Writer and philosopher George Santayana famously said that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
We in the organizing world would be wise to take heed of his words.
We want to win elections, conquer issue-based campaigns and move the needle towards a more just, fair and equitable society. But too many in the world of progressive organizing are starting off with unnecessary limitations. Because instead of looking out to the world and casting the widest-possible net to ensure our movement’s success, we are looking backwards and limiting our programs to talk to those who we can already identify as having voted last cycle.
We are vastly diminishing our potential growth right from the outset.
Traditional organizing has for a long time been heavily reliant on the concept of “turnout modeling.” We want to win this cycle, so we work very hard to get out the vote with the same people who voted in the past. It makes sense on paper: we know who they are, where they live and that they have voted in the past. But what we really need to know is who WILL vote this time around, not who voted last time.
There are two things that we know are certain: 1) the electorate WILL change every election, and 2) the New American Majority — single women, people of color, and young people — are being ignored by the voterfile. They were ignored last cycle and the cycle before that. And we keep doubling down and ignoring them further. This is costing our entire community dearly.
Clarity Campaigns founder Dan Castleman explains that the issue with “the standard approach [to turnout modeling] is simply to model turnout in comparable past elections (as recorded in official voter files) to make inferences about who is most likely to turn out in the next election.” We double down on those who tell us they plan to vote. But this self-reporting is far from reliable.
It’s like asking someone if they're a good American. "There's only one right answer."
We at Organizing Empowerment are never ones to complain about a problem, unless we are prepared to offer a comprehensive and meaningful solution to solving it. And that is definitely the case here.
We know that by limiting our focus to those who have been identified as previous voters ignores huge swaths of the community we need to identify, engage and empower if we want to build the society we deserve.
Relational Organizing is designed to do just that!
Relational Organizing encourages organizers and volunteers to step away from the voterfile and reach out to the people they already know. Whether it’s by text, phone, social media or in person, it encourages people to build deeper and more meaningful relationships with members of the New American Majority that are already in their lives, even if they’re not already in the voterfile.
We must activate our own networks around the issues that matter most, if we want to win. It’s only when we look to the future, that we ensure we can finally stop repeating the mistakes of the past.
Want to try our RO tools, which are free for most 501(c)(3)s and 501(c)(4)s and affordable for political campaigns and organizations? Learn more and try out a demo at GetEmpower.com. Join our mailing list to find out about upcoming free webinars, run by organizing experts.