What is Organizing?

units of power mlk copy

Organizing is a practice aimed at helping people create the social movements and political organizations necessary to wage campaigns and win power.  How do we make real the promises of democracy? Organizing is a time-tested strategy for empowering the people.

Organizing Relies on Action/Movement/Experience

The great American thinker, W.E.B. Dubois wrote:

The theory of democratic government is not that the will of the people is always right, but rather that normal human beings of average intelligence will, if given a chance, learn the right and best course by bitter experience.[1] (emphasis added)

“The people…will, if given a chance, learn the right and best course by bitter experience.” Experience is the teacher, the movement is the school, organizing is the method.

The organizer’s work is designed to produce social action because it is in the tumult of political life that leaders emerge, relationships develop and transformations in consciousness are realized.”[2]

Organizing depends on experience and experimentation rather than doctrine or ideology alone. Ideas are best proven or disproven in action rather than in debate. Words are important yes, but actions speak louder.

Organize the Unorganized!” 


When the Industrial Workers of the World, set out to unionize big industry for the first time organizing became a make-it-or-break-it proposition for the movement. The Great Steel Strike of 1919, raised up “Organize the Unorganized” as the battle-cry of the class struggle.[3] Organizing was the way forward but was also the best defense against the deportation of immigrants, scapegoating and attacks on radicals, blacks, workers and anti-war activists that was all part and parcel of the first “Red Scare.” Sound familiar?

Today, organizing remains as the most basic task ahead and the greatest contradiction: how to build a movement of people not currently active. It seems so simple: movements grow only when they attract people who are currently not involved or disagree. But that means organizing demands that we work with people we do not agree with. Even if millions have a rough agreement with our values, why are so few activists? Even if people agree on paper, we disagree with their passivity. And that is a far deeper disagreement than a matter of ideology.

For organizers, politics is about disagreement as much as it is about agreement. How do we deal with disagreement?

Telling people that they have been duped or turned into fools and that we are right is not the organizer’s way. We do not call people out. We call them in to activity.  Organizers are wary of exclusivity.  We aim to include rather than exclude.

“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do, or think as you think, or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” — Malcolm X

It’s important to be mindful of barriers to entry.  Almost all political organizations consciously or unconsciously erect barriers to entry.  It is our duty to help people overcome the barriers to entry. We should not expect conversion experiences. What are the intermediate steps?  Even vanguard parties created front groups. Even in union organizing it’s often necessary to do “vestibule” organizing — can’t get them in the church right away, talk with them in the vestibule.

Units of Power/Serve the People

One answer to the problems we face is to create organizing projects that build political structures or what Martin Luther King Called “Units of Power.” Here is King’s critique of his own work:

“Our most powerful nonviolent weapon is… also our most demanding, that is organization.  To produce change people must be organized to work together in units of power.

[I]t is necessary to acknowledge that the torturous job of organizing solidly and simultaneously in thousands of places was not a feature of our work.

Many civil rights organizations were born as specialists in agitation and dramatic projects; they attracted massive sympathy and support; but they did not assemble and unify the support for new stages of struggle.

Recognizing that no army can mobilize and demobilize and remain a fighting unit, we will have to build far-flung workmanlike and experienced organizations.[4]

And again.

“To produce change, people must be organized to work together in units of power. These units might be political, as in the case of voters’ leagues and political parties; they may be economic units such as groups of tenants who join forces to form a tenant union or to organize a rent strike; or they may be laboring units of persons who are seeking employment and wage increases.”[5]

Units of power also take the form of projects that serve the people and enhance their survival.

While they were famous for black berets and self-defense, the Black Panthers built a solid base with service work. They helped to create an enduring model for successful community organizing. This excellent short video looks at the Panthers’ health care programs but they also had a breakfast program for kids, food for elders, schools and legal clinics. These programs became known as “serve the people,” or what the Panthers thought of as “survival pending revolution.”

Bill WhitfieldBill Whitfield of the Black Panther chapter in Kansas City serves free breakfast to children before they go to school, April 16, 1969. Photograph by William P. Straeter AP

The same approach was used by white commmunity organizations you can read about in Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times. One of the most influential community groups was started by radical students that named the organization JOIN for Jobs Or Income Now.  A noble goal but the people decided immediate survival issues were far more important. Housing was expensive and rundown, so tenant unions were organized. The young were harassed by police so JOIN formed a committee to resisted police brutality. The poor found the welfare system confusing and demeaning so JOIN fought for welfare rights.

Today, organizing continues in all kinds of projects around the country.  A recent union drive at Stamford Hotel used deep organizing methods for a big win. The Democratic Socialists of America are engaged in a very promising effort to build a base using a deep organizing strategy.  Teachers self-organizied the historic West Virginia strike.

Two of my favorites projects are The Young Patriots, and The Poor People’s Campaign. Both have roots back to the last revolution. Both address the intertwined issues of our time.


We also have a powerful new source for contemporary community organizing in Rising Jackson: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson Mississippi.  Cooperation Jackson is a network of worker cooperatives and democratic institutions that grew out of decades of organizing.

All serve the people, all are units of power — this is how we overcome.

Organizing Demands Engagement

Engagement is true politics and the starting point for transformative change. If there is no engagement there is no discussion and without discussion there is no movement. Talking with strangers is one of the core revolutionary practices of the organizer’s world.

Saul Alinsky, born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, founded modern community organizing in the 1930s.  While Rules for Radicals is his best known book, organizers also turn his earlier and more helpful work Reveille for Radicals. Alinsky schooled thousands of activists. He captured the kernel of organizing wisdom when he wrote:

“As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be.”

The world “as it is” means starting with the people as they are. Then we move forward together.

Organizing focuses first on the people, secondly on those in power. In choosing tactics, campaigns, or language the need for engagement with people takes center stage. Speaking truth to power only works once you are well organized and have spoken truth to the people.

The organizers most important target then is the enemy within: fear, fatalism, denial, and distraction. By engaging people in gradually escalating action we diminish fear and fatalism and all the forms of social control that keep people in their place.

A good organizer is one step ahead of the people — always one but only one.

Relationship Building and Leadership Development


Ella Baker said, “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.

Ella Baker, was the greatest organizer of the civil rights movement and one of the most influential activists of the 20th Century.  Ella worked closely with many of the great leaders including Martin Luther King — who she did not always see eye-to-eye with. King was the charismatic leader — Baker the classic organizer. Ella did a lot of the invisible work of bringing people together. Her greatest achievement was that she helped organize the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  SNCC was the bridge between the civil rights moment and young people that propelled the upheavals of the last revolution. Baker mentored a generation of leaders and championed an organizing perspective.[6]

She argued that the movements needed:

“the development of people who are interested not in being leaders as much as in developing leadership among other people.”

It is the organizers job to be aware of an individual’s strengths and skills and to help them find political work that matches and enhances their abilities. Baker’s vision was that everyday people had the capacity to understand and change the world.

Participation, Democracy and Self-Determination

It’s the people’s right to decide what is to be done. The organizer helps the people do it.

SNCC’s slogan was: “Let the people decide.”

As Ella Baker would have it: a good organizer helps people “see their own ideas.”

How is this done? The movement in Iceland today has given new life to an old radical idea. “From the people to the people.” Listen. Refine. Return. Repeat. But stay true. If the people can “see their own ideas” they will lead, if not — you will be on your own.

“The key to organizing an alternative society is to organize people around what they can do and more importantly what they want to do.” — Abbie Hoffman

Huey Perry an unsung Appalachian organizer:

“A community action group consists of low-income people organized together to identify their problems and work toward possible solutions….I feel it is necessary that we take our time and build an organization that involves the poor in the decisions as to what types of programs they want, rather than sit down and write up what we think they want.”

The organizer yields power to the people as a strategy for winning power for the people. This is the deep dual meaning of the classic slogan “Power to the People.”

W.E.B Dubois taught that only “Liberty trains for liberty.” Democracy trains for democracy and power for power. There are no substitutes for experience and action.

“Give light,” Ella Baker said, “And the people will find the way.” Democracy is the “light,”  finding “the way” is self-determination.

Organizing is a democratic means in keeping with democratic ends. There are plenty of shortcuts but they just won’t get you there.


[1] W.E.B. Dubois, The Negro

[2] Also see Richard Moser, Principles of Organizing, How Do We Organize a Hundred Million? and Representation, Organizing and Community. 

[3] William Z. Foster was the son of radical Irish immigrants. He had a long, distinguished and checkered career rotating through the revolutionary movements of his time.  Most important he was the most notorious leader of the Great Steel Strike.  His pamphlet “Organize the Unorganized” sets out a revolutionary strategy for the period, but is also full of lessons for our own.

[4] MLK, Where Do We Go From Here?

[5] MLK, Nonviolence, The Only Road to Freedom

[6] See also Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement

Posted in Cooperation, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, union organzing | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia



If you are wondering how one of the greatest strikes in recent history came out of a place we were told was a “Trump County” backwater then read this. This slender book packs quite a punch. Elizabeth Catte takes us on a tour of an Appalachia much more diverse, radical and conflicted than the one we hear about from corporate sources. Appalachia is no more “Trump Country” than is Long Island New York.

The author takes Vance’s famous *Hillbilly Elegy* to task for promoting a racial explanation of Appalachian poverty. Catte’s arguments are completely in keeping with what Nell Painter presents in History of White People: poor Appalachians are cast as broken people from dysfunctional families and damaged blood lines. That conveniently leaves out the role of corporate exploitation and resources extraction. And it hides behind a real history of eugenics and sterilization of mountain folk.

Class and corporate exploitation is made to disappear behind a “culture of poverty” argument also used against blacks, natives and other people. Just as important Catte shows us the hidden history and current resistance of local people against the corporations that dispose of their health — sometimes their lives — and destroy the water, mountains and air of Appalachia. No wonder Standing Rock was so strongly supported in Appalachian communities.

And Catte offers this gem of organizing wisdom from Huey Perry, an unsung hero of mountain resistance:

“A community action group consists of low-income people organized together to identify their problems and work toward possible solutions….I feel it is necessary that we take our time and build an organization that involves the poor in the decisions as to what types of programs they want, rather than sit down and write up what we think they want.”

Start by serving the people — end by changing the world.  The historic state-wide teachers strike then is not some surprising exception to Appalachian history but a continuation of the very best that people — any people — have to offer.


Posted in American Culture, Cooperation, Corporate Power, Empire, History, Labor Movement, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Racism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mueller the Politician


This also was in Counterpunch


Mueller has proven himself quite the politician.

I was hoping that the indictments would bring some sort of resolution to the investigation and force all the evidence to become public. But no, this investigation is not meant to be conclusive, it is — like Orwell’s description of war — meant to be continuous.

By issuing indictments to individuals that are unlikely to ever come to trial Mueller has dodged the responsibility of presenting any additional evidence — a perfect sleight of hand.

A relatively small number of Facebook ads were used, many after the election, but no one from the investigation claims it had any impact. We are supposed to imagine it did. The Russian meme bombers may or may not be connected to the Russian government but Mueller provides no evidence. The indictments are little more than unconvincing accusations in keeping with the rest of the Russian narrative as eminent historian Jackson Lears has so thoroughly demonstrated. 

Can anyone argue that the Russians had anything close to the influence of the corporate media when they gave Trump $2 billion worth of free coverage? Or when DNC operatives worked with their media allies to elevate Trump before the primaries even started? No contest. The electoral process is awash in $Billions skimmed from the global economy but that disappears from view in face of the foreign foe.

By shifting the grounds from hacking, collusion and intervention to what is essentially campaigning — the use of information, speech and propaganda by those seeking to influence the outcome — Mueller continues the war on “Fake News.” Clinton used the same tactic from the first days of the new Cold War. Not to worry about free speech, the secret police will tell us what is true and what is not. The First Amendment was designed to protect the people from the power of government. It is our right and our right alone to evaluate and judge information. Anything else is tyranny. And make no mistake, these indictments target domestic dissent smearing Black Lives Matters, Berners and the Green Party as unwitting collaborators with the Russians.

Mueller’s recent move covers himself, hides the investigation’s lack of substance and lays the ground work for more. Mueller is achieving the true goals of an inquisition: enforcing political discipline and conformity at home and promoting war preparations abroad. The inquisition diverts us from a terrible truth: American democracy was destroyed by our own hands.  The corporate empire killed American democracy.

In fact, there are plenty of people, both Republicans and Democrats, that could be indicted for election fraud and conspiracy right here in the good ole’ USA. Much of the evidence is not in question and has been documented by Mark Crispin Miller, Greg Palast, Election Justice USA, and Code Red. Hackable voting machines, gerrymandering, crosscheck, and purging voter rolls are just a few examples. These crimes gets no traction for two big reasons.

First, it might lead to the kind of election reform that would make it impossible to rig the system. That would force candidates and parties to actually compete in the arena of policy and platform. They might have to offer something positive to the American people instead of relying on cloak and dagger, lesser of two evils and other fear-based tactics to compel people to vote for parties that no longer represent them.

As Ann Garrison recently argued in Black Agenda Report:

“If the Democrats wanted to inspire trust in Hillary’s three million vote margin or in any future electoral outcomes, they would call for junking all the electronic voting machines and instituting secure, nationally uniform methods of casting and counting ballots: paper ballots counted by hand and safely stored to make recounts possible. They would thereby propose to preclude any future election hacking by Russians, Republicans, or other potential miscreants, including their fellow Democrats. They would turn more attention to ending voter suppression than to $100,000 worth of Facebook ads generated by a troll farm.”

Second, any investigation of US election fraud would disarm the war party — which now includes the corporate Democrats and Republicans — by diluting the propaganda they need to command ever bigger budgets that keep the wheels of perpetual war turning. The war party is led by the former Republican foreign policy establishment known as the neoconservatives. Whatever their bloody and criminal past, the “neocons” like their figurehead G.W. Bush, have been rebranded into Democrats.

And the neocons are just the most recent incarnation of a bi-partisan consensus that has, for well over half a century, conducted overt war and covert operations to topple governments, intervene in elections, extract resources, and assassinate foreign leaders. The costs of war, the sheer tonnage of bombs and bullets, the millions of dead on all sides, the 650 major military bases, the dangerous and provocative military buildup on Russia’s borders, makes the words and memes dropped on us by Russians, or anyone else, look like the feeble attempts of rank amateurs struggling to compete in a game we have mastered.

How can we be outraged at intervention in our election when it is the US that routinely undermines the self-determination of other nations? We can be outraged at Russians or Chinese, but only from the perspective of militarized nationalism that neocons thrive on.  Or, from inside the illusion of “humanitarian war” that has been a part of America’s imperial rhetoric ever since White Man’s Burden eased our minds for crushing the Philippines 1899-1902. And always, and ultimately, from the sanctity of our founding myths: that we are chosen, an exceptional nation that only makes war with “God on Our Side.”

Why would Mueller attack a system that he is so much a part of? Mueller has been a loyal member of the machine enabling wars, silencing whistleblowers and permitting torture since he was appointed to head the FBI by George W. Bush. Mueller dutifully repeated lies that bought us the war in Iraq.

So the inquisition will roll on as it is intended to do. How else can we explain that a year’s worth of investigation has produced no electronic evidence of collusion despite having the world’s largest surveillance system at its disposal? The scene of the alleged crime — the DNC computers and servers — have yet to be inspected; Seth Rich’s computers — the same; two key witness, Julian Assange and Craig Murray have never been interviewed by the investigation. The inquisition is not interested in evidence it is not interested in!

Our job however is to resist being drawn into the bottomless pit of palace politics and to organize a real resistance to empire, war and corporate power. For that we obviously cannot rely upon Mueller, the FBI or any political elites. Either we the people do it or it doesn’t get done.


Posted in American Culture, Corporate Power, Empire, Green Party, History, Red Scare, Strategy, War, Working Class | 2 Comments

Jackson Rising


Also in Counterpunch

“Revolution is based on land. Land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality….” Malcom X

Jackson Rising is the most important book I have read in a long time. Organizers are going to love it. If you wonder what democracy might look like in our time — here it is.

Jackson Rising is the rarest of things: a real strategic plan. You will not find a simple wish list that glosses over the hard questions of resources, or some disembodied manifesto imploring the workers forward, but a work-in-progress building the capacity of people to exercise power.

And that project is Cooperation Jackson. Cooperation Jackson is an emerging network of cooperatives and grassroots institutions that aim to build a “solidarity economy.” By seizing on the crisis and weak links of modern capitalism and building on the historic struggles for racial equality by the black people of Mississippi, Cooperation Jackson has created a model we can all learn from.

Just as important, Jackson Rising shows the value of deep organizing. Decades of persistent organizing efforts have empowered the people of Jackson to pursue agendas of their own creation.

The editors, Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya are both writers and organizers. They have contributed comprehensive, insightful and historically grounded accounts of the struggle in Jackson. The interview with Sacajewea Hall, another organizer, reveals just how central issues of patriarchy are to any attempt to achieve the solidarity economy Cooperation Jackson aims to bring into being. While some essays will be easier for readers acquainted with socialist and anarchist discourse, the general themes transcend ideological borders.

Almost all progressives value, or should value, economic democracy and direct, participatory democracy; cooperation rather than competition; environmental restoration rather than environmental destruction; and the need for a fundamentally transformative political vision. The land is the first and most essential  commons — the original means of production — and all progressives should stand for the return of land to the people.

Decades of experience in Jackson demonstrates that democracy walks on two legs: one economic, the other political. Peoples Assemblies and worker cooperatives are the foundations to both. The People’s Assembly combine both direct democracy and the representative democracy of various coalition partners. Worker and Farmer Cooperatives institutionalize sound environmental practices, promote food security and establish beachheads of a cooperative economy on the margins of the corporate order.

Jackson Rising fuses prefigurative projects, like worker controlled cooperatives, with social change movements, like black freedom struggles. We can combine what George Jackson called “the commune” with political protest as the Black Panthers did with community organizing designed for “survival pending revolution.”

Environmental concerns are inseparable from both survival and revolution in this visionary book. In fact the power of both book  and project draws, in part, from the dawning awareness that survival itself demands revolution. And the project of transformation — the task of turning one thing into another thing through struggle, sweat and study — motivates the essays chronicling this experiment in taking power.

Because Jackson Rising is deeply rooted in the history of the black community and other experiments in worker control around the world it gives us a model for the future that can apply to all of us. Dig into your own radical roots, wherever you may be, and learn from others. Start experimenting in your town. Prepare. When the bubble bursts — and burst it will — we will need a network of worker cooperatives and people’s assemblies to sustain us in the struggle for an authentic democracy.

One of the terrible contradictions of the current struggle for economic democracy is that workers require capital to fight capitalism. I strongly urge you to make a donation today.

Cooperation Jackson has a long complex history and the book it inspired has many moving parts. But for the people of Jackson — and for Chokwe Lumumba who was the leader, organizer and Mayor before his untimely death — one ideal rose above and encompassed all their projects and dreams. This ideal echoes in the streets and meeting halls of Jackson and throughout this remarkable collection of essays: “Free the land!” “Free the Land!” “Free the land!”


Posted in American Culture, Corporate Power, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, White Supremacy | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Progressives Can Compete for Major Office: A Class Analysis of Political Paralysis


Also at Counterpunch

Learning from the Green Party Defeat in New Jersey.  

Local electoral gains are beginning to add up. The Green Party won 45 local seats nationwide in 2017 for a total of 141 in 18 states. Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) added 15 new elected officials to their 20 already holding public office. Progressives endorsed by Our Revolution and running as Democrats also did well. Overall third party and independent representation is up 40% since 2014. This bodes well for the long game.

But, how progressives and alternative parties can win major office remains an open question.

In 2017, Wall Street’s strongest candidate, Phil Murphy, won the New Jersey Governors race with under 20% of the eligible vote. But it was “none of the above” that had the big numbers with at least 65% of the eligible voters staying home, making it the lowest turnout in history. The people of New Jersey have rejected the major parties without choosing an alternative.  The Green party was unable to win significant votes, totaling a tiny .5% of the vote cast by a brave and desperate 10,000.

The Class Analysis of Political Paralysis 

Beneath the liberal pretensions and snobbery that shape the narratives of New York City media, New Jersey and New York City have become increasingly conservative. Or more precisely, the remaining voters have become more conservative as a growing number abandon elections altogether.

In both substance and style Chris Christie foreshadowed Trump and he was elected twice. The second time was a landslide with the support of many Democratic voters and officials. New Jersey also voted for Clinton when they had the choice of Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary, as did NYC. Murphy’s victory depended on voters that were willing to overlook the central role of Goldman Sachs in creating the brutal inequality that helped to give us Trump. Nine New Jersey counties voted for Trump as did Staten Island, Orange, Putnam and Suffolk County — the most Jersey-like suburban counties in the New York metro area. Trump is New York City born and bred — a plain fact that the corporate media has all but ignored.  Imagine the scorn that would have been heaped on Iowa, Alabama, or West Virginia had Trump hailed from the deplorable hinterlands.

Is it fundamentally conservative to accept that fact that Phil Murphy can buy his way into the governor’s mansion? I can hear the appeals to so-called realism now and anyway “that is just the way it is.”  Well, that’s the way it was when Jon Corzine purchased the same post in 2005 before losing to Christie in 2009.  The Republican’s open class-war program and New Jersey’s own financial crisis will give Murphy an excuse to betray his promises and — Corzine redux — pave the way for an eventual Republican return to power.

While there are lots of good people within every demographic, New Jersey has two large related social groups that act as a support network for the two-party system.  The urban professional and managerial classes are the core constituency of corporate Democrats and the affluent white suburbanites are the Republican’s base. Beneath the appearance of extraordinary differences between them, they have a lot in common starting with a belief that the established order is the only possible world.

Both believe, in there own way, that the economy is based on merit. Both believe they have earned their social place and their political opinions through hard work or higher education. The liberals just toss in a dash of corporate identity politics to rally their troops and the conservatives stir their side by scapegoating immigrants and calling on  white identity. Both are galvanized by the fear of foreigners — be it Russians or Mexicans — and fall into line by blaming others for problems of our own making.

Many in both these buffer groups have careers with the major industries of the region: insurance companies and Big Pharma that oppose universal health care; Wall Street firms that produce extreme inequality; media conglomerates that control the newspapers and TV; and the large corporatized universities that serve business interests while impoverishing students and workers. These corporations exert enormous economic, political and cultural power, pushing New Jersey and NYC to the right. Voting records too often reflect that conservatism.

Many unions, environmental groups, student organizations, even some civil rights groups remain faithful to the well-worn but worn-out tactic of “access” to the powerful rather than challenging the powerful. They continue on the same path as if the same 50-year period of relying on access has not also been one of across-the-board decline in the fortunes of the multi-racial working class, students, women and the environment.

In 2016, a record 43% of union members showed their desperation and acceptance of  scapegoating by voting for Trump. In 2017, instead of embracing more aggressive campaigns to better educate workers or organize the unorganized, New Jersey’s union officials took the shortcut, circled the wagons and went for Wall Street.  Now we will see what they can make of their victory.

Will the two-party system retain the allegiance of urban professionals, managers and affluent suburbanites as the multiple crisis of environmental destruction, war, inequality and corporate control continue to deepen?  Its hard to say. Many individuals from both groups already do the right thing.  If their complicity with and support for the corporate order can be weakened, even a little, it could mean a lot.  The best way to force their hand however is by exerting pressure and leadership from below.

The Green Party is a Poor People’s Party

The primary problem with the 2017 Green party campaign for governor of New Jersey was the lack of resources. All other problems were secondary.

The Green Party could not have hoped for better candidates and staff.  Given the progressive, visionary, and hardworking leadership of Seth Kaper-Dale, Lisa Durden and campaign manager Geoff Herzog, I think it is safe to say that great candidates are a necessary but not sufficient part of a run at major office

The Green Party has the values, principle and platform to win. The Sanders campaign proved that. Sanders offered a less complete version of the Green Party values to a public more than ready to hear it despite media censorship and a rigged election.

The Greens have it all except a convincing path to power and the resources to make it real.

Too few volunteers and too little money limited the Green Party’s ability to really test the  strategy of reaching out to the young and the largely black and brown working-class communities.  The focus on the most exploited and oppressed was not simply the result of a grand analysis but was the product of face-to-face interactions with people from the outset. People of color and younger voters from all backgrounds were the most likely to take our fliers, talk with us a bit, look us in the eye and thank us for our efforts.

And, we should not forget that Kaper-Dale/Durden did get the endorsement of two local Our Revolution chapters and two civil rights organizations. An unknown but surely substantial number of our 10,000 votes were from immigrant and anti-racist activists, Berners and social-democrats and young people hoping for a better life.  The Jabari Brisport campaign in NYC also suggests a coalition with DSA and Our Revolution is well worth exploring.

The Green strategy was twofold: outreach to the unrepresented and discouraged working class and to other progressives.

The team was approximately 100 people with about a third who made major commitments of time, energy and money. A real run at power would have required a minimum of ten times that much: 1,000 volunteers with 300 ready to devote serious resources to the campaign.

This begs the question: How can progressive campaigns dramatically increase their resources?

It’s Deep Organizing or Deep Trouble 

One possible answer is to conduct electoral campaigns much more like social movements. If the Green Party is going to have successful runs at major office it will be to the degree that it becomes the electoral wing of the social movements.  Can we organize the unorganized?

First we must bring a culture of organizing into electoral politics and then fuse the Green Party with the kind of social movement organizing that continues outside of elections.

For electoral organizing, progressives might start two years out from the election with a series of listening sessions hosted by local leaders from various communities — urban, rural, small town and suburban. Based upon these listening sessions party activists could go on to help people form organizations suited to their needs or support existing ones. These might be community groups to advocate for their neighborhoods at city hall or service organizations to fill urgent community needs. Electoral reform groups, tenants unions, environmental groups, civil rights groups, Green Party chapters — a victorious campaign might be built on any number of organizations. But, there must be “structure” or what Martin Luther King called “units of power.”  Its about building power, not just speaking truth to power. Each community should develop leadership, strategy and units of power based on their own needs.

Given the dismal turnout it would also be wise to aim for an intermediate goal. While we failed to get 5% for Jill Stein, having a strategic goal helped people understand why their participation mattered. Progressives could launch our own “Fight for 15%” as a way of giving people a handle on the value of sending a powerful message still short of total victory. A 15% turnout in a major election would deliver real power forcing the two parties to move toward the people or face the consequences.

This takes time, a lot of time. The lesson of the Green Party New Jersey Gubernatorial race is that a two year campaign would be absolute minimum and only if it is also based on a foundation of ongoing community organizing. It’s a high bar and I wish it were easier but nothing short of a serious long-term organizing approach will prevail against the most deeply entrenched political machines in the world.

Only millions of people can make history. For progressives that means mobilizing the latent power of the occasion and discouraged voters of every class and color. Most people in the US no longer have faith in the system but no convincing alternative has yet to emerge.  And that alternative can only be created with the energy and power of millions dedicated to challenging power and disrupting existing forms of social control. Getting the people back into politics and the money out will take deep organizing and persistence in the face of defeat.


Posted in Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Green Party, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about Russian Hacking. Part I



One of the America’s leading historians takes on Russia-Gate. Republished as a series from the original London Review of Books article with the permission of the author.

By Jackson Lears

American politics have rarely presented a more disheartening spectacle. The repellent and dangerous antics of Donald Trump are troubling enough, but so is the Democratic Party leadership’s failure to take in the significance of the 2016 election campaign. Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton, combined with Trump’s triumph, revealed the breadth of popular anger at politics as usual – the blend of neoliberal domestic policy and interventionist foreign policy that constitutes consensus in Washington. Neoliberals celebrate market utility as the sole criterion of worth; interventionists exalt military adventure abroad as a means of fighting evil in order to secure global progress. Both agendas have proved calamitous for most Americans. Many registered their disaffection in 2016. Sanders is a social democrat and Trump a demagogic mountebank, but their campaigns underscored a widespread repudiation of the Washington consensus. For about a week after the election, pundits discussed the possibility of a more capacious Democratic strategy. It appeared that the party might learn something from Clinton’s defeat. Then everything changed.

A story that had circulated during the campaign without much effect resurfaced: it involved the charge that Russian operatives had hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee, revealing embarrassing emails that damaged Clinton’s chances. With stunning speed, a new centrist-liberal orthodoxy came into being, enveloping the major media and the bipartisan Washington establishment. This secular religion has attracted hordes of converts in the first year of the Trump presidency. In its capacity to exclude dissent, it is like no other formation of mass opinion in my adult life, though it recalls a few dim childhood memories of anti-communist hysteria during the early 1950s.

The centrepiece of the faith, based on the hacking charge, is the belief that Vladimir Putin orchestrated an attack on American democracy by ordering his minions to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump. The story became gospel with breathtaking suddenness and completeness. Doubters are perceived as heretics and as apologists for Trump and Putin, the evil twins and co-conspirators behind this attack on American democracy. Responsibility for the absence of debate lies in large part with the major media outlets. Their uncritical embrace and endless repetition of the Russian hack story have made it seem a fait accompli in the public mind. It is hard to estimate popular belief in this new orthodoxy, but it does not seem to be merely a creed of Washington insiders. If you question the received narrative in casual conversations, you run the risk of provoking blank stares or overt hostility – even from old friends. This has all been baffling and troubling to me; there have been moments when pop-culture fantasies (body snatchers, Kool-Aid) have come to mind.

Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords. Its scriptural foundation is a confused and largely fact-free ‘assessment’ produced last January by a small number of ‘hand-picked’ analysts – as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, described them – from the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The claims of the last were made with only ‘moderate’ confidence. The label Intelligence Community Assessment creates a misleading impression of unanimity, given that only three of the 16 US intelligence agencies contributed to the report. And indeed the assessment itself contained this crucial admission: ‘Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation and precedents.’ Yet the assessment has passed into the media imagination as if it were unassailable fact, allowing journalists to assume what has yet to be proved. In doing so they serve as mouthpieces for the intelligence agencies, or at least for those ‘hand-picked’ analysts.

It is not the first time the intelligence agencies have played this role. When I hear the Intelligence Community Assessment cited as a reliable source, I always recall the part played by the New York Times in legitimating CIA reports of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s putative weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the long history of disinformation (a.k.a. ‘fake news’) as a tactic for advancing one administration or another’s political agenda.

Once again, the established press is legitimating pronouncements made by the Church Fathers of the national security state. Clapper is among the most vigorous of these. He perjured himself before Congress in 2013, when he denied that the NSA had ‘wittingly’ spied on Americans – a lie for which he has never been held to account. In May 2017, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the Russians were highly likely to have colluded with Trump’s campaign because they are ‘almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’. The current orthodoxy exempts the Church Fathers from standards imposed on ordinary people, and condemns Russians – above all Putin – as uniquely, ‘almost genetically’ diabolical.

It’s hard for me to understand how the Democratic Party, which once felt scepticism towards the intelligence agencies, can now embrace the CIA and the FBI as sources of incontrovertible truth. One possible explanation is that Trump’s election has created a permanent emergency in the liberal imagination, based on the belief that the threat he poses is unique and unprecedented. It’s true that Trump’s menace is viscerally real. But the menace posed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was equally real. The damage done by Bush and Cheney – who ravaged the Middle East, legitimated torture and expanded unconstitutional executive power – was truly unprecedented, and probably permanent. Trump does pose an unprecedented threat to undocumented immigrants and Muslim travellers, whose protection is urgent and necessary. But on most issues he is a standard issue Republican. He is perfectly at home with Paul Ryan’s austerity agenda, which involves enormous transfers of wealth to the most privileged Americans. He is as committed as any other Republican to repealing Obama’s Affordable Care Act. During the campaign he posed as an apostate on free trade and an opponent of overseas military intervention, but now that he is in office his free trade views are shifting unpredictably and his foreign policy team is composed of generals with impeccable interventionist credentials.

Trump is committed to continuing his predecessors’ lavish funding of the already bloated Defence Department, and his Fortress America is a blustering, undisciplined version of Madeleine Albright’s ‘indispensable nation’. Both Trump and Albright assume that the United States should be able to do as it pleases in the international arena: Trump because it’s the greatest country in the world, Albright because it’s an exceptional force for global good. Nor is there anything unprecedented about Trump’s desire for détente with Russia, which until at least 2012 was the official position of the Democratic Party. What is unprecedented about Trump is his offensive style: contemptuous, bullying, inarticulate, and yet perfectly pitched to appeal to the anger and anxiety of his target audience. His excess has licensed overt racism and proud misogyny among some of his supporters. This is cause for denunciation, but I am less persuaded that it justifies the anti-Russian mania.


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Whiteness Won’t Be Wished Away


Ninth in the series: Organize the White Working Class!

White Workers Have Double Consciousness

White workers have at least a dual identity — we are both workers and white. The history of white working class community organizing as told by Amy Sonnie and James Tracy in Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times suggests that on-the-ground organizing requires us to engage white identity.  We will not succeed in “organizing our own” unless we reckon with the whole person as they actually live and think.

In most radical working class or marxist thinking, class is the primary factor cutting across all other positions such as race, gender, sexuality, or empire. In this view, class is not really an identity but a relation to production, that is to say an objective fact waiting to be discovered as science discovers nature. This approach imagines workers as economic beings that should react rationally to their class interest, if only explained or experienced in just the right way.

I do not dismiss the important work done by socialists or others in addressing race issues. Instead I hope to reflect on history and enrich organizing method and strategy for anyone aiming to confront the way that race and class are tangled and intertwined. Most socialist groups today do highlight the struggles of women, gays and lesbians, blacks and latinx people and embrace “intersectionality” but organized around class as the “primary contradiction.”

The liberal Democratic Party version does the opposite. Class more or less disappears from liberal conceptions of intersectionality and identity. If the Democrats were to put class into the mix, then it might lead to a kind of identity politics subversive of the two-party system itself. Once class is invisible, poor whites become objects of immense condescension; deplorable failures with no excuse other than their own stupidity and laziness. After all, we enjoyed all the privileges but are still losers. Right?

The history in Hillbilly Nationalists suggest a different approach. Class does cut deep sure enough, just not all the way to the bone. JOIN and Young Patriots and Rising Up Angry appeal to white workers not simply as workers but also as “dislocated hillbillies.” O4O and White Lightning tapped into the rich reservoir of European and immigrant labor history. Music, breaking bread, hanging out at the pool hall, street gangs, even the pop culture identities of “greasers” carried class consciousness for those who know how to translate one language into another.

Organizers face a long and winding road.  We travel back and forth between class and cultural identity. That road turns around race every bit as much as class. For white workers, class interest will lead the way to other things. But, race is so deeply a part how class works in the U.S. that it is impossible to separate the two.

People of color, gays and lesbians, sexually minorities, the young, soldiers and veterans, environmentalists — whatever their class background — may find ideas other than class more inspiring and other roads more compelling. And, there is lots of evidence to suggest that there is a transformative core to the ideals behind every social movement.  Each vantage point is as equally indispensable to the revolutionary project as is class consciousness.  We must use all the means — all the forms of consciousness — at our disposal.

There is nothing more important than finding what Peggy Terry called “our natural allies in the struggle for real freedom and real democracy.” We can begin by seeking unity without uniformity and honoring the path each person takes to political life.

Once we shift our vantage point, even partially, from abstract analysis to on-the-ground activism, culture and consciousness come to the foreground and cannot be denied. When we take up the revolutionary act of taking to strangers, we find pretty quickly that there is no uncomplicated point of engagement.  It’s rarely class interest pure and simple. All the deep contradictions of our culture and history govern the organizing encounter.

To dismiss white identity is to take our eyes off one of the main obstacles preventing working people from building the power we need to transform America into a democracy free of war and corporate power.

Waves of Revolution, Waves of Whiteness

In American history our revolutionary traditions have been kept in check and elite rule restored by wave after wave of white identity politics.

As Ted Allen taught, the white race and racism, invented in tandem, were the reaction to a peoples’ uprising that was both multiracial and cross-class. During Bacon’s rebellion, people of African and European descent — united by a shared experience of servitude and hard labor — joined forces and occupied Jamestown the capital of Virginia colony. With the help of free but landless people and a few small land owners, they rose-up against slavery. After the elites crushed the rebellion, the white race was invented and the solidarity on which revolution depends was crushed as well.

After 1776 — when the ideal of equality was at least put on the agenda of history — whiteness and slavery betrayed the promise.  We lost the chance again in the 19th Century when millions of Irish — fleeing their own horrible oppression — migrated to the new republic but wasted their fighting spirit.  Our ancestors sold their class struggles short by settling for whiteness as their meal ticket and assimilation into the “white mans country” they newly called home.[1]

After the revolutionary phase of the Civil War and Reconstruction destroyed slavery and challenged white supremacy, Jim Crow and Klan terror once again restored white identity as the permit that granted political participation. In the end even the mighty Populists succumbed to racial division.[2]

The transformative revolution of the mid-twentieth century destroyed Jim Crow’s legal segregation and challenged empire. For the first time in our history anti-racist ideas gained acceptance by millions of white people. But in the following decades a vast militarized penal system — operating under cover of crime fighting and colorblindness — targeted people of color, reinventing Jim Crow and slavery.[3]

Trump now openly invites us back to white indentity by scapegoating immigrants, blacks, latinos, natives and women to divert our attention from the real culprits: empire, corporate power and mass incarceration.

Whiteness Won’t Be Wished Away

We have a daunting history no doubt but we have had our revolutions and we shall have another. For now there is deep discontent among white workers. The corporations with their insatiable drive for power and profits, the empire with its multiple and endless wars, the two-party system with its frauds and fakers and a labor movement too often timid, too often hobbled by blind obedience to the machine, have led us to down the road to political and environmental disaster. It is time for white workers to rise up.

For organizing purposes — and that is the only purpose that really matters — class should be engaged as both a relation to production and a form of identity.  And engage we must because the Republicans, KKK, and fascists clearly understand that white identity exists.

Ignore white identity and we surrender that ground to the right.  Organize white identity around class issues and anti-racist action and we step closer to the day when whiteness itself will be overcome. All the wishes in the world will not make whiteness go away, it must be transformed through the hard work of raising consciousness and raising hell.

Enter the Young Patriots Organization, Redneck Revolt and Showing Up for Racial Justice. This is how its done. Go with them. Learn and teach others.

The job of the organizer is to help white people discover that our self-interest is undermined by our own racism. If you want working class rebellion, then work on racism. If you want racial justice, then work on class exploitation.

If we can transform ourselves we can change the world. Listen to the words of the great civil rights anthem sung by the great working class hero Bruce Springsteen:

The only thing we did was right
Was the day we started to fight
Keep your eyes on the prize
Hold on


1 Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White

2 W.E.B. Dubois, Black Reconstruction in America

3 Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Posted in American Culture, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, White Privilege, White Supremacy | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments