1. One of the most powerful things about watching Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win their Senate seats in Georgia in January was the recognition that those victories (and that of the Biden campaign before them) were the result of a long process of organizing and relationship building by progressives in the state. In February, Stacey Abrams and Lauren Groh-Wargo wrote about the decade of work they put into making Georgia competitive

“The steps toward victory are straightforward: understand your weaknesses, organize with your allies, shore up your political infrastructure and focus on the long game. Georgia’s transformation is worth celebrating, and how it came to be is a long and complicated story, which required more than simply energizing a new coterie of voters. What Georgia Democrats and progressives accomplished here — and what is happening in Arizona and North Carolina — can be exported to the rest of the Sun Belt and the Midwest, but only if we understand how we got here.”

2. In the early days of the Trump presidency, Indivisible became a home for progressive activists in communities all over the country. But even as it grew, Indivisible’s founders and members wrestled with the kind organization it should be — a centralized vehicle for advocacy aimed at changing Washington or a bottom-up organizing hub for sparking local change. Theda Skocpol and Caroline Tervo collected primary documents, conducted extensive interviews, and issued surveys to Indivisible members to understand the contours of that debate. They issued a striking conclusion: 

“Whether the issues are about policing, education, jobs, or environmental measures — and whether the matter at hand is winning elections in places where most voters are not self-avowed progressives or in places where everyone is — sustained local organizing is the only realistic way forward. Efforts are best advanced by local and state-level groups that engage volunteer citizens as well as paid staffers. Fostering such groups, as the Indivisible network has had opportunities to do, is the best way for liberal politics to become, over time, more than a series of ephemeral MSNBC appearances by celebrity advocates. If progressive-minded Americans want real change, most of the expertise, money, and time we can muster should stop flowing into national advocacy bureaucracies engaged in symbolic maneuvers and purist politics. These resources should flow instead to participatory citizens’ groups intertwined with reformed Democratic Party committees in every state and local community.”

3. Shane Goldmacher spent the entire 2020 election writing about record-breaking online fundraising totals from political campaigns. He and other colleagues at The New York Times spent 2021 trying to understand how they did it. I’m not sure that any story drove as much conversation among my friends as his reporting about how the Trump operation steered supporters to make weekly recurring contributions (often unwittingly): 

“The sheer magnitude of the money involved is staggering for politics. In the final two and a half months of 2020, the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and their shared accounts issued more than 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors. All campaigns make refunds for various reasons, including to people who give more than the legal limit. But the sum the Trump operation refunded dwarfed that of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign and his equivalent Democratic committees, which made 37,000 online refunds totaling $5.6 million in that time.”

4. Before publishing a new book on the topic this summer, Hahrie Han and Elizabeth McKenna wrote an essay in The Washington Post about how organizations that maintain an authentic relationship with their base of supporters are able to build durable political power. Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), for instance, launched and won a campaign to boost the minimum wage in Arizona in 2016 — despite opposition from many Democratic allies — because their supporters viewed the issue as one where progress could not wait. That effort — and subsequent ballot initiative wins — laid the groundwork for a Biden victory in the state in 2020. Han and McKenna argue that more advocacy groups need to embrace accountability to their base: 

“Without strong grounding in a community, campaigns are left blind during election season. They then rely too much on big data to make crude estimates of voters’ preferences, which can lead to catastrophic errors and defaults toward focusing disproportionately on white, middle-class voters most likely to turn out. Actually expanding the base requires better voter lists that differentiate strong, middling and weak supporters, and that, in turn, requires humans talking to humans year-round.” 

5. When you’re on a campaign during an election, it’s easy to know whether or not your work is successful day over day — you just look at how much money you’ve raised, how many volunteers you’ve recruited, and how many voters you’ve contacted. Everywhere else, though, it’s harder. That’s why I’m fascinated by the process that Brittany Bennett, the data director for the Sunrise Movement, has developed for measuring the effectiveness of movement building

“The following is an offering. A template for measuring power in a movement with five metrics. These, of course, do not encompass all the analyses you could do to measure power. Far from it, they are, instead, five very potent metrics for assessing people power that anyone with a data warehouse and basic SQL skills could replicate for their own organization or group. Finally, we do not collect and analyze data for the fun of it. There should be no input without output. If we are going through the trouble to collect all these data in the first place, we must leverage it to inform our organizing. I tie every metric below to a set of real world decisions that you could pose to your organizers. These numbers should not just sit idly in a dashboard, but instead be used to drive your movement.”

6. When President Obama was elected in 2008 and Democrats held Congress and the White House, the environmental movement invested all their political capital into trying to pass a (somewhat modest) cap-and-trade bill to reduce carbon emissions. That legislation made it through the House, then failed in the Senate, and the green groups spent a decade thinking about how to proceed differently when next they had the chance. While we don’t yet know whether Build Back Better will pass — and what it will include if it does — the strategy from environmental organizers is markedly different this time around

“After decades of professionalization, environmental groups started investing in grassroots organizing again. They built up mailing lists by explicitly taking on corporate polluters and engaging their bases in campaigns to stop extractive projects and to pass new laws where the political fundamentals allowed for reforms. They gathered by the thousands to block the construction of fossil fuel pipelines on Indigenous lands in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Their numbers grew. And they brought those numbers to the streets, marching by the millions in New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Perhaps most importantly, through campaigns like the school strikes for climate, they swelled the green ranks with youth, many younger than 25 and some even younger than 15. And where the big old green groups had failed them, young people founded new organizations like the Sunrise Movement.”

7. In New York City, taxi drivers had suffered from mounting debts (sparked by the financing scheme for medallions) for years. Then the pandemic began and everything got worse. Starting in September, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance launched a 45-day protest to force the city to offer relief — and they won. Molly Crabapple wrote the definitive piece about how the union did it for The Nation. When I think about what I want to take with me into the new year, this quote from Bhairavi Desai — the executive director of the Alliance — is at the top of the list: 

“You have to have the core elements of an organized base of members, a policy, direct action. It needs to be equally creative and militant so it can speak to universal values, as well as capture people’s imaginations,” she told me. “Throughout this thing…we wanted people to know we are going to win. Failure was not an option. So much of the left internalizes defeat. You cannot lead with that. You have to be able to balance the moral high ground with a confidence you can win.”


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