Reframing: From “Electability” to Organizing Encounter



First post in a series on Election Talk

Making history is far better than predicting it.

Let’s practice turning speculation into an organizing opportunity.

Perhaps the most common remark I hear when taking to people about the Sanders campaign — even more so when promoting the Green Party — is “electability.” I always hear: “Can they win?”

Electability is a social-control discourse that we need to counter.

First, know that questions produce answers.

Electability questions rely on untestable assumptions that tend to produce the sought-after answer. Namely, that there is no alternative to the status quo.

Electability arguments draw on the “horserace” or sports framing that corporate media uses to explain elections to its consumers. And, to limit the range of opinion and readily available questions and answers.

“Can Sanders win?” “Can the Green Party win national office?” Such questions are invitation to predict the future, are they not?

Such predictions require speculation and cannot be based on facts alone. These seemingly rational political discussions devolve into statements of incontestable opinion if not outright meaningless soothsaying.  Electability drains political discourse of real content.

Counter-factual discourse is useful however to the organizer in that it exposes the underlying assumptions of the speaker since the facts cannot get in the way.

When confronted with the electability argument I respond:

“Yes, of course Sanders can win. Yes, the Green Party can become a viable opposition party.”

“But, its much better to ask a different question.”

“Can we win? Can the American people win?”

“Which candidate or candidates are most effective, right now, based on their record, for helping to promote the sweeping social movements that will be necessary to bring real change to the US.”

By the answer given, you will learn right away about the political consciousness of the person you are talking with. And that, for organizers and activists, is the first step toward meaningful engagement with that person.

“Can we win?” shifts the terrain to what we can do. Yes, you will hear fear and yes, you will hear fatalism, distracting and denial. But at least you can assess the discussion and invite them to make history rather than passively predict it.  Or not — but at least you will know its time to move on.

That is, after all, what’s important, isn’t it? Where would President Sanders be without a strong poly-centered social movements to support change? Congress is still controlled by the Corporate Power and even a landslide victory is not going to completely change that.

Sanders has repeated said he cannot make the political revolution without a broader political revolution and the Green Party has long been the electoral wing of the social movements.

Its what we do that matters. We the people. Its in our hands.

So let’s reframe. Let’s challenge the soothsayers and move toward political dialogue about activism, organizing, and a vision for revolutionary change.

About Richard Moser

Richard Moser has over 40 years experience as an organizer and activist in the labor, student, peace, and community movements. Moser is the author of "New Winter Soldiers: GI and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam Era," and co-editor with Van Gosse of "The World the Sixties Made: Politics and Culture in Recent America." Moser lives in Colorado.
This entry was posted in Electoral Strategy for 2016, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, revolutionary strategy, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Reframing: From “Electability” to Organizing Encounter

  1. Hi Richard – thanks for this. I’ve been working on that word “winning” which in the context of elections cycles has come to mean only winning the WH or winning a seat in congress, ie, “winning” an election. The idea that “win” in the context of an election CYCLE is much broader than “winning” an election is an idea that few contemplate. We have been led astray by the corporate media to focus on and count only the wins of the corporations’ parties, and have forgotten how to count our own wins. A “win” in an election cycle is the required % of the popular vote to maintain the people’s party status for the next election cycle. A “win” in an election cycle is growth in affiliation with an opposition party to the corporations’ party: more forces. A “win” in an election cycle is more activists who understand the corporate media’s game of distraction of the horse race and reframe the question in our terms. And the most important “win” in an election cycle, an increase in class consciousness and unity that come from that meaningful engagement and working together in the struggle, a clearer and more widespread vision for revolutionary change, and more forces with better political skills to use in the next election cycle to gain more “wins” for our side. And who knows… a “win” in an election cycle is using the electoral system in its current form with all its flaws and corruptions to actually change that very system in spite of itself. None of these very important wins have anything to do with “electability” or who is declared the “winner” of an election; they everything to do with how we can operate in the political arena as one part of our work, using the election cycle and the existing levers of the electoral system to move us forward. #ItsInOurHands and now more than ever #ItsWithinOurReach


    • Richard Moser says:


      Beautifully and fully argued. Why don’t you edit a bit for clarity maybe elaborate of some points and I would like to invite you to guest blog on my humble little blog. Its hard from me to find strategic thinkers that go beyond new commentary or political analysis. let me know what you think.


      • Thanks Richard, for your response. I have been working on this concept and trying to get it out there. A spot on your blog sounds great. I agree that it’s hard to find people who are thinking this way, a lot of what I’m getting in response to my “win”-word push is “huh?” 🙂 I am not dissuaded. I am a big believer in looking at the WORDS we use and how our language has been shaped by the very forces we are fighting to control OUR message. Too much sloppiness in citizen reporting around language IMO, and too many don’t see what difference it makes when we frame our message in THEIR terms. I’ll keep working on my text and check back in with you soon. I only commented with a little here, so I’m not sure that it’s as “fully argued” here as you say. But I could be wrong. Maybe it’s enough to get the idea across and run with it? Thanks for your interest, and, as I said before, thanks for this blog post of yours. It’s what I was looking for – who else is thinking about this? – and that’s how I found you. Actually, thanks for your work on this entire blog, lots of great material here that has already been helpful to me in trying to learn where I can help.


      • Richard Moser says:


        Thanks for the kind words and please do keep working on the article. If you look at my “about” section I they to explain or at least discuss why actually strategic thinking is so weak. We get swept up in the great moral issues with little idea of how to achieve them. As if our protests and outrage were enough. It seems very difficult to even raise ideas regarding strategy. Partly its because “power” is often viewed as a bad word. But I am convinced that the revolutionary trends will remain marginal unless we take at least a partial turn toward strategy. This will require people to move beyond moral and political purity (as if anyone could agree what that is anyway). As a historical I am convinced this has to do with the long legacy of our shared religious culture and history. The puritans still live on and we have to engage that is we want to reckon with ourselves. My personal shift to this way of thinking came with the realization that after decades of activism and organizing I have never had complete ideological agreement with anyone. That cannot be the way forward. But I think agreeing to action and strategy is at least more feasible.


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