As a campaign, we’ve learned a lot over this last year. Ultimately, we should be able to look back with an eye toward analyzing our victories and our mistakes and preparing to build on the strengths while making adjustments to approaches that fell short. I mean, this is about progress, right? Why run a campaign if it’s not going to make a positive contribution to the revolutionary movement? So let’s take a peek at some key areas of the Soltysik/Walker 2016 campaign to see how it might provide some insight into future approaches to radical electoral campaigns and organizing in general.
Relationships, Relationships, Relationships!
I think we can acknowledge that many folks in the U.S. have fears about involvement with radical/revolutionary politics. How do we help them overcome those fears? We can start by listening — not listening to speak. By genuinely listening and processing what folks tell us, we gain a better understanding of the experiences that shape their perspectives. By approaching people with love and care as sisters and brothers, the likelihood that we can establish bonds increases significantly. Also, many are intimidated by interaction with the Left for a variety of reasons. We don’t have to validate those reasons. We are real people — people who laugh, smile, and cry. Be prepared to exchange expressions of humanity.
Make No Assumptions
Everyone is in a unique position with regard to political development. Rather than a blanket approach to organizing, take the time to acknowledge and engage on an individual basis. In doing so, we find out critical information that helps our progress. For example, the Soltysik/Walker 2016 campaign used a crowdsourcing site to raise funds. Early on, we learned that folks had real concerns about offering personal information to an explicitly radical effort. In particular, many feared government surveillance. How did we find this out? We asked. And in asking, we were able to engage in a productive dialogue about surveillance and oppression. Frequently, that kind of dialogue went a long way toward easing fears.
Looking Closely at Capacity
What looks on paper to be a potentially strong organizing capacity can be highly misleading. If a relatively large number of people aren’t focused or engaged, the chances of follow-through on a project can be rather slim. Conversely, a very small number of dedicated and focused individuals who clearly understand a vision can knock you on your ass with their ability to organize around a goal. Once again, make no assumptions. Surveying capacity on the front end of a project can go a long way toward understanding strengths and weaknesses.
Drop the Sectarian Bullshit
Wonderful folks may belong to organizations with a history of manipulative and/or deceptive behavior. Blanket condemnations of everyone belonging to an organization turns off potential comrades. Yes, there are some who preach “left unity” but mean “left unity as long as me or my organization leads the project.” They don’t speak for everyone. By approaching potential allies with a smile and a handshake, and demonstrating a clear commitment to cooperation, we make a genuine contribution toward true left unity. We have wonderful contributions to offer as an organization. Those contributions are lost when we begin building lists of folks who find our behavior objectionable. A Left in need of growth doesn’t need that shit.
That “Strategic Planning” Thing
This might sound dry and boring, but this piece is critical to success. Taking the time on the front end of a campaign to dig in to strategic planning is invaluable. If you don’t know how to work on a strategic plan, ask a comrade to help direct you to someone who can assist.
The Role of Technology
Limited financial resources may necessitate a close look at cheap or free resources. For example, many folks were extraordinarily generous in offering financial contributions to the Soltysik/Walker 2016 campaign; as a result, we were able to reach quite a few areas throughout the country. However, there was simply no way financially to meet everyone in-person who was either interested in or supportive of the campaign. How did we address this? We hosted bi-weekly video town halls where those with webcams and/or phones could engage Angela and me and each other in discussion. We made consistent use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to message, to share ideas, to ask questions, to facilitate discussion. The pros and cons of social media are another discussion. Used strategically, it can be an incredible organizing tool.
Consistency and a Little Discipline
Our credibility relies on our ability to follow through when we publicly state that we’re going to do x, y, and z. Can the people rely on us to make good on our word? Can we maintain a schedule? Do we have the structures in place to ensure that comrades will be able to step up to fill in when others are simply tired or burnt out? So much of our potential progress relies on our ability to answer “yes” to each of these questions.
Make no mistake: none of this is easy. We are overworked, we are often tired, we know we face profound challenges, and these realities can, at times, make us feel a sense of nihilism. That’s understandable. If we’re realistic about where we stand at any given moment, and we are prepared to make strategic use of our capacity, while also offering much-needed support, compassion, and encouragement, the daunting and seemingly insurmountable challenges become significantly more approachable. The fact is we can guarantee that, barring socialist revolution, capitalism will continue to kill millions, and billions will continue to suffer mightily. We are here for a reason: to win.