This is a shorter follow-up to my recent piece on “Managing an Effective Progressive Coalition” in four easy rules. (Does the word “effective” jump out at you? I hope so.)
The purpose of the rules is (a) to get agreement up front on how to act from those who participate at the core. And (b) to head off obvious losing behaviors by naming them explicitly and rejecting them. The rules tend to head off failure and save front-end time.
What’s the purpose of the Coalition itself? Simple:
On offense — Move the ball down the field. Achieve progressive wins.
On defense — Guard the progressive frontier, the progressive border. Stop and sting anyone who crosses with ill intention.
In practice I think that means the following.
Moving the ball
Progressives don’t win much, and we get aced by both our enemies and our “friends.” The goal of any Effective Progressive Coalition is to reverse that. I haven’t talked about tactics yet, but short of actual violence, the choice-list is wide open, in my opinion.
Freeway blogging? Low cost. Go for it. Freeway blogging in Nancy Pelosi’s district? That comes under “guarding the frontier” but it also comes under using your leverage. Go for it. No one has to vote you permission to act.
Organize an action against a foreclosure. Spotlight a pol with a spouse with funky financing. Try to take away the “brand” — the Unique Selling Point — from any pol you want to target. Believe me, that one will hurt, since it targets their fundraising. Pols fundraise on a brand, just like consumer products do. The brand is often an illusion, but it’s necessary.
Imagine what would happen if Pelosi were somehow effectively retagged “not a liberal.” Instant loss of branding. Even threats to do that, if credible, will have an effect.
The anti-ALEC campaign is a great example of moving the ball. It’s also an example of targetting the branding, this time of corps. A group with “position” — Color of Change — painted ALEC support-corporations, one by one, in big bold Trayvon Martin colors. And that color said “racist.”
They had leverage — timing and position — and ALEC is now branded as racist. The corps are fleeing, since race is still a bridge too far for them. (Nice to know that, by the way. Stash that one for later.) The anti-ALEC campaign is a one-off, but it works. The groups running it are implicitly following the rules (do you see any violations?) and I don’t expect them to stray. Great work.
But my favorite example of moving the ball is Joe Sudbay, a group of one, who found himself in the same room with the president, a mic, a transcript, witnesses, and a chance to ask questions. Obama was trapped; he couldn’t early-end the meeting, and whatever he said was already set to be published. Joe had leverage and acted.
Leverage (timing and position) plus courage can get a whole lot done. Do you have an idea for something you could do? Use leverage and act. Gather a group (if you like), agree to the rules (it will save a ton of trouble) and act. Early on, I don’t expect a large Coalition, but a bunch of little ones. All these little Coalitions have to be, is effective.
At some point, like-minded people who want to be effective will find each other. We are many, sitting in this silence; I have every confidence we will coalesce.
Guarding the progressive frontier
This is where we play effective defense. We try to take no losses (no backward steps), and we punish those who try to force losses on us. Sometimes people, even our friends, need to be bit if they cross the line. That how they know they crossed the line.
For example, if you think Nancy Pelosi crossed the line with her Grand Bargain Simpson-Bowles endorsement (I do), give her a nip she will feel. That’s what Russ Feingold and Progressives United did. Is Pelosi a “good progressive”? Perhaps. But not in this. Stop giving her cookies for past behavior, and find a way to hurt her for this off-the-progressive-reservation move. Make it a hard enough nip that she thinks twice the next time.
The goal isn’t to hurt; it’s to change anti-progressive behavior with incentives. Sometimes that how they learn. If you’ve ever raised kids, you understand incentives. Apply incentives, get the result you want, then move on. (Primaries make great incentives, by the way.)
Progressives tend not to cross their friends, even when their friends cross them. That can stop the minute we want it to. Apply the sting when the border is crossed, make it hurt, and you’d be surprised at how the niceness returns. Remember — it’s not any Democrat’s job to guard the progressive border. It’s our job. Effective defense.
These are the goals; the rules are the methodology
The only purpose of the four rules is to keep everyone in the core group headed the right way and not down known-bad pathways. The two principles above are the goals. Pretty basic stuff, but sometimes even the basics need saying.
What about tactics? That’s for later. A lot depends on whether you’re in office or not, part of an organization or not, but here’s a preview — progressives tend not to use power, even when they have it. Those on the other side, especially Republicans, use every ounce of power they have, every chance they get. I think we can extrapolate from there.
Just a reminder, the rules again:
Rules for managing an Effective Progressive Coalition
1. No constituency in the Coalition is asked to a backward step to advance another’s cause (the Cruickshank Rule).
2. Members of the Coalition have each others’ back. No constituency under attack stands alone (a Cruickshank corollary).
3. The Coalition serves the Coalition first, not the Democratic Party or any other group or goals.
4. The Coalition preferences political action to discussion (the No Dithering Rule).
Thanks for your consideration.
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