This is Bruce Dixon from Black Agenda Report with the latest in our series about organizing, which for reference sake we’ll call the 200 series. If you haven’t, you really should check out the 100 series which we did two or three years ago. While of course you can always Google Black Agenda Report, organizing 101, you should be aware that Black Agenda Report is one of the news outlets – the only outlet owned by African Americans and aimed at a black audience, for which Google deliberately suppresses search results, on the basis that we are tools of the Russians or something. So the ony reliable way to find Black Agenda Report’s Organizing 100 series is to visit our site at BlackAgendaReport.com, and click the links there.
Everybody’s an “organizer” nowadays, to hear them tell it. Ever notice though, how almost none of these organizers actually tell us what that means, what this “organizing” stuff actually is? That should make you wonder a little bit right there. The fact is on the lips of many, it doesn’t mean anything at all. So let’s fix that.
In a recent interview broadcast on Daniel Denvir’s The Dig podcast, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez spelled out the technical essence of her successful campaign effort. She said it was shoe leather canvassing, a lot of door to door work in which the canvassers dropped written material on and actuallly talked with every registered voter who’d come to the door, and that’s easier in New York City than in many places, since the doors are relatively close to one another. They made sure to extract phone and email contact information from potential supporters. They distributed literature at public places, street corners, transit stops and gatherings of all kinds in the district, not just in the spirit of passing the paper, but with the specific aim of extracting email and phone contact information from people in these encounters as well. The AOC social media campaign focused on engaging the contacts gained by the door to door canvass and the street operation, so they were not just shouting into the void. And most importantly of all, Ocasio-Cortez says they made about 120,000 phone calls.
Social media is great. Literature is necessary Appearing in debates and public stuff is useful. But without those 120,000 phone calls, the people whose door you knock on in April will have long forgotten you by a June election. You have to make a LOT of intial contacts and a lot of following up by email, by text messages, and you gotta do thousands, tens of thousands of phone calls. The volunteers who make the calls were recruited from among the enthusiastic supporters encountered in the canvass, on the street, and through the social media aimed at supporters encountered those ways.
This is the essence of electoral organizing. You contact people win person with your message, and you stay in touch frequently enough and long enough to stampede them out to vote election day Since votes are actually counted, the way the organizer knows the job is going is to count the new contacts made each week, the number of first time and follow-up calls made that week.
Numbers measure the organizing process. If your electoral campaign or so-called organzing effort is not making hundreds or thousands of in person calls (not robocalls) every week to your new and old contacts, whatever you’re doing is NOT organizing. Organizers who don’t set numerical goals and strive accountably to meet them are faking the funk, it’s that simple. Numbers measure the organizing process, not signs and banners. Not “visibility” and not carrying a sign at somebody elses march or protest. In fact when your people DO attend the marches and protests put on by other outfits and fail to bring back new names for your people to contact in follow-up they too are helping you fake the funk.
Leafleting at street corners, transit stops, picnics, public events and places? Is your practice and your pitch tailored to bring back new names, phone numbers, email address? If not you’re scattering paper into the wind. Organizers get the digits and get them called back. Organizers make and sustain contact with the people they reach, and in electoral contests, that’s at least till election day. That’s exactly how Ocasio-Cortez said it was done, and it’s a formula decades old. It just has to be done.
They call 93 million miles, the distance from the earth to the sun an astronomical unit, an AU. So let’s give Ocasio-Cortez her unit, the AOC unit – 120,000 calls. Since most of us haven’t scaled up like that, we should probably call a mere 20,000 just a plain old generic unit. To keep from mixing apples with lawn furniture let’s stipulate that robocalls and text messaging do not count toward these units, that they are tallied separately. So the useful questions is how many people are on your email lists? How many new names did you add to your database this month, and how many will you add next month? How many phone calls is your organizing effort making this month? Half a unit, 10,000 calls? A full unit, 20,000 calls? If you’re not asking these questions, answering them and taking steps to get and sustain those numbers, whatever you’re doing ain’t organizing. Numbers tell the story. Get some numbers so we can tell some accurate stories.
This is North America. The almighty market uses the media to inundate us with a flood of 24/7 entertainment, making us the best entertained and the least informed people on earth. There’s plenty of public conversation, but what exists there serves the market, not those who want to make the world a better place. We don’t have much media access because the big media are owned and operated by billionaires. There is little place in their matrix for us. We have to grab people on the street or in their doorways or workplaces or public events and get them into OUR conversation. We have to supply and to engineer some of that conversation, we have to foster it, to host it and to sustain it if we intend to build a popular movement that will someday have the power to change this world for the better. 120,000 calls. Measure your organizing efforts against that. Ask how many calls is your organizing project making this month?
If you’re and your fellow “organizers” are not asking and answering these questions, whatever is going on is NOT organizing.