President Biden’s approval ratings are treacherously low. Critical legislation is stalled in the Senate. The House and Senate are closely divided. Key governorships in the Midwest are in peril. Gerrymandered redistricting, while not as bad as it could have been, will rob us of congressional seats. SCOTUS is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, eviscerate the federal government’s ability to protect our air, land, and water, and erase the last remnants of gun safety laws in our nation.
So as we enter the 2022, what could possibly go wrong?
At our first Turner Talk for 2022, three progressive greats stressed organizing as the way to victory and laid out a blueprint for how to win in November. Heather Booth, Marvin Randolph, and Will Robinson led the discussion, which was attended by a very seasoned crowd of progressive operatives.
Here are everyone’s prescriptions for organizing success, in their own words. And here again is the video to the talk.
Marvin Randolph noted that the 2016 presidential election was decided by 80,000 votes spread over three key states – Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
“Elections are about math,” Marvin said. “And it’s how you look at that math and how you lean into that math that makes a difference. Georgia is one example where progressive leaders banded together to build something in that state that made the math work to our advantage.”
“The opposition has spent a tremendous amount of time suppressing, depressing, and repressing the vote. Why? Because Republicans may not have read many things, but they read the Census. And they know that there’s a shift that’s happening in this country that they can’t stop, but they can slow it down.”
Heather delivered rousing remarks, pointing out that we win and keep winning when we organize. She stressed “We are still likely to pass part of Build Back Better… We are delivering for the American public and need to get out the message. We are getting the lead out of our water pipes, we are providing wi-fi in rural areas, wages are going up, unemployment is going down. Spring will come and COVID should diminish. Inflation will lower and we will get back to our more social lives – then we will turn out and we will win.”
Communications consultant Will Robinson had a startling piece of advice: don’t buy TV ads: “The future is not ads, it’s about organizing… Last night, only 19 million Americans watched the evening news and only 3.7 million watched local news. We’re in this huge news desert and we’re just not getting through to people. To do so we have to organize.”
We had such a great group that we went to an “open mic” conversation after the panelists spoke. Folks stressed the importance of trust and authenticity in our work.
Laura Packard, the Executive Director for Health Care Voter, stressed the importance of good stories: “Everybody has a story,” Laura continued. “And every issue has compelling story-tellers. You just need to find the people with the stories and give them the resources and backing to tell those stories. Policy people aren’t always as good at telling stories as the people whose lives are directly on the line.”
Dr. Drew Westen is a professor in the departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University in Atlanta and author of the groundbreaking book The Political Brain. He has conducted extensive research into how stories affect our brains, and thus, our emotional responses to stories we hear. Drew said: “If you start a message by saying, ‘We need to go to a $15 minimum wage,’ you are lucky if you’re going to pick up half of Americans on that. If you start instead by saying, ‘You know, no one in this country ought to have to work two or three jobs just to put food on the table for their family.’ If you do it that way, you get up to 65 percent right away. You just picked up 15 percent and there’s nothing the other side can say that can beat that.”
Karen Mulhauser is a veteran progressive leader. In the 1970s, as CEO of the National Abortion Rights Action League, she took that group’s membership from 7,000 to 140,000.
“I believe in Trusted Sources – which some people today call relational organizing. People are much more inclined to respond to requests to get involved in elections if they’re hearing this request from someone they know and trust,” Karen said. “So I have worked in the early 2000s with women’s groups and peace groups to have the heads of these organizations reach out to their members and contacts to get involved in elections, to register to vote, and vote to support candidates, support their points of view….And I am bringing together an effort, a partisan effort, this year with partisan organizations to work to reach out to their members and contacts and support us in some targeted states where there are candidates who could win if enough people get involved in the elections.”
We came onto the call weary and dispirited and left full of passion and vigor! What a great conversation to lead off the 2022 Turner Talks.