[Introductory Note: We're using some metaphors from the language of IT and the internet here because our old organizing models-hubs and spokes on a wheel, pyramids of blocks in organization charts-don't help that much these days, given how people actually relate. Better to use the metaphor of a large fisherman's net, with the knots at the intersections of the strings being groups of people, and the strings being the relations between and among them. There's two ways of looking at a net- seeing mainly the knots first or seeing mainly the strings first. At the risk of sounding sexist, men usually see the knots first; women usually see the interconnecting strings first. Nor is the net completely flat and even. It's rumpled and tattered, with little peaks and valleys, and some parts in dire need of repair. Having said all that, the IT and internet part is still merely a tool. What's most important are the real world face-to-face, and group- to-group meetings, discussions and joint efforts that need to take place in the period ahead, as it always has been.]
How can the people brought together by the `Progressives for Obama' project make a transition into a broader and ongoing post-election nationwide network? How can that network continue to serve as a left- progressive pole within the broader alliance of Obama activists and voters, while contributing to the organization of the instruments for popular political power? What follows is an outline of the organizing tasks and components of such an effort, with an invitation to wider discussion among our community of supporters and activists.
The most important node on the new network is the base community. This is a grassroots group of left- progressive voter-activists situated where people live, work or go to school.
1. Where people live can be a neighborhood, a township, precinct, church parish, temple or mosque, a ward, town or city, state legislative districts or congressional districts. It can be any combination or variation of these, but the main point is that they have a set of elected officials or governmental body as a target.
2. Where people work is important because of the potential power of organized labor, whether their workplace is currently organized or not. That power is multiplied by the direct engagement of the rank-and- file in base organizations, committees and such.
3. Where people go to school is important because of the powerful role of youth as a critical force, often serving to awaken the wider society to injustices, local and global. School is the most common place they come together, but faith, culture and sports venues are also important here.
Left-progressive defines the political orientation, essentially broad agreement with the principles of the initial call to `Progressives for Obama', groups like the Aurora Project, Progressive Democrats of America and others. The main themes to focus on: Healthcare not Warfare via HR676, Green Jobs Not War Jobs via recession-busting infrastructure spending, Alternative Energy Investments dealing with climate change, College for All who want to learn for the work and study required by the 21st Century, wider democracy through EFCA for unions and other anti-discrimination measures, and stopping the wars now and cutting defense to help pay for it
The voter-activists we seek are the kind of people who hold these politics and either already belong to mass democratic organizations working on the above, or they want to join them. They can be ad-hoc single issue groups, 501C4 nonprofit groups, faith-based and community based groups, union locals or even clubs of political parties or the campaign organizations of local candidates and elected officials. But it's best if they have individual members, and see themselves growing by getting more of them. During election cycles, they are people who vote and work in campaigns. Between election cycles, however, they are also active in a variety of other mass campaigns. They have little problem shifting from one to the other as the situation demands.
Without these base communities, we can talk about politics and change, but we can't DO anything about politics and change with much impact.
Second in importance is the local cluster of similar nodes. This means student groups getting together across a city, a local labor council, or a citywide meeting of peace and justice groups, and so on.
Third in importance is the local wider horizontal network of a variety of local clusters of nodes. This means a citywide or CD-wide alliance of labor unions, community organization, student coalitions, peace and justice activists, as well as others.
Fourth in importance are the broader networks of these networked clusters reaching both upward and outward. These are statewide or regional alliances or federations aimed at mobilizations or longer-term lobbying and pressure campaigns.
What Links the Networks?
First, already mentioned, is a common political orientation mentioned above. These can be developed and improved over time as more forces become involved and new tasks are demanded of us. Second, and perhaps just as important, and in some way more so, are common platforms-packages of immediate and transitional demands for political reform and economic development. Immediate demands widen democracy and redistribute wealth and resources downward. Easier voting, anti- discrimination laws and the living wage are examples Transitional demands alter the structure of power in favor of those at the base-seats for unions on development authorities, worker buyouts of failed but still profitable firms, wider community participation in schools.
The platforms, even though they share a common depression-busting, popular empowerment theme, have to be custom-designed for their localities-city, state or bioregional. Wind farms make no sense in places with little wind; lock and dam modernization means little to places without major rivers. But the process of defining and shaping the platforms of the various levels of the network are an excellent venue in bringing people together for an exercise in participatory democracy. Some of these platform- templates have already been shaped to some degree by DC-based groups like the Institute for Policy Studies, the Blue-Green Alliance, the Apollo Alliance, the Green Jobs Project and others. But others will have to be done from scratch.
Third is shared new media. The networks and clusters need public faces. Naturally, we work to get in the regular mass media, but one way of doing it is using the new interactive media of the blogosphere, but locally. The linked interactivity not only helps people get organized, but their degree of success using it also helps them gain entrance to the mainstream media, locally and nationally. Luckily, the new media doesn't cost anywhere near as much to put in operation, only the time and talent of those setting them up and running them.
Putting it all together
We should acknowledge two things here. First, many of these organizations and networks already exist, have recently emerged in the Obama campaign, or exist in embryo to various degrees. There are many areas where things have to be done from scratch, but many more do not. What's needed now is for more interconnections to be formed, and more of these components to become aware of each other, sharing ideas, resources and mobilizing efforts. To borrow from the old Hegelian dialectic, the wider national network exists in itself, but is not yet fully conscious and for itself. Second, we should acknowledge that what we are advocating here, the organization of a new national network and information clearinghouse is an interim project. We can't say for certain yet what the longer-range organizational outcome will be or even if there will be a single outcome-a realigned and fully progressive Democratic Party, a new third party or labor party, or a new Grassroots Nonpartisan High-Road Alliance of candidates from many parties.
`Progressives for Obama' is in a position to play a catalytic role in moving forward in a major way. But it should not be alone. Why? Most important is an allied effort understanding the necessary intersection of race, class and gender for a lasting left-progressive alliance. It must also have a grasp on the role and potential power of organized labor and the working class more generally. The combination of these two strengths is what counts.
What is required
First, `Progressives for Obama' needs some close partners, especially those with base communities of mass democratic organizations with individual members. Not a lot, but those are really willing to work right away. PDA is an obvious choice, but there are more. Jobs with Justice and The Right to the City groups are another. It also needs partners with resources to share-progressive think tanks and several of the new media projects. Some of the existing socialist organizations that backed Obama may also be helpful where they have a degree of strength and influence.
Second, we need some startup money. We probably should approach individuals first, since we need to start quickly. Then we need a development director to work the institutional sources for funding, which take a lot longer.
Third, we need to deploy a designated team of field organizers, people who can move about various regions or the entire country, to meet with groups and people, speak publicly and find the best local area coordinators for the project. These field organizers will have to be paid, or at least have their expenses covered.
Fourth, we need a designated team of new media workers, and the funds to retain a webmaster-manager of our web site and web-centric infoshop clearinghouse. The webmaster should be working for the allied project, but the others can be recruited as allies in the media projects they are already working for. As a team, their first task is to develop our `brand' and make a big splash in the blogosphere, drawing the people and groups we want to participate in the overall joint effort.
Fifth, we need a designated governance body. Most likely, it can be a coordinating committee with monthly conference calls, together with a smaller and more nimble executive that can write checks. Then main thing is for everyone who has a stake to have a voice and seat at the table. That will get us started, but more formal structures are needed to receive grants.
This needs to be seen as a major new expansion of `Progressives for Obama' and its allies - and time- urgent as well. The crisis is unfolding and deepening rapidly, as are the opportunities and problems related to the new Obama administration. If we do this well, it will make a big difference.
“Navigating the Storm” is dedicated to providing a revolutionary analysis on the current crisis of the capitalist world-system and to facilitating ongoing strategic discussion between revolutionary anti-imperialists forces (i.e. revolutionary nationalists, communists, anarchists, etc.) towards the building of a collective orientation and program to guide our action over the course of the next four years and beyond.
This blog is facilitated by Kali Akuno and will be updated regularly with new installments of the “Navigating the Storm” series, articles and information on the development and resolution of the current crisis, and commentary and analysis by various organizations, individuals, and subscribers to the blog.