“Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.”
The words of Martin Luther King Jr. have gained fresh potency in the current political climate. All across the country brand new activist collectives and established advocacy groups alike are witnessing a surge in new recruits. For many, this is their first foray into political activism. For others, it’s a return. However, regardless of background, there is one thing they have in common: a desire to be led – specifically, to be organized for the coming ‘war’ with the Trump presidency.
This will come as news to many of them, but the evidence of the last few weeks makes it hard to disprove. An individual’s time is a scarce resource like any commodity – it’s assigned a value by its owner and will be traded in return for something of commensurate value. When it comes to political activism, individuals want a decent return on the investment of time they put into a particular organization. If they don’t find it in one, they will move to another – or find a more profitable use of their time somewhere else entirely.
Of course, I’m not talking about a monetary return and, yes, there are those who believe altruism is its own reward. Yet most activists want to know they are making a difference by throwing in their lot with this or that group; that their time is being traded for tangible political outcomes. Without leadership, without structure, these outcomes are hard to identify and harder to obtain.
Those who ‘love war’ establish chains of command and mobilize their resources in line with objectives agreed by those at the top of the hierarchy. Those who love peace must do the same.
What I’ve gleaned from observing, and participating in, some of the organizations mobilizing against the incoming presidency is that there are those that understand this principle, and those that don’t. The latter may enjoy enthusiastic memberships and provide fresh insights unbeknownst to the former, but will rarely achieve their aims – if they are even articulated in the first place.
It’s true that the hierarchical model of political organization on the left has been pushed back against by those groups that prefer collective decision making, direct democracy, and consensus-based organization. The Occupy movement and its offspring led the way here, and rightly forced the establishment left to re-evaluate how they engage and energize their adherents.
There’s no doubt that Occupiers felt empowered by their consensus based model of self-government, and that the absence of a formalized leadership prevented the sort of elite-grassroots divide that contributed to the scuppering of the Democrats this electoral cycle.
On the flipside, the absence of a recognizable and accountable leadership or any sort of formalized strategic committee made decision making execrably long-winded (it would take hours to decide how to take care of laundry, for instance) and prevented the movement from coalescing around discrete, achievable objectives.
Consensus model movements, therefore, are a poor investment of activists’ time. If there are no leaders, everyone is a leader – which too often means that no-one pulls together. Each member, or faction of members, has their own agenda they attempt to force on the group, and no unified programme is decided or implemented.
Unpalatable as it may be, a better investment can be made in hierarchical organizations. Here, the leadership – which define their groups’ political objectives in concert with the broader membership – strive to deploy available resources so as to maximize their chances of achieving them. This means delegating activities and responsibilities to those members best suited to carrying them out. Everyone’s a winner: the group leadership obtains their victory, and the activists rest easy knowing they’ve invested their time wisely.
Certain activists get this. Sarah Turbow, founder of ‘Good Guys’ organizing workshops says that power comes in two forms – organized money and organized people.
People are best organized when they are motivated, and they are best motivated when they have a plan of action and know their part in putting it into practice. When they are organized as troops on the battlefield.
Now is not the time to indulge in experimental forms of strategy-making or political organization. Now is the time to marshal Anti-Trump forces into well-disciplined and focused battalions equipped to fight in pursuit of specific objectives. That is how you win.