What will 2017 bring in politics? An easy prediction is that there will be chaos, given the reign of President Trump. This is an easy prediction to make given his constant stream of wild statements on twitter, at rallies, and in the media itself. The potential war with Congress, starting with an investigation into Putin’s role in the last election, is also a given. But there may be even more to it than that.
Can the left form an effective organization to stop anything at all from happening? Is it possible for progressives to effectively block any change at all? The short answer is yes, it’s entirely possible – and a few unnamed former staffers have outlined exactly how to do it. The 23 page document is very much worth reading as something of an updated “Rules for Radicals”, tailored to the situation at hand.
Who wrote this document? Since some of them gave their twitter handles, it’s easy enough to look them up. But the document is unsigned, so it seems only fair to leave their names off of the discussion. It’s not about them, after all. They do understand the need to not personify their advice as per the advice of Alinsky himself.
This isn’t about the authors. It’s about the tactics.
The tactics they recommend are taken directly from the Tea Party, which mounted an effective campaign against everything over the last eight years. The methods are very simple, too. The key is to organize locally and put pressure on your member of Congress (MoC) to block everything from happening.
How do you do this? By understanding what motivates any given MoC above all else, which is re-election. They may well want to pass any one of a number of bills which turn back Obamacare, restrict abortions, or anything else which a progressive would hate. But they would prefer to do it all without much notice. Any MoC with a backside firmly implanted in their congressional seat wants to avoid conflict and portray a happy, positive persona.
That’s where you have to hit them – where they are elected.
Beyond just being locally focused, however, the Tea Party was able to form a tightly focused and motivated coalition through one thing which is going to rub any good progressive the wrong way from the start. From the document itself:
The Tea Party focused on saying NO to Members of Congress on their home turf. While the Tea Party activists were united by a core set of shared beliefs, they actively avoided developing their own policy agenda. Instead, they had an extraordinary clarity of purpose, united in opposition to President Obama. They didn’t accept concessions and treated weak Republicans as traitors.
These two aspects of the strategy go straight to the heart of why the Sanders “revolution” didn’t really get very far. The real power in the federal government is indeed in Congress, which as has been famously noted is the logical antonym of progress. And the easiest role to assume when the pressure is on is to stand for absolutely nothing at all.
Will we have the discipline to do this?
The short answer is that no, many progressives will feel a need to stand for one issue or another – universal health care, a humane foreign policy, environmental protection, women’s rights, and so on. These are all good issues and it will be hard to simply say “no” to everything. But that is just what will be the most effective because the system is very much set up to do nothing when there is no consensus.
The key to organizing along these lines is based entirely on fear. People naturally fear loss of something far more than they are capable of hoping for something new. Fear may not be a good motivator for the left, but it is certainly something we have a great reserve of right now. It will be our strongest asset – even though none of us want to wallow in it.
But that’s how we can form effective organizations to at least stop horrible things from happening and thus protect many of the most vulnerable people.
Will this work? The short answer is that what has been outlined in this remarkable document is undeniably correct. It’s a matter of getting people to actually do what it outlines. There is much more to this than just a local focus on a particular congressperson and a tendency to say “no” to everything. But that is the core of it all – and we know it is effective because it was done to us.
This is what we have to look forward to. It’s not pretty, but it will protect some people who need help and save a few rights here and there. Good luck.