Movements + Elections = Winning

Movements + Elections = Winning


A frequent visitor to BMC over the past twenty years, Walljasper edits the BMC Commons e-magazine and website.  Editor of All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons, Walljasper has written widely on political, social and cultural subjects for publications ranging from The New Statesman and Washington Monthly to Mother Jones and Alternet.  Former editor of the Utne Reader and Contributing Editor to National Geographic Traveler, he is also the author of The Great Neighborhood Book. He lives in Minneapolis.   

One big question looms over America right now: Whether supporters of the “resistance”—an unprecedented uprising against social and economic policies enacted over the past two years—will turn out to vote in large numbers this November.  Especially young people, who are usually feel more comfortable joining  social movements than stepping into voting booths.

That’s what drew more than a dozen experienced movement leaders—most of them not much older than 30—to Blue Mountain Center this summer for a discussion sponsored by the Movement Voter Project. Attendees arrived from Texas, Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina, Colorado,  and New Mexico as well as coastal cities.

The Movement Voter Project  tested out its campaign to “voterize” social movements in 2016, claiming a role in electing more progressive governors in North Carolina and New Hampshire as well as winning local races in Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and North Carolina. This year they’re ramping up efforts to connect grassroots social change organizations with get-out-the-vote campaigns this year with the motto: “movements + elections = winning.”

“I’m not saying that after the election we’re all going to be free. No. But it’s a tool and why not use it?”  explained Jessica Pierce, the organization’s Special Projects Director the first evening activists gathered at BMC.

“Elections get a lot of focus, so we are going to make the most of it,” added Pierce, former Training Director of the NAACP and National Chair for the Black Youth Project 100.

Rather than a partisan scrum, this was a deep-drill discussion that spelled out underlying causes of today’s social and economic problems:  capitalism, white privilege, patriarchy, out-of-control individualism and environmental devastation. In fact, the current presidential administration was not mentioned in the sessions until mid-way through the second day.

Yet the importance of the 2018 election for people of color, women, young people, immigrants, LGBTQ people, low- and middle-income communities and the planet was apparent.  “It’s important to show young people that the issues they care about are connected to voting,” said Andrea Sosa of Young People For. “It’s not just a civic duty; it’s how you create the change you want.”

The question at hand was how can social movements make a difference in electoral politics at the same time as strengthening grassroots political participation in other ways too. “The dream is to build a movement that’s sustainable.  That’s still around in 5 years. That doesn’t burn people out,” said Jessica Pierce. “A lot of us are really, really tired.”

With new ideas and perspectives bubbling up frequently in conversation, the group arrived at no single answer about how get-out-the-vote campaigns and ongoing movement work can boost each another over the long haul. But there was plenty to stimulate people’s thinking for months and years to come.

The weekend at BMC seemed to offer welcome replenishment to hard-working activists. After a post-breakfast blast of hip-hop music, Pierce opened each day’s session leading the group in what she called “the organizer stretch.”

—Up to your goals

—Down to the grassroots

—Out to shake the money tree

—Back to our ancestors

—Forward to those who come later

Even after a long day strategizing on fundraising, base-building, grassroots training, leadership development,  and the fine points of tax status between C3 and C4 organizations—the conversations kept going, spilling out to the porch, the dock, canoes on the lake, in front of the fireplace, up the trail to Lookout Point and around the dinner table. People were eager to share stories of triumphs and challenges in their communities back home, and learn from one another’s experiences.