Some basics about political organizing in the 21st century

Summary:  The most frequent request by readers is for solutions. How can we reform America? This is another in a series of posts attempting an answer. Today we consider what kind of organization might accomplish so great a goal, and what tactics it should use. Links to other posts in this series are at the end.

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It will take special people to reform America

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The problem: how to reawaken the American spirit, to convince our fellow Americans to again accept the burden and responsibility of self-government?I believe this love of freedom lies  latent in us, smouldering today. Our task is to build this into a flame, creating organizations capable of reforming America’s political structure.  Events during the past decade suggest that this requires starting from scratch, rather than working from within current organizations.

The post describing the first step on this path said that it will take many years, but starts with the first organization built upon recognition of the problem and dedicated to a solution.  The first one can be small. They will grow if the time is right. Today we discuss the principles for construction of such groups.

The goal will be to gain support from the broad middle of the political spectrum, overcoming the power and wealth of the 1% by weight of numbers. The history of reform movements in America shows some of the dangers to be met.

  1. Observation by every technical means and to be extensively infiltrated. There will be no secrets. Embrace that and operate with extreme transparency. Let them spy and listen.
  2. To be discredited by false flag operations by the government to discredit them. Preemptively defend against them by adopting strict, heavily publicized policy of non-violence to people and property. Martin Luther King’s rules must give every action.
  3. To be smeared by exaggerations and lies from a wide spectrum of establishment voices. Political gurus, style-makers, comedians. The only defense is to capture the moral high ground, so that these attacks appear ludicrous, or even socially unacceptable. Follow Dr Kings advice: avoid personalizing the issue, stay out of the mud, stay on message.
  4. To be attacked economically, so that members pay a personal price for involvement. Overcoming this vulnerability might be the most difficult challenge, probably requiring a high level of internal cohesion. Traditional political movements use young people (cheap to fund, with little to lose) supported by a small core of the 1% and their servants. Building an alternative to this will require ingenuity and sacrifice; the early labor movement offers some models to follow.

Tennis balls are difficult targets
To succeed we’ll need to hit difficult targets

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To accomplish such a great task against long odds will require a highly diverse and efficient organization.  That will be difficult to build with Americans, immersed as we are from birth in myth, and bombarded by propaganda to befuddle and divide us. The antidote — perhaps the only one available to us — is to borrow a tactic from the North Vietnamese Army’s playbook: grab reality by the belt and hold on tightly.

We will need clear vision and thought fueled by verified facts. These are among the few tools available to counter the greater resources of the 1%. In practice that means internal debate carried through to conclusions irregardless of people’s feelings, burning through our differences to find a common ground on which to build.

None of this will be easy. Even with these things success will require many years. Or longer. But the current political system is breaking up, the issues crossing party lines (e.g., opposition to banks and wars in both parties).

Summary: the bywords of these organizations should be to pursue broad centralist goals by transparent and non-violent means, building a highly effective group that prizes fact-based clear-thinking, working to earn the public’s esteem.

This is the essence of asymmetrical conflict against the 1%. While no detail of this is new, the combination seems likely to produce something as unique in political history as were the Committees of Correspondence that created the American Revolution. It’s different from both the laissez faire libertarian (or anarchist) groups of the Tea Party Movement and the free-form street parties of the Occupy Movement. Perhaps succeeding as neither has or could.

Next: developing leaders for a reform movement.

Background note

This subject has echoed through the FM website since its inception in 2007.  Most of the posts about America have focused on our history, diagnosis of our problems, and forecasts. Some posts proposed reforms, but tentatively — and time has proven these ideas to be futile or even wrong. So in this series we try again, moving on to still more speculative solutions.

Key to bright future

Post your thoughts on this — and your ideas — in the comments.

Other posts in this series

  1. The project to reform America: a matter for science or a matter of will?, 16 March 2010
  2. Can we reignite the spirit of America?, 14 September 2010
  3. The sure route to reforming America, 16 November 2010
  4. We are alone in the defense of the Republic, 5 July 2012
  5. A third try: The First Step to reforming America, 28 May 2013
  6. The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy,
    27 June 2013
  7. Why the 1% is winning, and we are not, 26 July 2013

Doing this will not be a requirement for membership in the reform movement

We need strong people, but this might be setting the bar too high.


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30 thoughts on “Some basics about political organizing in the 21st century

    1. gretagrain,

      I believe I see what you mean, and in a sense agree with you. But let’s examine this in more detail…

      • Bad Faith is a quality of people, not systems. A systems does not have a personality, or a soul.
      • Do America’s leaders have bad faith? Members of the 1%, business leaders, political leaders, leaders of society?
      • It’s not binary, yes or no. It’s a matter of degree.
      • Even if we can determine this, it tells us little. What matters is the comparison — the degree of bad faith vs. our past. Vs other nations today? Vs other nations in the past?
    2. bad faith in all of its meaning. the word is the murder of the thing. symbolic reality is the world of language.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_property http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_personhood
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exformation
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pask#Interactions_of_Actors_Theory
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny

      you create your future out of your memories of the past
      you only know what you know by understanding what you did not know before
      you can only know the value of a thing by understanding the consequences of its non existence

  1. The road to reformation of America is, as you say, a long one. I would like to share an observation on how this transformation may be supported. In short, look at your leaders and their core values.

    There are some parallels within our two democracies. We each have an elected House of Representatives and a House of Review; the Senate.
    Right now, here in Australia, we are in election mode, with a general election for the House of Reps. on September 7th.
    We have endured two terms (six years) of a Labor Government which, like your Democratic Party Government, is supported by, among many others, the bien pensants of the Left. However, the last three years have been an abysmal experience in which a minority Labor Government held onto power through an alliance with the Greens and a handful of independents. It has not been a happy time but we now have a clear idea of what will and will not work.

    A certain starkness in contrast has emerged between where the major parties, and their leaders, stand in terms of integrity and trust. The Labor “liberals” are led by a recycled PM who, in 2007, took us down the path of Keynesian waste and who now vows to restore our economy to surplus. This man, Kevin Rudd, is a narcissist of the first order who has delusions of grandeur and a goal to be UN Secretary General, no less.
    The conservative Liberal / National Party coalition is led by Tony Abbott, a former Rhodes Scholar and a man who, at his core, is a servant of the community. He is an active member of his local Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade while also serving as a volunteer Surf Life Saver. He also takes part in charity triathlons and every year spends time working for indigenous communities, on the ground.

    The differential between a self-serving politician and a politician with a strong ethos of service will, I believe, give electors a clear choice.

    My suggestion for your consideration, in the ambitious campaign to reform America, is to seek out and recruit people such as Tony Abbott who walk the talk and have a crystal-clear vision of what can be and what is in the National interest.
    Good luck with your campaign; I feel that such reformations will occur elsewhere, and not before time.

    1. AN astonishing parody of a man who prevented recession and its Keynesian policies. How blind you have to be to not see how effective such measure was aginst private deleveraging.

      On the other hand, believeing in marketing that works similar to Putin’s marketing campaign. And imagine a glory for a person that is dedicating to pursuit of a meaningless goal, achieving budget surplus. What purpose such a surplus should serve for a country that has the lowest debts in the world? Aus debts are on the order of 12%. Imagine the stupidity of going for a surplus by selling more of their natural resources to other countries, resources that will be needed more and cost more later on in the future. AT what cost is meaningfull to give away such resources?

      What a waste of “centrist” Abbot goals.

    1. That is same opinion as your first one and it is astounding to praise a politician on personal values while hiding all policies he recomends that will have stupendous consequences on Australians. WHat Abbot proposes will start private debt deleveraging which is much higher then in US or in EU. Australia and Canada had 30% more of inflated rise in housing leverage which it was prevented by Keynesian stimulus on housing by preventing housing price fall. Prices are teetering on the edge and small rise in unemployment will triger the crisis just as it did in US and in EU which will require large sums of deficit spending to keep economy afloat.

      The fact that conservatives did not learn nothing of this yet proves that they are wanting this or have no idea what economy is for and are dedicated for repeating experiments over and over again and will never accept realities of austerity. WHat do you need budget surpluses for?

  2. FM, what is the broad middle of political spectrum?

    As far as i know, majority of Americans want SS and Medicare preserved, majority wants Medicare for all, mjority wants bailout for Main Street aka Stimulus for jobs and infrastructure. If that is middle of the spectrum then that is far left of what is written in medias. Americans are much leftier then center since we went too much right considering last 70 years.

    What is broad center?

    1. Jordan,

      I believe you describe it well. No surprise, as the polls have told us these things for years, or even decades.

      We can go further — lack of support for foreign wars and bank bailouts, strong support for class-based measures to reduce inequality (e.g., better schools, head start), opposition to open borders.

      What’s needed is to tie these together into a coherent whole (packaging), and build an organizational structure (network, groups, whatever) to make it happen. I no longer believe the existing political parties can be reformed — but that’s a wild guess (could easily be wrong).

      As for the news media — again I agree. The 1% have shifted both the political center-of-gravity and news media to the right. As the SHAME project shows on by in-depth examination of people, this results from smart, long-term, grass-roots investing by the 1% — they’re winning, and they deserve to win (Mother Nature doesn’t reward being good).

      Also, its the Overton Window successfully applied.

  3. This post — like most others in this series — is getting low traffic. Despite it being by far the most frequently requested topic.

    My guess as to what this means, based on the thousand or so comments in the scores of posts about reforming America: people want a solution. Like a pill — fast, easy, low-risk, high-effectiveness. That’s why proposals for a Constitutional Convention are so popular, despite its advocates presenting near-zero basis for expecting any positive result. Laws are also popular — change the election format (multi-parties, complex voting schemes) or financing (e.g., limit dollars or types of contributions).

    We want the Underwear Gnomes Business Plan.
    (1) Take the big fast step.
    (2) …. something happens …
    (3) Success! A better America.

    What we don’t want are proposals that call for hard work over years or decades, with low odds of success. We don’t want realistic plans.

    This is also why cries of “doom” — we cannot win — are so popular. They excuse us from trying.

    1. Pardon me for being a downer, but it doesn’t seem like you’ve presented any specific plan either.

      (1) Someone should form an organization
      (2) ?
      (3) Profit

      It sounds good, but I think you need to take it down a logical progression, take it from abstract into action. The devil is in the details. Sometimes those details are downright infested with devils.
      I assume you’re talking about a political advocacy organization, a place through which, ideas, influence, and money can flow. But whose ideas will you use? Where will you get the influence, and how will you use it? Same question for the money.

      Why don’t you start simple, with one clear idea that has broad support and a distinct path to implementation? Let’s say you were to form a group whose one and only goal was to lobby Congress so they wind down foreign military interventions and so they reduce overall military spending?
      It seems to me this course of action would have a much more straightforward plan:

      (1) Start organization (find planners, find spokespeople, collect donations)
      (2) Lobby Congress (polls, letter campaigns, wine & dine, whatever it takes)
      (3) Once successful, only then consider diversifying goals

    2. That this is part two suggests that there is more to come. Think of these as chapters in a book. Your comment is like reading the first chapter of the Principia and declaring that it has proved nothing.

      It has always been my method to take issues in easily understood pieces. No matter how large the chunk, some people will always complain that there remain issues beyond the boundary of what has been said. Rightly if pointlessly so.

      Also, readership falls off fast after a thousand words. This is aprox 800 words, more than long enough.

      Furthermore, I consider the specific policy positions the least important part of the discussion. Those will depend on the circumstances of the moment, years or decades in the future.

      When you write your proposal, you can do it differently.

    3. @Todd
      remember the most dangerous type of insanity is the one where you are sane all the time
      organization within a system of calculated risk in the pursuit of intended outcomes REINTRODUCED evil into the world. there is NO logical progression for the last word of the
      sentence changes the meaning. nothing is spontaneous

    4. Fabius, I look forward to reading your future posts in this series.
      If you consider specific policy to be the least important part of your envisioned organization, and you want to give facts a high priority, then I would surmise your best option is an organization dedicated to impartial fact-checking in a way that would motivate truth in reporting and in politics.
      It seems you’re already doing this to some extent with your website here, although I guess you want a larger audience and a greater degree of influence. Perhaps marketing and topical commentary would get you that, as long as you maintain the high degree of clear non-biased non-partisan impartiality, where I know the moral high ground would appeal to people’s greater selves.

      Gretagrain, you’re probably right about the problems of being sane too often. Maybe I should lighten up.

    5. Guthrie,

      “If you consider specific policy to be the least important part of your envisioned organization,”

      The concept has been tested. Look at the policy-centered movements, which have repeatedly failed due to internal dynamics that place loyalty to the cause over accuracy.

      The Peak Oil community applauded any sort of nonsense, so long as it described Peak Oil as an existential threat to civilization. It collapsed amidst repeated failed forecasts, and general laughter at the doomster foolishness published under their brand name.

      The conservative movement — esp the Tea Party — is burning itself into irrelevance by its disregard for facts — about matters of history, present fact, economics, and so many other things.

      The Climate Change crusade (as a political movement, not the science) has failed to achieve any substantial public policy changes in the US or emerging nations — and those that they got in Europe and Australia are being reversed. They applauded any forecast of climate doom, any attribution of present climate to global warming — no matter what climate scientists said. Their abandonment of the IPCC is the latest and saddest example of this.

      Perhaps the clearest example is the Occupy Movement. Mass mobilizaton of large crowds with lavish news media coverage, accomplishing nothing because they neglected the difficult boring work of organization in favor of street parties.

      This is America dysfunctionality on the big stage. Disregarding the successes of history, such as the Founders organizing the Committees of Correspondence as their very first step.

    6. @Todd time is an illusion. you only know what you know by understanding what you did not know before

  4. “We will need a clear vision and thought fueled by visible facts…In practice this means internal debate carried through to conclusions regardless of people’s feelings, burning through our differences to find a common ground on which to build.”

    Successful regime change, it seems, will need to be sensitive to both an inner psycho-politics as well as the usual calls for more traditional structural changes embodied in the transformations of “outer” political visions.

    Perhaps one of the more important dimensions of an internal debate should revolve around the issue and risks of the political mobilization of anger/rage/hate as well as what could be called the historical psycho-political consequences of such a mobilization.

    Has the more traditional left over the past 200 years helped to create an illusion in their belief that it is possible to create one unified will in which there is a supposed homogenization of millions of spontaneous wills— into what could be called the illusion of class cohesion?

    Has modern radicalism on the left in its anarchist, communist, and social democratic styles tended to accept the role of its movements/parties as rage collectors who have been intimately involved in transferring rage/anger from a local and more intimate emotion to a public and political program?

    Should a new political movement have as one of its goals–liberation from this spirit of resentment?

    1. Jim,

      Wow, that easily gets best of thread. Deserves some thought. Thanks for posting!

      {paraphrased} for brevity} Has the left over the past 200 years created an illusion that it is possible to create a unified will, a homogenization of millions of wills into class cohesion? Has the left accepted its movements/parties as rage collectors, transferring rage/anger from a local intimate emotion to a public & political program?

      This is a powerful example of what I’ve often written about — but never so well. That applies to the Left, but equally so to fascism. Left and Right use the same methods for the same reasons cars have 4 wheels: they do what works to influence us.

      “Should a new political movement have as one of its goals liberation from this spirit of resentment?”

      Straight from Nietzsche. Which means it is important, but also over my pay grade. Any readers care to run with this?

  5. Sorry for the double post, but I don’t believe this is the correct forum for this kind of debate.
    This needs to be in Universities, local government, schools.
    This requires deep thought.
    What do we want?
    What needs reform?
    What is the end state that is desired?
    Most importantly, where are we now?

    Also, this is something that applies too all inheritors of the enlightenment, not just the USA

    1. I understand your point; however, I’ll take the other side of that. There is a place for deep discussion by exchange of long analysis docs. But that’s not for everybody, or even a large audience. Another path is what we do here — focused discussions of pieces of the puzzle.

      Lots of ways to get to a conclusion.

  6. Step 2? I’m going to be intentionally provocative: Continue to set the stage.

    Give light, air, and water to the idea that the post-9/11 version of the federal government (under both Bush and Obama and probably the next president, too) — our federal government, if judged by its actions and not its words, has taken on a life of its own and is getting to be a more significant adversary of the American people than any terrorist group or foreign country. Threatens the average man and woman’s freedom, disrupts his and her way of life, and responds to criticism and embarrassment with violence. That’s our very own Federal government… An animal that’s biting the kids in the neighborhood and needs to be either neutered or put down. Preferably neutered, since it can still be put to work, and we need it for that.

    Out with it, if that’s what you think. Might turn off some people, who knows.

    Continue to pluck out some of the distracting ideas, like weeding a garden. Like the idea that you can take back the {Democratic|Republican} party and have it truly represent you one day. Like the idea that it is possible to shame any of the current generation of politicians into doing right. Like the idea that the powers that be are serious about rule of law. Like the idea that the world will ever NOT be run by the richest people (the “1%” if you like).

    Like the idea that the natural tendency — for there to be a ruling elite — is a hopeless obstacle, which prevents periodic re-balancing of how we distribute justice and wealth. It’s not.

    Like the idea that the 1% care much about the aspects of the social order having to do with religion, gender, sexuality, race, or even nationality, except for the sake of avoiding major disturbances.

    Like the idea that the problems we are having are unique and have not been already been addressed, at least in part, in a more successful way in some countries.

    1. asdfg,

      Great comment! You’ve gone beyond step two to material in future chapters. So let’s take a moment to discuss why this is step two. People like to focus on policy proposals, as if there is some specific mix — a magic formula — that once proposed will attract hordes of supporters. I disagree, totally. The key is the organization, an instrument that can work with the atmosphere of the time and gain support for reforming the Republic. What we lack is the engine, the organization.

      Picking policies is the fun easy part. Building the organization is the difficult part, and has led to the futility of the peak oil community, the climate change crusade, the irrelevance of the Occupy Movement, and the sad Tea Party Movement (forged in opposition to the bank bailouts, became shock troops for the bank-loving GOP).

      Now for your specifics.

      “Like the idea that you can take back the {Democratic|Republican} party and have it truly represent you one day.”

      I had hoped that is was possible to retake the GOP and Dems. Now I agree with you. Hence the need for a new organization.

      “Like the idea that it is possible to shame any of the current generation of politicians into doing right.”

      I think that they are like weathervances, and will swing as the wind changes. Not a serious problem.

      “Like the idea that the powers that be are serious about rule of law.”

      I agree, in the sense I think you mean. What we have evolving is a system of High, Middle, and Low Justice. Different processes, different rules.

      “Like the idea that the world will ever NOT be run by the richest people (the “1%” if you like).”

      I totally disagree with that statement of despair. Believing that action is futile is the easy justification for passivity. Which is another way of saying that we’re sheep. I wonder if that can be changed.

      “Like the idea that the problems we are having are unique and have not been already been addressed, at least in part, in a more successful way in some countries.”

      That is an important point I have often raised. Much propaganda has been expended to convince us that other successful societies have nothing to teach “America the exceptional, wonder of the world.” Keeping us stupid makes us easier to rule.

    2. Thanks for the response, FM.

      Regarding the world always being run by the “1%” – I definitely did not mean it as a reason for passivity or defeatism, on the contrary. I was trying to say that trying to solve the problem of political power being concentrated in a few hands is a very steep hill to climb and I’m starting to think maybe not the best one.

      What is the High, Middle, and Low Justice?

    3. High: for the rich and powerful. Police reluctant to investigate. Prosecutors reluctant to prosecute. Superb expensive defense, low conviction rate. Short sentences served.

      The first is the most important, the most effective. See the many officials from Nixon on who have committed crimes. Forgive and forget is quasi-official policy.

      See the Wall Street executives who almost burned down down our financial system. Lots of crimes have been identified, from complex security crimes to perjury and fraud in mortgage origination and foreclosure.

      Middle justice for the middle class — horrifically complex and expensive win or lose. They are vulnerable to government pressure, and receive little protection from organized crime.

      Low justice is what the underclass gets. I should not need to explain.

      Three classes. Three parallel systems of justice.

    4. The world being run by the 1% does not necessarily mean that the 1% get free passes for criminal behavior.

      There is a subset of the 1% which understands that fair treatment for everyone — a justice system — is one of the greatest societal stabilizing forces there is. This subset also understands that a stable society is a society which benefits those who got rich in that society.

      An example of this subset is the British Liberal Party of the 19th century.

      In short, there may always be an elite and they may always be on the top, but if you have an elite ruling with enlightened self-interest, it works out OK. If you have a greedy and stupid elite, as we do now, it does not.

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