I have a confession to make. I’m wildly unhappy with the current ways we’re trying to create change.
A year ago, on November 8th, I was utterly devastated as the election results came in – and immediately felt that our current models of organizing weren’t good enough anymore. The election was proof. I thought, perhaps naively, that Trump winning the election would be a wake up call and everybody would take as much time as necessary to completely rethink the way we approach activism in this country.
Those conversations never happened. At least not at the scale I was hoping.
Over the past 12 months I’ve had dozens of amazing conversations with folks who agree we need something new, but so far the options tend to be the same things we’ve been doing for decades: petitions, rallies, marches. Sure, they’re bigger and louder versions, but they’re more of the same.
Trump sitting in the White House is proof our organizing models have failed. His presidency isn’t a fluke, it was born out of a dramatic lack of awareness on the part of the progressive political class. Moderate policies, consultants, and focused-tested messages no longer win elections – and established campaign tactics no longer force political change in the ways they once did.
The Women’s March was incredible and necessary, as was the March for Science, the rallies at airports following the muslim ban, the People’s Climate March, the mobilization around the healthcare bill, the response to the trans-ban and DACA repeal. But these moments of massive awareness and mobilization haven’t changed the political reality in DC.
We can play the 4-year waiting game, pressuring congress in the hopes that they take bold action as soon as Trump is gone, but even that is risky. I’m not convinced Trump won’t win again, not unless we get our collective shit together.
The organizing that I see happening at a national level is, in some ways, a perfected version of the models of national organizing that were pioneered during the Bush and Obama administrations. The marches are bigger than ever, rallies are happening across the country on a seemingly constant basis, there’s wall-to-wall media coverage, big organizations are growing their email lists and raising tons of money from supporters, there’s groundbreaking new research and analysis coming out, and the courts are stepping in to block Trump’s most egregious over-reaches.
These are all good things, but these approaches to creating change worked because there were people in positions of power during the past 30 years who were willing to listen or who were allies and advocates on the inside. We’re now facing a fiercely antagonistic opposition that is largely immune to the organizing tactics we’ve deployed in the past. Even worse, our tactics often embolden the opposition.
We’ve becoming increasingly tribal in this country. We’re not converting people with our marches and rallies – at least not the people Trump cares about.
We need new models.
I don’t have the answers, but I do know we need to take a long hard look in the mirror and address, head on, the failures of the 2016 election cycle. We also need to be taking a heck of a lot more risks – and sharing what we learn. The biggest risk right now is doing the same things we’ve always done and expecting it to be enough. It won’t be.