The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “ECONOMIC APARTHEID IN AMERICA: A Primer on Economic Inequality & Insecurity” by Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel from Chapter 4 “Building a Fair Economy Movement” on page 136 and I quote: “Building a Movement Infrastructure – As we have seen, movements do not magically appear; they are the result of hard work. A variety of different groups and organizations are necessary to build social-change movements. It is important to support and strengthen all the components of movement-building, which include:
Grassroots Organizations. – Locally based grassroots organizations are a foundation for any social movement.
Coalitions. – No single group or issue can advance alone. Coalitions bring together different organizations and constituencies around shared interests. Movements need an organization and communication infrastructure to connect local activists, get input and feedback, and mobilize people.
Progressive Research Organizations. – A movement needs a research or think-tank capacity to test proposals, research ideas, and marshal intellectual arguments, as well as to develop tools for grassroots organizations and coalitions.
Media. – Movements need a media and message infrastructure to move ideas and respond rapidly to current events and media opportunities. Independent media organizations as well as progressive media consultants help frame media stories and plan strategies to reach broader publics. A movement also has its own media, a way to communicate directly with its members and allies.
Education and Training. – Movements need training centers and cadres of trainers to provide opportunities for political education and skill-building. This helps movements to develop a shared understanding and analysis of the problem, to create a clear vision of the alternatives, and to develop effective action strategies. Grassroots activists need a place to learn the necessary skills and an opportunity to practice articulating their message.
Cultural Work. – Movements need a cultural component to move people’s hearts, to celebrate victories and mourn setbacks, to allow us to experiment with living our visions, and to build the community necessary for long-term movement-building and social change. We need culture that nurtures and sustains us in the work.
All of these components are essential for a successful social movement. The 1880s’ Populist movement had such an infrastructure. It had local grassroots chapters and action groups, a thousand local Populist newspapers, and a political party with local and national candidates. The Populists had a practical economic program in the form of cooperatives and an educational apparatus in the form of 35,000 lecturers who traveled the grange-hall and church-supper circuits promoting the Populist program. The Populist movement had a cultural component that included music and large multiday family jamborees that combined food, celebration, dancing, political oratory, and music.
The Civil Rights movement that started in the late 1940s also serves as a model revealing many of the components of movement-building. Grassroots organizing, happening through churches and student movements, was a foundation for the movement. The cultural work—music and arts—was part of its spirited strength.
Creative Action: Billionaires for Steve Forbes?
Dateline: March 17, 1999
Concord, New Hampshire
As Steve Forbes announced his year 2000 candidacy for president in Concord, New Hampshire, a group of well-dressed supporters called Billionaires for Steve Forbes rallied to cheer for a candidate so attuned to their needs.
Dressed in business suits, and fur coats, they held signs saying FREE THE FORBES 400, and TAX CUTS FOR ME, NOT MY MAID. They chanted, “Let workers pay the tax, so investors can relax,” and “Spare the wealthy pain, no tax on capital gains.”
Forbes’s real supporters, puzzled at first, quickly came to realize that the “billionaires” were actually criticizing their candidate. A few of them tried to herd the Billionaires for Forbes away, but not before the pranksters had unfurled a banner reading, BILLIONAIRES FOR FORBES—BECAUSE INEQUALITY IS NOT GROWING FAST ENOUGH.
The press corps, expecting a routine campaign kickoff story, jumped with excitement to cover the sarcastic protest. “Steve Forbes is the only potential candidate who has known since birth that the wealthy are the real engines of our economy, and everyone else is just along for the ride,” said spokesbillionaire Ted Duncanson as the TV cameras rolled. “That is why we shouldn’t pay taxes on our investments. His flat tax would tax only those people foolish enough to depend on wages and salaries for their incomes.”
Organized by United for a Fair Economy in Boston, the Billionaires were attempting to draw attention to the harmful effects of Forbes’s flat tax, which would tax income from work but not capital gains or other income from investments.
In a leaflet handed to passersby, the Billionaires group explained their support for Forbes for president: “During the 1950s and 1960s, the middle class had the nerve to think that they too could become prosperous and secure. Fortunately, for the last twenty years, inequality has grown and wages of half the population have fallen or stagnated. . . . But inequality is not growing fast enough. And there re dangerous signs that wages for middle-income people might start to rise again.”
The Billionaires for Forbes successfully altered the coverage of Forbes’s candidacy. The spoof was featured in broadcast stories on CNN, CNBC, and National Public Radio, and in articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, U.S. News and World Report, Boston Globe, and the Manchester Union-Ledger” [See the evolution of this effort as “Billionaires for Bush” at http://www.billionairesforbush.com.]
One of the challenges at an early stage of movement-building is to find campaigns that are relevant, educational, and not so far afield that people will not seriously work on them. What timely issues and policies could be promoted today that would advance a real debate about the economy, bring people together, and help shift public consciousness?
Since people are focused on scapegoating low-income women and new immigrants, campaigns that get people to focus, instead, on corporations and greed at the top end of the economic ladder may be useful. Because a wedge has been driven between low-income people and other working people, it is important to find issues that unite these divided segments and forge common ground among the bottom 90 percent of the U.S. economic pyramid. Classism, as well as racism and sexism, has made it difficult to experience our common ground. For those on the lower end of the economic spectrum, getting rid of internalized classism is necessary. For those on the other end, unlearning classist attitudes and behaviors and consciously becoming allies around the issues of class are essential.
Most important, we need activities to encourage people to organize communication and action networks. Each neighborhood or small town needs clusters of activists and institutions willing and able to come together to organize, educate, agitate, and hold elected officials accountable. We need to deal with classism within our groups and organizations to build effective and strong cross-class alliances. We also need to deal with racism and other systems of oppression that prevent solidarity and effective action.
These clusters of activists can be existing organizations such as a union local, a women’s group, a neighborhood association, or the social action committee of a local religious congregation. They can also be new groupings that come together around a fair-economy agenda. Each cluster needs to develop the capacity for the following:
$ GRASSROOTS EDUCATION. The ability to lead and facilitate informative workshops and discussions about issues of class and the current economy, and how they affect us, and the capacity to host study groups to deepen the knowledge base for the truly engaged.
$ DIRECT ACTION/CREATIVE ACTION. The willingness and ability to integrate culture, humor, and creativity into actions.
$ ACCOUNTABILITY SESSIONS WITH ELECTED LEADERS. Relationships with elected officials and the ability to mobilize people to attend accountability sessions and meetings, and to vote.
$ LOCAL MEDIA WORK. The ability to influence local media—to become sources and write letters to the editor and op-eds—is vital to promoting a movement’s message. This involves the willingness to call in to locally produced talk radio programs and the capacity to respond rapidly to proposals and policies advanced at the state and federal level.
What will be the trigger moments for our economic fairness movement? What can we anticipate? We know that some potential trigger moments have passed us by, opportunities lost because our movement-building preparation was inadequate. The radical economic restructuring of the last decade, including welfare reform, downsizing, layoffs, and the changing nature of work could have brought about and still might provoke a trigger event. Perhaps rising interest rates and the massive amount of consumer debt will be the provocation. Most likely, an economic downturn that reveals the precarious house-of-cards nature of our speculative economy will create the conditions necessary for trigger events and mass action. But we must be ready.”
(THIS SEGMENT OF THE BOOK IS PROBABLY THE BEST BECAUSE IT TELLS YOU HOW TO ORGANIZE SUCCESSFULLY, WHICH, TO MANY, IS NOT FOLLOWED THROUGH ON. SINCE I’VE BEEN AN ACTIVE DEMOCRATIC SUPPORTER OVER A NUMBER OF YEARS NOW, THEIR PROCEDURES AND ENTHUSIASM HAVE BEEN GETTING WORSE BECAUSE I DON’T BELIEVE THEY HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING THROUGH ON THE PROCEDURES YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT IN THIS SEGMENT. HOW COULD THE DEMOCRATS, WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO REPRESENT 99 PERCENT OF THE VOTERS, WHO HAD CONTROL OF THE HOUSE AND THE SENATE IN 2008, WHEN PRESIDENT OBAMA FIRST GOT ELECTED, LOSE FIRST THE HOUSE AND LATER THE SENATE TO THE REPUBLICANS, REGARDLESS OF HOW MUCH MONEY THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAD BECAUSE THE REPUBLICAN GOAL SINCE 2008 HAS BEEN TO REDUCE REGULATIONS AND LOWER THE INCOME TAX FOR THE WEALTHY, WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT THE KOCH BROTHERS, THROUGH CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS, PAID THEM TO DO? THERE’S NO WAY A WELL-ORGANIZED 1 PERCENT, REGARDLESS OF HOW MUCH MONEY, THE REPUBLICANS SHOULD BE ABLE TO BEAT A WELL—ORGANIZED DEMOCRATIC PARTY, PROVIDING THEY ARE FOLLOWING THE RULES WRITTEN UP IN THIS SEGMENT. I GUESS WHAT THE DEMOCRATS NEED ON A FEDERAL LEVEL IS A NEW NATIONAL CHAIRMAN THAT READS THIS BOOK.
LaVern Isely, Progressive, Independent, Overtaxed, Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen and AARP Members