devil trying on a pair of angel wings, but because it’s reads like it is smart, comprehensive and effective. I’m talking about the fact that the Koch Brothers are looking past Trump and 2016, win or lose, and going for the long term victories at the grassroots level by implementing a training program to develop activists and, gulp, community organizers. They appear to have picked up our playbook, financed it, and are getting ready to run way past us!

An extensive report in the New York Times detailed the work of their “secret weapon,” the Grassroots Leadership Academy, a division of Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the political education arm of the Koch network. The curriculum appropriates “Saul Alinsky, the Marxist-inspired Frankfurt School, and even President Obama’s Organizing for Action.” This program isn’t small potatoes either. They claim to have held training sessions since February 2015 in three dozen states that have been attended by 10,000 people at a cost to the Koch’s of a bit more than $3 million which the intend to scale up even bigger in 2017 and beyond.

Here’s what’s worse. In many ways, they “get it” about community organizing. Maybe even more than progressives do these days.

Listen to Levi Russell, Americans for Prosperity’s communications director:

“We want a cultural shift of people being able to know what they want and how to talk to the people in their communities, so that in the future, when there are political leaders that want to demagogue free-market issues, they do hit resistance.”

With all of the discussion about the impact of demagoguery on the natural, working class base of the Democratic Party, wonder why they don’t understand this?

Listen to Slade O’Brien, vice president of the Grassroots Leadership Academy about what he learned from progressive political tactics:

”It was incredibly relationship-driven; it was truly at the grass-roots level. And they didn’t have to agree on everything to agree to work on something – that incremental victories matter, and they would work on those rather than swing for the fences and try to hit a home run.”

This is scary. They do have an understanding of the basics of community organizing, and they are making it their tool!

O’Brien added, astutely, that “You can’t just show up at somebody’s door six weeks before an election and build a relationship with them…” Like I say, he gets it, and if he gets it, the benefits are going to accrue to conservatives of the Koch stripe.

This is smart strategy, just like any national community organizing strategy. The Koch’s are trying to plant organizers all around the country. They are giving them tools, including how to attract media and use props in demonstrations. Sure not all of this will work. Not every root will branch, but if they keep this up, they will develop a more effective grassroots base and plant their own forest around the country. I would guarantee that.

You have to wonder: why aren’t we doing this?

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The USA Political Scene as Spun by the National Chamber of Commerce Political Director

IMG_2228Lake Village         Rob Engstrom is the political director of the National Chamber of Commerce and a big time DC player. When he talks about dropping $20 million in only 15 election races, and his only gripe was that they were having to put that much in early in the primaries rather than waiting for the general elections, there’s no bluff or braggadocio to it. The biggest danger in listening to him speak and answer questions at the Clinton School for Public Service in Little Rock is that you had to be careful as you got up to leave. He was so smooth, slick, and finely polished that I was afraid of an X-men kind of effect that might have made it dangerous to walk on the floors, in case they had become transformed by some magic while he talked.

If you had just helicoptered down along the Arkansas River to hear his talk, you might not have realized why Engstrom was in town. He lathered up every politician of standing, past or present, in Arkansas, along with his constant and casual bolstering of the local city and state chamber functionaries. Former Senator David Pryor, his wife, and current Senator Mark Pryor his son, were well respected, beloved, and had made great and lasting contributions to the state. He was repeatedly nostalgic for former President Bill Clinton and his ability to work with a divided Congress to govern. He said the same for current Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe while noting that Beebe had the highest popularity polling now at the end of his term compared to any governor in the country. Until the last minutes off his remarks when he went over the edge a bit in duplicitously answering a student’s question about climate change and was too extravagant in his defense of the gazillions of dollars the Koch Brothers, upstanding and generous members of the Chamber and employers of 90,000, that you might have realized he was only in town for an earlier press conference making clear the wild, enthusiastic endorsement of the Chamber for hard right, rabid Republican Congressman Tom Cotton in the pivotal Arkansas Senatorial election over incumbent Senator Mark Pryor. Or, that his political career had started with Clinton nemesis Newt Gingrich or his role in the Florida recount that scuttled Gore. Finally the stiletto fell clamoring to the floor after having been so skillfully and surgically inserted in the body politic of all of the politicians he had named.

He was good. He knew it all, chapter and verse, state by state, race by race. He was wildly impressive. The primary direction of most of his spin was trying to fabricate a picture of the Chamber as the voice of business somehow occupying middle ground as politics polarized. They were fighting the “caveman caucus.” The primary fights were about getting people who could govern. They were for immigration reform, the Import/Export bank, and Common Core, so “see, we’re not so bad” was the message. Yet his recitation of the “facts” as he called them made it clear they were a partner in the polarization. Election cycle after election cycle from his report they had moved farther and farther away supporting any Democrats ever, so that at this point it was less than a handful. And, his recitation of issues that put them in the middle faded away when he listed their policy priorities after the election: “fixing” the Affordable Care Act, Energy Policy, i.e. build the XL Pipeline for the Kochs, Financial Security, read gutting Dodd-Frank even more, and Labor Policy, which means hitting unions even harder. As an afterthought he wanted us not to forget about fair trade and gutting entitlements. So much for any common ground, he and the Chamber are the drum majors and policy pros for the Republican elephant parade.

His predictions pulled out of piles of faint praise for his opponents was an increase of 6 to 10 seats in the House for the Republicans, and maybe a record plus 12, and 51 or 52 seats in the Senate to take control. Engstrom is smart though, and threw a bone out to the crowd about making no permanent enemies reminding us all that in 2016, the pendulum swings again especially in the Senate with 24 Republicans up for re-election and only 10 Democrats all of whom are in blue states won by Obama in 2008 and 2012, leading him to believe that whoever might be the next President will once again face a divided Congress.

That’s some small comfort to take home. Driving back to the office and the studio it was hard for me to hold onto that thought because I imagined all of the wannabe and elected Congressman, Senators, and Governors having to meet with Rob Engstrom as supplicants begging for his and the Chamber’s money and support and promising away their pride and their people at the altar of these policies. Most of them would be putty in the hands of a pro like Engstrom in the K Street offices and boardrooms that determine their future. This guy was scary good with steel in the syrup of his voice, ready to shake your hand today and push you in front of the bus tomorrow. Most of our elected officials would be no match for the likes of Engstrom.

There is no way to sleep soundly. The nightmares keep coming!

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