In the aftermath of the presidential election, many of us are asking, “What do we do now?”
There is a way forward, a way to fix our broken political process and make all people feel less alienated from their government. There is a way to elect people who will serve the people, not just donors and lobbyists, and who will protect our rights and respect our civic institutions.
We can’t do it by continuing to run political campaigns the way we do.
We can’t recruit enough good candidates when we make them spend 8 hours a day raising money and debase themselves with attack ads.
WE CAN do it by rebuilding our campaign process from the ground up, by organizing and training millions of ourselves to revitalize political campaigns with our talent, intelligence and passion.
We have to build the infrastructure to support our most critical resources: the skills, local knowledge and relationships of political volunteers, people just like you.
How many of you have skills that are useful to campaigns? How many of you have networks of friends and colleagues in your communities and across the country? How many of you offered to help a political campaign only to be told that your options were restricted to canvassing or calling using pre-written scripts? How many of you asked for literature or lawn signs only to be told that the money was being reserved to buy TV ads?
WE NEED AN UPRISING OF POLITICAL VOLUNTEERISM
Our community is full of people with great policy solutions to the problems we face as a nation – solutions which make our society and economy work for everyone, from the bottom to the top of the economic ladder, from here to around the world.
In contrast, our political campaign industry is increasingly dysfunctional. We often treat our millions of supporters like nothing more than ATMs. We waste too much of our money on defective polls, digging for dirt, and running enough attack ads to alienate every voter in America.
For more than 20 years, I have watched as the creativity, energy and positive word of mouth generated by political volunteers have been squeezed out of the process by an increasingly top down system, dependent on an endless cycle of fundraising and attack ads and tone-deaf to feedback from on the ground. (Obama ’08 is a notable exception.)
Our resources are focused on the top of the ticket, on the biggest campaigns which disappear after Election Day and contribute nothing toward state and local party operations, ongoing infrastructure, or future state and local campaigns.
For six months, I have travelled across this country talking to campaign staffers and candidates, party leaders and staffers, and every one of them feels trapped in a system in which they have insufficient resources and decision-making power.
We can’t beat the Right Wing by outspending them on attack ads. We have to engage in what Sun Tzu called “asymmetrical warfare”. We have to beat them with the one thing money can’t buy: real people, in the community, who care and are willing to work.
Campaigns are won on the ground with volunteers and word-of-mouth, not money and ads.
According to the FEC, Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump by a 2 to 1 margin. In money spent on advertising, she outspent him by more than 3 to 1. Trump’s spending on staff was almost nonexistent. His campaign was run and won on the ground with volunteers.
Donald Trump built a revolution of anger. We must build a revolution of hope.
WHAT WE CAN DO
We must completely change how campaigns operate. We can build a passionate, benevolent, and extraordinarily effective nation-wide political volunteer community.
Across the country there are millions of kind and decent people like you who could and should be trusted to engage in positive political outreach and deep community organizing on behalf of good candidates. There are also many of you who would make wonderful candidates.
What we need is a way to organize ourselves and develop our campaign skills. The current tools (Facebook, MeetUp) are inadequate. I and a group of like-minded people have been searching for a solution. We have started a project we call UpRise.
UpRise will be permanent online volunteer home, a hub for real-world action in issue and candidate campaigns.
Imagine a place where you can communicate with fellow volunteers and activists, seek volunteering opportunities from a wide range of campaigns and causes, and have a suite of tools for organizing your own house parties, speeches and town halls, street teams, demonstrations, lawn sign and other visibility campaigns, and more.
UPRISE ISN’T ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO ORGANIZE YOU. IT IS AN ATTEMPT TO GIVE YOU THE PLATFORM AND THE TOOLS YOU NEED TO ORGANIZE YOURSELVES.
WHY DO WE NEED A TECHNOLOGICAL SOLUTION?
There is a critical reason why we need this new platform. Tax and campaign finance laws require firewalls between non-profits and unions and PACs, making it illegal for these organizations to join forces or coordinate their activities with political campaigns. Even among political parties and their own campaigns, there are legal restrictions and firewalls that prevent people from working together or sharing information, even when they are all working on the same campaign.
The only way for progressives to organize legally on a large scale is to create a mechanism for mass self-organization: a place where every individual volunteer controls their participation and their communication.
Organizations can provide opportunities for action, but only individuals can decide whether or not to participate. Currently, campaigns and organizations hoard, sell or trade volunteer lists as though they were private property. The truth is that individual volunteers have always been the only ones who control their own actions.
Ultimately, if candidates, party and issue organizations want the power of a movement, they’re going to have to learn to trust the people in it.
The beauty of the UpRise system is that it can’t be bought and it can’t be gamed. Every volunteer chooses for themselves. Every candidate or campaign has an equal chance to solicit volunteers. On the issue side, while national non-profits fight over funding and turf, their supporters can come together to organize collective action.
The ONLY way for any candidate or campaign to get more out of the system would be for them to do a better job of serving the volunteer community, by providing more and better opportunities and maintaining better relationships with the volunteers themselves.
HOW CAN WE START?
UpRise is currently in the blueprint stage, and we are working hard to make it real. We hope to build this platform to be tested in 2017 and fully functional by the 2018 midterm elections. We will need help to make this happen, both from those who can help us to build our community of volunteers, and from those who can help to finance the development.
Until the UpRise platform is brought online, we can still move forward. We can get together with like-minded people. We can learn from the research and evidence that show how word of mouth can beat big money. We can improve our skills as volunteer campaign workers. We can advocate for a larger role in campaigns and party operations. We can work to reform how we run campaigns.
If you are interested in being part of this effort, please:
This is just one part of a plausible path forward through this mess, but we think it is an important one. We’ve put a lot of work into developing it. We offer it to you and ask for your thoughts and opinions.
Please join us.
– Antonia Scatton, Co-founder, UpRise.org