the failure of organizing

colist at colist at
Sat Nov 13 17:25:51 CST 2004

[ed:  Mark, Nia, Windy, and Ashwani continue the conversation.]

From: "Mark Sherman" <msherman at>

We read this list in a digested form, so this may be coming through
late. Apologies if

I'm not sure that one can boil this defeat down to a failure of
organizing, especially not as failure of community organizing.  I'm not
sure community organizing was really in the race.

In our battleground state, untold millions were invested in TV ads -far
less in on-the-ground organizing.   Most of the organizing money went
for organizers "parachuted" into the community.  Nationwide, very little
funding went to community-led organizations in the battleground states.
In the red states the funding situation was even worse - a sierra club
organizer from Kentucky canvassed my neighborhood. In hindsight it
appears that had sierra club paid her to stay home and work there, the
senate might have a different member from KY.

Why didn't community organizing get funding for this mobilizing work?
This is an interesting question.  Our convening on civic participation
last year showed that groups were starting voter work in this cycle, but
many groups did not have the experience nor the equipment for
specialized activities such as enhancing their databases with voter
records or producing block walk lists.  I suspect they also did not have
the experience tapping the  funding sources that support voter turnout
work in the election cycle. A little of that TV money would have gone a
long way in building these indigeneous groups's capabilities.

On the other hand, the campaign experts wisely took a page from
community organizing by emphasizing door to door canvassing, but
unwisely generally ignored the independent community led organzing
groups which were already on the block.  On the national level, many
individual progressive donors were convinced that the internet-based
"self-organizing" movement dominated by was really going
to bring the non- and infrequent voters back to the polls, so they
poured their money and time into online efforts.  When "virtual" went
"real" it took the form of bake sales and precinct watchers responsible
for making sure all the online people actually made it into vote.  These
activities didn't seem to bring new people into the process. Nor did
they offer a worldview that was accessible to those that hadn't spent a
lot of time on the internet thinking about the effects of Bush
administration policies on their communities. In other words, slogans
like "throw the bums out" and "stop the tragedy" or "you're fired"
aren't enough.  The list discussion has already had several good pieces,
starting with Randy's, on how inadequate the progressive message was in
this race. 

I guess all I want to say is that us (sic) technologists, community
organizers, academics and grantmakers have a role to play in this.  It
starts with making community led organizing visible. So that the money,
whether it comes from individuals, unions or foundations, will flow to
the groups that are engaged on the ground. 

Thanks for having a place to have this discussion!

Mark Sherman
Executive Director
Progressive Technology Project
msherman at

2801 21st Av S, Ste 132E
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Toll-Free 1-866-298-6463
FAX 612-395-9153


From: "Nia Wellman" <nwellman at>

I would like to thank Martin for his wonderful piece--I haven't got my blood
boiling that early in the morning for quite some time.

I especially appreciated his point that it is wrong to say that hatred won,
since hatred of Bush obviously lost.  Strangely enough, I can't remember
when I ever heard of a bunch of San Francisco queers roping up a local
Republican, raping him, and leaving him tied to a fence post to die of
dehydration and internal bleeding.  I wonder why, then, we would compare
hatred of Bush to hatred of gays?

I also think it is really interesting to consider community organizing as an
opportunity to organize AGAINST low-income and subsidized housing.  I never
even considered that the "haves" in our society would need the services of
community organizers--usually their ties with the business community and
local politicians is sufficient to get what they need; not to mention the
many landlord-tenant law lawyers who only represent landlords and never the
tenant.  Of course I won't even get into the subsidies which all home owners
experience on their tax return every year when they are able to write-off
interest payments.  That's a form of subsidized housing, isn't it?

I was not aware that ensuring housing for all and basic human dignity for
all are leftist doctrines.  Perhaps the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights is a leftist doctrine as well?  Interesting that the nations of the
world are all from the left.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights


"Article 22

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is
entitled to realization, through national effort and international
co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each
State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his
dignity and the free development of his personality."


"Article 30

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State,
group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act
aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth

 I do believe we are in a sad state of affairs when the professors of our
universities check grammar but are unable to further discussions about basic
human dignity.  Especially when we remember that the principle of education
for all is behind our state subsdized universities.  I would hope that our
collective tax dollars point students towards mentors who aid them to
broaden their thoughts rather than to narrow them.

Article 30 is why the KKK will never be on the same level as the NAACP, or
why laws that uphold peoples prejudices rather than upholding peoples
dignity are a disgrace to our nation.

We have spell check and grammar check on our computers (unphorchannutly, it
dusnt wirk on EE male).  We need our professors to represent the highest
that people can attain:  true compassion and respect for all.



From: Windy Cooler-Stith <windy_coolerstith at>

Hi all,
I don’t think organizing is about building empty, but pleasant relationships. I’m not sure anyone was advocating that, actually, so I’m confused when I read some of the recent posts. Real relationships, which I think many of us were advocating as being the core of organizing (and organizing being the core of whatever justice is), are hard, as anyone who has been married, or lived in a family, knows. And yes, real relationships involve both confronting those you love and *being confronted. Primarily real relationships involve having honest conversations, which is where my criticism of much “liberal middle-class” methodology comes in: because mainly the conversation doesn’t happen, not because the class is a bunch of elitist pigs, or they have an elitist agenda. But as someone was touching on in the last post, because they seem uncomfortable, and in my opinion, they are uncomfortable having real relationships and not controlling everything and everyone
– and they need to get over this *and the blaming behavior they engage in so eloquently, just as we in the working-class need to take responsibility for our future, as a class, and as co-community members with the self-defined middle-class. If what you want is freedom and justice I think behaving justly and facilitating freedom is the only way to get there. That’s tough, I know.
I, for instance, really struggle with feelings of resentment toward the middle-class, liberal and otherwise, for so perfectly, but thoughtlessly, convincing the people I love that they are not able to think for themselves, not able to be bold (loud, maybe even wrong sometimes) in identifying and talking about what they need, and, all the while the liberal version of the class has lived in homes of light-wooded, intentionally sparse, and open windowed gluttony – we have felt we are trailer trash, criminals, and cretins. I’d like to take a 2 x 4 and whack some of the class over the head with it when they try to: patronize us and act, unintentionally even, to prevent us, and/or the gay community, and/or “racial” minority communities, from really participating and then they whine about how we don’t participate – and blame us 100% and try to think of new ways to manipulate us to act on the middle-class’ judgment of what would be good for us. But, you know, that wouldn’t be helpful (2 x 4 to the head for those that got lost), and middle-class folks have lots to offer us too, just as we do for them. After all, they were in the unfairly privileged class who got a formal education, years of decent food, and parks to play in. They have skills we need as a result. The working-class needs to take responsibility for ourselves, like any community of people do, because we definitely have some pervasive problems that bind us together in the cycle of oppressor and oppressed - but I want you to know its pretty darn hard when you think you are a dip-shit. Middle-class professional “educations”, which I assure you we respect, are misused as a source of power in convincing us that we are inferior thinkers and actors. What do you expect to happen after that?
I think the criticism many of us are offering up is that what passes for organizing is actually manipulation – not education, not facilitation, not the tending of the garden of responsibility. And yes, sure, the “right” manipulates too. And yes, they manage to do it way better than the “left” because they at least have managed to simulate having relationships with other-than-middle-class communities. So what? I would hope that the justice we’re always bantering about is worth more than a battle of indoctrination. I would hope Justice is bigger than polarized sides roughly defined as “right” and “left” That’s all.
This election is only a small symptom of our issues as a people. I hope that through the disappointment and awe that so many people felt waking up on Nov 3rd that we can come to some resolution as to what our real issues are now and how we can better solve them. I think the answer is pursuing good, solid, real organizing, not the Democratic Party or meaningless attempts at mobilizing, but, I’m not we, and we are the answer.
Thanks again,
Windy Cooler-Stith


From: Ashwani Vasishth <vasishth at>

Rules for Radicals

Saul Alinsky wrote Rules for Radicals back in 1971. Alinsky said that 
his book was "for those who want to change the world from what it is to 
what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli 
for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for 
the Have-Nots on how to take it away."

Are Alinsky's rules still valid today? Which need to be revised? Which 
did Rove use successfully to help the Haves hold onto power? Which did 
Kerry use successfully? Which could Kerry have used that he didn't?

Rule 1: Power is both what you have and what your opponent thinks that 
you have. If you have few members, hide your numbers and make a lot of 

Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people. The result is 
confusion and retreat.

Rule 3: When possible, do go outside the experience of an opponent.

Rule 4: Make your opponent live up to his own rule book.

Rule 5: Ridicule is your most potent weapon. Ridicule is difficult to 
counter and it infuriates your opponent, causing him to react to your 

Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy.

Rule 7: A tactic that drags on for too long is not a good idea. Change 

Rule 8: Keep the pressure on. Maintain a constant pressure on the 

Rule 9: The threat of your tactic or action is more terrifying than the 
tactic or action itself. Use this to your advantage.

Rule 10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. 
You have to know what to say when your opponent asks you, "If you're so 
smart, what would you do?"

Rule 11: Pick your target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. 
Don't attack an abstract such as a corporation. Identify a responsible 
individual and ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

-Hecate 2:15 PM

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