Organizing advice from Drier, Leopold, and Cohen

The big winners in the outsourcing game are the corporations and their top Wall Street investors. (In fact Wall Street is driving the process by endless pressure for stock buybacks. See here.) It’s hard to make the case that the poor in Mexico have been the beneficiaries of NAFTA.  Here are 6 steps that are needed now (from Les Leopold: Win Back Workers):

1. Organize the Outsourced: We should identify and organize all those at risk from off-shoring. We need to make sure Trump and Congress hear from these actual and potential victims. Trump needs to be reminded each and every day that there are millions of jobs that he must protect. At the same time we should be rounding up support for the Sanders bill to stop off-shoring.

2. Resist: Trump has made it clear to Corporate America that in exchange for job creation in the U.S. he will cut their taxes and regulations. We should demand that all tax “reforms” include a new financial speculation tax (Robin Hood Tax) on Wall Street to slow down their insatiable greed. Also, we need to fight tooth and nail against any weakening of workplace health, safety and environmental regulations. We have to destroy the Faustian bargain where jobs are protected but the workers and the communities are poisoned.

3. Connect: More than 3 million people protested against Trump. But it is doubtful that dislocated workers and those facing outsourcing were involved in these marches. That’s because the progressive movement has gotten too comfortable with issue silos that often exclude these kinds of working class issues. That has to change in a hurry. We need to reach out to all workers in danger of off-shoring — blue and white collar alike.

4. Expand: Many key issues — from having the largest prison population in the world to having one the lowest life-spans — are connected through runaway inequality. Outsourcing is deeply connected to the driving force behind runaway inequality — a rapacious Wall Street and its constant pressure for higher returns. We need to broaden the outsourcing issue to include stock buybacks and the other techniques used by Wall Street to strip-mine our jobs and our communities. It’s time for a broad-based common agenda that includes a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, free higher education, Medicare for All, an end to outsourcing, fair trade and a guaranteed job at a living wage for all those willing and able.

5. Educate: In order to build a sustained progressive movement we will need to develop a systematic educational campaign to counter neoliberal ideology. We need reading groups, study groups, formal classes, conferences, articles and more to undermine this pernicious ideology. Some of us are fortunate to be part of new train-the-trainer programs all over the country. We need to expand them so that we can field thousands of educators to carry this message.

Excerpt…Reflecting on the Women’s March:  The question going forward is whether this one-day protest has legs.

…The march exemplified what young activists call “intersectionality” and what older protesters called “multi-issue” organizing. Many of the signs and slogans—“Pussy grabs back,” “women together,” “Girls just wanna have fundamental rights,” and “Get your tiny hands off my uterus”—reflected that this was a women-sponsored rally. But the participants also focused on themes that recognized the links between women’s rights and concerns about widening economic inequality, racial profiling, gun violence, immigrant rights, declining wages, and other matters: “United against hate,” the signs said, “Apathy is not an option,” “Bridges not walls,” “Opinions are not facts,” ”Love Trumps hate,” “Full rights for all immigrants,” “You can’t have my rights—I am using them,” and “No human being is illegal.”

The question going forward is whether this one-day protest has legs. This could be the beginning of a broader movement, but that won’t happen spontaneously. Such a movement would need national leadership and some level of coordination (a la the Tea Party) or it would become like Occupy Wall Street, which created a great slogan and changed the nation’s discourse, but didn’t have the staying power to contest for real political influence.

Marchers in Los Angeles and other cities proclaimed, “This is what democracy looks like.” But democracy isn’t just a display of numbers. The majority only rules when it wins a contest for power, and that requires organization and strategy—what organizer Ernesto Cortes calls turning “hot” anger into “cold” anger.

In movement-building terms, what must be done to keep the marchers involved a month, six months, a year, and two years from now?

Almost everyone we talked to said they had learned about the event via Facebook or other social media. Not one of them indicated that they belonged to an organization—such as a union, church, an environmental or women’s right group, or the Democratic Party—that had contacted them about the march. 

People came with their friends, not as part of a contingent of issue organizations or constituency groups. Most of the signs had slogans and drawings, but few had the names of organizations.

The relative absence of such organizational ties at the march demonstrates the enormous pool of unorganized Americans who are available for mass action in the age of Trump. But it also poses challenges for building a sustainable movement for change.

Black churches and historically Black colleges formed the infrastructure that mobilized people during the civil rights movement. Unions have traditionally been the organizational backbone for Democratic Party campaign operations. The fact that the march in Detroit—once a union stronghold, now a predominantly African American and low-income city—attracted only 4,000 reflects the waning influence of these organizations, and helps explain why Hillary Clinton lost Michigan in November.

Some pundits believe that the decline in Americans’ organizational affiliations, identified in Robert Putnam’s 2000 book, Bowling Alone, is not a serious problem because the internet and social media have created new ways to recruit people for political action. Facebook was a major catalyst for getting people—young and old—to the marches in many small cities and towns in red states. It let them know that despite November’s electoral outcome, there are many like-minded people in their community. The huge turnout in college towns and cities with large numbers of young people—175,000 in Boston, 100,000 in Madison, 50,000 in Austin, 11,000 in Ann Arbor, 10,000 in Eugene, Oregon, and 2,500 in Charlottesville, Virginia—reflects the power of this technology.

When we asked marchers if or how they planned to stay connected and involved, most were unsure.

But social media has its limits as an organizing tool. When we asked marchers if or how they planned to stay connected and involved, most were unsure. Many said that they’d try to learn what’s going on via Facebook. But when it came to staying involved after they returned home from Saturday’s march, they didn’t know what to do or how.

Since the protest march was highly decentralized, the organizers in Los Angeles didn’t create a mechanism to sign up the participants for a listserve (the modern version of a “sign-up sheet”) so they could stay in touch after Saturday. That’s unfortunate, because activist groups will need them for follow-up actions over the next few months and years—not just for marches, but for calls and emails to Congress and City Hall, for town hall meetings to demand that local pols create “sanctuary” cities to protect immigrants, for protests and hearings at state capitols to protect funding for Planned Parenthood or fight efforts to roll back environmental protection laws, and for volunteers to canvass and phone bank for progressive candidates.

Howard Dean’s 2004 election was the first to utilize social media to recruit volunteers, raise money, and spread the message. Since then, social media has evolved exponentially.  There is still a digital divide based on age and income, but most Americans are now connected in some way.

But while Facebook and other social media are powerful tools for mobilizing for events or action alerts, they are not as good for building organizational infrastructure to compete for power against corporations currently extending their sway over American government.   Turning a mobilization into a movement requires finding ways that people who want to act can stay connected—in issue organizations, churches, unions, the Democratic Party—for the long haul.

The answer to whether Saturday’s marches were successful won’t be known until Trump and his GOP allies try to pass legislation and appoint Supreme Court and other federal judges. It won’t be known until the four-plus million who took to the streets on Saturday turn out to volunteer for progressive candidates running for local, state, and federal offices in 2018 and to work on campaigns that increase voter registration.

There were many elected officials, labor leaders, and progressive organizers who spoke at the rallies in LA and around the country. But the Democratic Party, the unions, and the progressive issue groups (except for a few national women’s rights groups) played little role in organizing Saturday’s marches. There are, however, hopeful signs. Within days after the march, Planned Parenthood, and other groups held a training session for 2,000 organizers, focusing on how to turn Saturday’s energy into sustained political action. To fully seize the moment, however, the entire progressive movement—including the unions, the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and other progressive groups around the country—need to work collaboratively like never before. They should be staffed up, target key states and cities, and link coordinated issue campaigns and protests with electoral politics.

To make this happen, they need to figure out how to connect with the millions of people who marched on Saturday and the millions more who didn’t but are also ready to fight. In the words of legendary organizer, Fred Ross, Sr., “people power must be visible”—to the Trump administration, Congress, governors, mayors, and the media. That doesn’t mean just being visible at a one-day protest, but over the next months and years.

As union leader Maria Elena Durazo said in her speech at the LA rally, “this is a marathon, not a sprint.” On Saturday, millions of Americans indicated that they are “fired up and ready to go.” But it takes strong organizations and old-fashioned organizing to help them get to where they want to go.

Donald Cohen is the founder and executive director of In the Public Interest, a national resource and policy center on privatization and responsible contracting. He is a founding board member of the Partnership for Working Families. Cohen has three decades of experience in campaigns and organizations dedicated to economic justice, healthcare reform, education reform, environmental protection, and international human rights.