Being a Democrat is incredibly frustrating because we are the party that is right, just, and moral, but we are also the party that loses.
We are right, just, and moral because we believe in protecting the safety and security of working people, we want to pass a clean and healthy planet to the next generation, we want to make sure as many people as possible get the best education they can so they can all work hard on advancing science and technology so our children will have a better future, we want to make sure all human beings are treated with respect and dignity so that they become more likely to be good people who live good lives and contribute to the greater good. We believe in investing in science, technology, infrastructure, and education. We believe in using evidence-based approaches to decreasing suffering while increasing happiness both now and in the future. We are right in standing up for these things.
Every Democrat must understand being right is not good enough.
Unfortunately, being right doesn’t mean we win. In fact, we often lose. Most of the time, we lose for completely unfair reasons. We are the majority, but the electoral college is stacked in such a way that a voter in a rural conservative state has much more of a voice than a voter in an urban or suburban area. If it were not for the electoral college, the last Republican president would have left office back in 1992. The Senate is stacked against us in the same way. Even if significantly more democrats vote in Senatorial elections across the country, the way the geography is drawn out gives them a huge advantage. Because the presidency and the Senate are stacked against us, it means that they also have a grossly unfair advantage on the Supreme Court. If it were not for the electoral college and the shape of the states, right now there would only be 1 conservative on the Supreme Court and 8 liberals, but as it stands there are 5 conservatives and 4 liberals. Even in the one area that shouldn’t be rigged, the House of Representatives, it is grossly rigged against us because Republicans had an overly good year in the 2010 election and that gave them the ability to unfairly gerrymander the House for a decade. This isn’t even mentioning their methods of voter intimidation and restriction to make it easier for people who are likely to vote Republican to vote while making it more difficult on people who are likely to vote Democratic.
That said, these are things that we cannot change unless we win. It doesn’t matter that they are wrong. Right and wrong do not matter in politics and Republicans learned that long ago. What matters is who wins. Too often, we have ignored this lesson. We have shouted in anger about the fact that things are wrong and that things are unfair. Some have even taken to violence and destruction of property because they feel like they are justified in that they are on the right side of the issues and are standing against what is wrong and unfair. This does not help. Again, it doesn’t matter what is right or fair. All that matters is who wins. If we want the world to be more just, moral, fair, and right, we have to win, which means we have to act smart rather than acting out of anger or moral indignation.
To win, we need a majority of voters, which means we need to build coalitions with people who agree with us on issues but either currently don’t vote or currently vote a different way. What is the best strategy: to get people who have never voted to vote with us or to get people who vote the opposite way to change their minds? I don’t know, but that has to be part of the strategy.
We must figure out who our ‘persuadables’ are. They are our audience whether we are working on a political campaign, writing posts on facebook, or participating in a protest or other type of civil disobedience.
With that audience in mind, we need to write down our strengths and weaknesses (both personally and on policy issues). We then need to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the other side. Then we need to do two things. First, we need to fix our weaknesses so they will not be used against us because they will be used against us and they will defeat us if we do not fix them or address them first. Then we need to figure out which of our strengths are diametrically opposed to the weaknesses of the other side. Then we concentrate all of our force against their biggest weaknesses, utilizing our biggest strengths in the best manner we can. If we are running a political campaign, that is what we have to do to defeat our opponent. If we are debating issues on facebook, that is what we have to do to win our target audience. If we are engaging in civil disobedience, that is what we have to do to get people who are already on our side to join our movement, to win over ‘persuadables’, and to reduce the will to oppose us by the other side.
The one thing we never want to do, however, is to use our biggest weakness against our opponent’s biggest strength. That is why protests should never be violent and should never destroy property. Violence is the protesters’ biggest weakness, but it is the police department’s biggest strength. Non-violence and peaceful demonstration and purposeful sacrifice are the biggest strengths of the protester and the biggest weakness of the government. Putting authorities in a place where they either have to arrest non-violent, peaceful, respectful, ethical, kind demonstrators or give up is how we win. It puts public opinion against them, it encourages more people to join the movement, and it even causes the police officers to question whether they want to follow those orders because they respect the kindness of the protesters. You don’t win by using your biggest weakness against someone else’s biggest strength. You win by using your biggest strength against their most gaping weakness.
Winning strategies are also unpredictable. When someone acts, in the same manner, every time and becomes predictable, they get ignored, ridiculed, and smart strategists quickly learns exactly how to defeat them. When strategies become varied and random, they are more difficult to defeat. Back in the 1970s, a man named Gene Sharp wrote a list of 198 different methods of non-violent civil disobedience that could be used to achieve political goals. Every issue has more than one way of looking at it and many ways of framing it. Laughter is often more effective than anger and kindness is usually more effective than harshness. Too often, we have no strategy and simply fall back to our natural impulses. That is a guaranteed way to lose.
We have to find messages that resonate, not just with us, but with our target audiences. These will often be messages that focus on our greatest strengths and our opponent’s greatest weaknesses. We then must repeat them a million times in a million different creative ways. We can’t get bored with our winning message and move on. We need to figure out why someone should join our cause and keep pressing that until it becomes second nature to everyone.
Finally, we all have to do our part in lots of different ways. Preaching to the choir on facebook only does so much. What strategy and what tactics can we use to expand the movement? How can we each do our part, even if we are tired? We all have to commit not only to hard work but to smart hard work.
Again, simply being right is not good enough. We have to win, but we only win if we have a winning strategy which means we need to figure out our weaknesses and strengths as well as those of our opponents. Then we have to fix and protect ourselves on our biggest weaknesses and concentrate our biggest attacks on the areas where we are strong and they are weak. We have to be creative and unpredictable, but drive home a consistent message, and then we have to work both smart and hard to win. I know some people won’t like that because they feel that simply being right should be good enough. In a perfect world, I would agree. Unfortunately, it’s not, and we have to get to work. Whether our kids get to breathe clean air depends on it.