Marshall Ganz on Organizing the Democrats

Hat tip to Fred Sperounis and Deborah Boucoyannis from Facebook and Talking Points Memo for this interview with community organizer Marshall Ganz. 

Judis: How do you see this solidarity coming to pass. Doesn’t there have to be leading organizations at this point? One suggestion I’ve heard is that progressives have to focus on transforming and taking control of the Democratic Party.

Ganz: I don’t think so. There are a couple of places to look for instruction on this. For one thing, the rise of the conservative movement didn’t happen through the RNC [Republican National Committee]. Conservatives successfully created a more or less coherent network of organizations linked to local, state and national politics, which is a traditional form of effective political organization in the U.S. There was the Christian Coalition which started with school boards and moved upwards to take over the Republican Party. Or there is the Koch Brothers’ network. Not to mention the Tea Party or the NRA or ALEC.

The point is that it didn’t happen through the RNC. It happened through movements and movement organizations structured outside that could develop a coherent or at least semi-coherent strategy. If you go back to the civil rights movement, there was the Leadership Council for Civil Rights, it was everybody from the Urban League over to SNCC, and it lasted for a number of years. At least they knew what everybody was doing. They could disagree, but at least there was some sort of possibility of coherence, and occasionally they could converge, as they did on the March on Washington.

You look in vain for something like that on the progressive side. There is such a proliferation of groups, all kinds of groups, some of which take up space without filling it. Our challenge is to put together that combination of local, state and national organizations that can, first of all, handle defense, especially in terms of immigration because that’s an immediate threat to people’s security, and there is resistance on many fronts, but what needs more attention is initiative. If we expect the Democratic Party to do that we are smoking something because the closest they ever got was Howard Dean and his 50 state doctrine. I don’t think that’s where it happens. It happens through the stepping up of leadership at all levels to bite the bullet in a coherent way so that we can turn this opportunity to some real purpose.

The success of Indivisible is evidence of the enormous numbers of people out there who want to take action who are connected to no existing group.

Judis: What is Indivisible?

Ganz: They are a bunch of congressional staffers, one is an SEIU [Service Employees International Union] guy. They got the idea of doing to the Republicans what the Tea Party did to the Democrats. The put out a very simple, accessible manual of how to do that, and they got it out there in a very timely way, and it really clicked with people. They weren’t asking people to send emails or sign petitions. They are asking people to organize locally in the form of those town meetings they are having with the Republicans just like the Tea Party did. And it really took off. They’ve scaffolded some 7,000 groups. They are in every congressional district except for one. What they have done is to scaffold a barebones structure enabling people to focus on a specific tactic. Now the question is how they can take it to the next step. But that’s a very helpful development because of its scale, its depth and its simplicity. [For more on Indivisible, see this article. Or see their own site.]

I really want to underscore the significance of Indivisible. It’s the same experience we had with Obama in 2007 and 2008. You create a plausible pathway to action and all kinds of people come out of the woodwork. The problem is that there haven’t been many plausible pathways to action. And that’s a strategic responsibility, and it requires creating enough structure so that that kind of strategy can be developed and articulated.