Bob Wing wrote a useful and thought-provoking Organizing Upgrade piece on an inside-outside electoral strategy for the Left. Along with a post by Bill Fletcher (and following his "It's Time for the Left to get Serious" talk to YDS), these pieces articulate an urgent challenge to the Left. In light of not just the upcoming Obama election, but the Galloway win in England and the 3rd place finish of Le Pen versus two strong Left candidates, it is clear that the Left needs to discuss electoral strategies and not just whether it should have strategy (or not) in order to further social justice.
However, while we appreciate much of what they suggest, we feel Wing and Fletcher discuss electoral strategy as if the answer is just a "changing of the guards" which doesn't take into account the role and functions of the state. We found much of Bob's piece persuasive, but feel he gives too little attention to a crucial piece of the puzzle, which he mentions briefly as the fourth point in his proposal where he writes: “We must have a governance strategy, not a strategy just of ‘influence’ or ‘impacting public policy and debate.’”
Political polarization between liberal/progressives and conservative/rightwing populists has deepened since the controversial 2000 election and especially since President Bush’s declaration of the “War on Terrorism at home and abroad” after September 11. This intensified struggle over war and economics has overlapped with and shaped the political parties and elections.
Kamau Franklin has worked as a community activist for over fifteen years in New York City and is now based in the south. In addition to his work as an activist attorney, he is a leading member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM). An organization dedicated to human rights advocacy and building grassroots institutions in the black community. The organization works on various issues including youth development, fighting police misconduct, and creating sustainable urban communities. Kamau has helped develop community cop-watch programs, freedom school programs for youth and alternatives to incarceration programs. He recently moved to Jackson Mississippi to do political work, and he reflects on that move and its strategic implications in this piece. You can read more of Kamau’s thoughts on his Grassroots Thinking blog.
Kai Barrow, a long time left organizer, activist, mentor to many and inspiration to more, is leaving her long held staff position at the prison abolition organization, Critical Resistance. As she leaves she has reflected on her time in the movement and her work in CR, producing the “Swan Song Manifesto.” This enlightening piece is over 20 pages long! Here we excerpted two sections from the introduction, which bring very good and clear challenges to left organizers in these times, based in a personal historical analysis of movement work. For everyone who hasn’t met Kai, or learned from Kai, this is a great introduction to one of our unsung movement heros.
What will it take to Bring Obama Home?
Obama vs. The Left: There’s Enough Criticism to go Around
In St. Louis, I remember vividly a community workshop put on by The Justice Institute to assess President Obama’s first 100 days. JI is a progressive organizing and training institute. It assessed Obama’s performance up to the 100 days in three areas: education, healthcare and peace. The new president received a few B’s, mostly C’s and D’s. He received no A’s – too early to be an exemplary president but he received no F’s – too early to tag him as a failure. Clearly, by the 100 days, the thrill was gone for the transformative change that Obama supporters were promised.
Paul Getsos is a widely recognized expert on strategy development, organizing, leadership training and community power-building. Paul has extensive experience working at the national, state and local level. He has been a lead staff person on two national campaigns focused on jobs and unemployment and health-care reform, as well as a key strategic partner representing Community Voices Heard (an organization he co-founded) on national welfare reform, TANF re-authorization and global justice issues. He is also the co-author of Tools for a Radical Democracy. The following is reflection written by Paul Getsos on in early March when he was in Argentina studying unemployed movements, seeking for transferable lessons for U.S. based organizing.
Drawing on a long history of worker struggles, and yet spontaneously responding to Walker’s all out attack, Wisconsinites took over Capitol Square in Madison. Beginning with over a thousand people on the first day, the crowds of teachers, students, public employees, union members, health justice groups, racial justice groups, firefighters, off-duty police, families, and impacted community members, reached over 100,000 people on Saturday February 26th, and joined in over 20 days of protest. Hundreds of people slept inside the capitol each night in the first two weeks, creating a strong community of resistance and support. On Feb. 27th when faced with threats of arrest for remaining in the capitol 800 protesters remained to keep the building open for another day.
One of the most exciting grassroots victories of 2010 was the passage of the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Domestic Workers United put in six long years of hard organizing to pass this historic legislation, and they learned many deep political lessons along the way. In October of 2010, the Inter-Alliance Dialogue sponsored a learning call so that the staff and members of grassroots social justice organizations from around the country could learn from this inspiring campaign. The Inter-Alliance Dialogue is a network of national alliances that bring together community and labor-based membership organizations working on social justice issues, including: Grassroots Global Justice, Jobs with Justice, the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, The Right to the City Alliance, the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Pushback Network. On the call staff, members and allies of Domestic Workers United shared their reflections about the significance of this victory and the lessons that other organizers could draw from their experiences. Speakers included: Ai-jen Poo (Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance), Priscilla Gonzales (director of Domestic Workers United), Joycelyn Gill-Campbell (Lead Organizer at Domestic Workers United), Deloris Wright (leading member of Domestic Workers United) and Saket Soni (Director of the New Orleans Center for Racial Justice).
This election highlights the extraordinarily high stakes of this period in U.S. and world history, and is a barometer of which way the country is moving. As I see it the Republicans scored a remarkable victory at a critical juncture in a historic struggle marked by two huge trends.
Organizing Upgrade was initiated in the aftermath of the economic crisis and Obama's election because - as we saw it then - "the terrain of politics is rapidly shifting beneath our feet." The mid-term elections on November 2, 2010 represented another significant shift in the political terrain. Not only did the balance of power shift in the House of Representatives, but the election of dozens of Tea Party candidates indicated disturbing trends in popular political consciousness.