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October 2019, Week 3

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 		 [There has been a growing movement of grassroots state power
building independent political organizations (IPOs). Drawing lessons
directly from this experience, the authors share three specific
state-based strategies for organizers and activists.]
[https://portside.org/] 

 THE LEFT NEEDS A UNITED FRONT IN EVERY STATE  
[https://portside.org/2019-10-21/left-needs-united-front-every-state] 

 

 Anthony Thigpenn and Jon Liss 
 October 17, 2019
Organizing Upgrade
[https://organizingupgrade.com/the-left-needs-a-united-front-in-every-state/]


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 _ There has been a growing movement of grassroots state power
building independent political organizations (IPOs). Drawing lessons
directly from this experience, the authors share three specific
state-based strategies for organizers and activists. _ 

 , 

 

_This piece is a response to “The Left Needs a Statewide Strategy”
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2019/07/statewide-strategy-socialists-dsa] 
written by Eric Blanc and Puya Gerami and published in Jacobin. If you
haven’t already, we encourage left organizers to read that excellent
piece as well as this contribution to the ongoing conversation around
state strategy from Anthony Thigpenn and Jon Liss._

For the last 35 years, state level elections, government and struggles
have been the building block for the right wing white nationalist
power grab that has become Trump and Trumpism. State’s in most cases
dominate local governments through ‘preemption’ laws that preempt
or overturn attempts at home rule or in some states through the
Dillion Rule which reserves all power to the state. Most states
control significant budgets while local budgets in all but the largest
cities are too small for large scale change. Importantly, states draw
the lines for Congressional seats. In states from Pennsylvania,
Virginia and North Carolina, Republican control of redistricting has
resulted in the flipping of dozens of seats over the last decade (see
the book RatF**ked
[https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/06/27/ratfcked-the-influence-of-redistricting]
for details on particularly egregious examples). Thus state power is
critically important by itself and it is reflected and magnified at
the national or federal electoral level.

Also, we should be clear that power, particularly power within
different scales of government, is fluid. Capital and its minions can
and often do move swiftly to shift power when we working people,
people of color, and radical popular initiatives take control. For
example, New York City power was subverted until recently by state
level government which limited rent control. At other times, national
initiatives (such as Obamacare) are challenged and restricted by
state’s rights. Further back, there were Progressive era movements
for municipal improvements – labeled ‘sewer socialism’ – were
stymied as they fought for more transformative change. The point is
that power is fluid and as interpreted by courts and administration
has a class, race and gender character. Look at Trump’s creative
(and destructive) usurpation of Federal executive power via tariffs,
declared emergencies, and the arbitrary physical relocation of entire
Federal departments.

For these reasons, we agree strongly with the strategic orientation
laid out by Eric Blanc and Puya Gerami in their Jacobin article
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2019/07/statewide-strategy-socialists-dsa]
“The Left Needs a Statewide Strategy.” We need to hone in on state
struggle and also acknowledge that the deck is stacked. At times, when
we are most successful, it is even reshuffled.

Over the past 10 years or so there has been a growing movement of
grassroots state power building independent political organizations
(IPOs). These efforts have been led by people of color, women, and
leftists who cut their teeth in local community organizing and early
on recognized the strategic imperative of building left-oriented
state-based power as a counter to both corporate and far-right
agendas. For the most part these organizations grew in the vacuum
created by the collapse of ACORN and the capture of the Democratic
Party by neoliberals and campaign consultants, whose fixation on
‘triangulation’ led to a focus on a narrow sliver of the
electorate: suburban swing voters.

To leverage the experience of this wing of the movement, we built the
State Power Caucus [https://organizingupgrade.com/power-caucus/] as a
peer-to-peer space for almost three dozen self-identified state power
organizations, from states as diverse as New York, California,
Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Ohio,
Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia, Florida,
and Texas.

Drawing lessons directly from this experience, we argue that there are
three specific state-based strategies that organizers and activists
should pursue.

1. Build ‘Governing Power’

Building governing power is our most critical task. That means
fighting for systemic change in the states, through building mass
political bases, encompassing the need for inside-outside electoral
strategies, the ability to hold state and local officials accountable
to social justice demands, the ability to raise demands and win
structural change across the spectrum of administrative, judicial,
legislative, and institutional levers of power. The one-dimensional
approach of electing more representative candidates is inadequate to
contend with the forces of white supremacy and nationalism, xenophobia
and scapegoating of immigrants, and the growing social and economic
inequality fueled by corporate greed. Serious justice-oriented
state-based power building efforts require collaborative and
multi-dimensional approaches toward governing power.

2. Build State-level United Fronts.

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Justice Democrats, Black
Voters Matter, Mijente and many other Black and Brown led
organizations have stepped into the electoral struggle. They are
moving urban and rural voters and reaching the disenfranchised and
ignored. State power organizations have systems, staff, access to
data, offices, photocopiers, members or volunteers and state-based
strategic intelligence. Most of us are women or person of color led.
On a state by state basis there is a unique imperative to creatively
build united fronts to take on Trumpism. Most state-power
organizations are eager to create new forms and practices that best
utilize our structured organizations and resources to build
independent power. And there will be other regional or state spaces
can be created that capture the dynamic energy of DSA, existing social
movements, and state level institutional organizations. Let’s not
recreate the wheel. Let’s not ride in the car with square neoliberal
wheels. Let’s build creatively the respectful and reciprocal
relationship and work that wins elections and builds state power.

3. Build Electoral Power.

In order to win elections, we have to invest ourselves fully in the
struggle to expand voting rights. It has to be the key plank of any
left electoral strategy, and it is central to the work of those groups
linking grassroots organizing with electoral strategy. Electoral Power
also means winning elections at multiple scales and building a pole of
elected leaders who creatively move an agenda that is pro-new
majority, centered in the demands of working-class women of color.
Finally, it also means both acknowledging the importance of elections
while also being aware of their limitations. Elections are a critical
strategic terrain, and who sits in the seat of governance can
determine many of the conditions under which we organize. But unless
we build sustained grassroots strength that links to our existing
movements and expands our reach, electoral strategies will fall flat
on their own.

Collectively, our task is to move at least 40 million disengaged
non-voters
[https://organizingupgrade.com/toward-a-movement-40-million-strong/]
(out of the 108 million who didn’t vote in 2016) to conscious
political engagement. We believe that building such bottom-up
organization, infrastructure and mass bases is imperative for those
looking to contest corporate power and the far-right at the national
level.

_Jon Liss is Co-Executive Director or New Virginia Majority and a
Leadership Team member of the State Power Caucus._

_Anthony Thigpenn is the founder and President of California Calls and
a Leadership Team member of the State Power Caucus. _

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