State-Based Power Caucus
In July 2017, twenty state-based organizations from thirteen states united to form the State-Based Power Caucus. These groups have racial justice and class politics. Most have reached a scale of some significance in their states and are members of bigger political alignments or coalitions in their states.
- Jon Liss - New Virginia Majority, national chair of State Power Caucus.
- Andrea Mercado - The New Florida Majority,leadership team State Power Caucus.
- Bob Wing - organizing committee State Power Caucus.
- Anthony Thigpenn is the founder and President of California Calls and a Leadership Team member of the State Power Caucus.
By October 2019 the State Power Caucus was a peer-to-peer space for almost three dozen self-identified state power organizations, from states as diverse as New York, California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, and Texas.
Toward a Movement 40 Million Strong
From Organizing Upgrade, Jon Liss June 1, 2019 "Toward a Movement 40 Million Strong":
- Inspired by the disaster of Trump and Trumpism two years out most organizers are engaged in barroom or coffee shop speculation about the 2020 election.
- Among the two dozen announced Democratic candidates, many debate: will it be Sanders or Warren, with their attacks on corporate Democrats? Will it be one of Hilary’s heirs, with their cozy relationship with Wall Street? Will Harris be the first Black woman nominated by a major party? If it’s Biden, do we sit it out?
- All of it is idle speculation unless ‘we’ collectively organize tens of millions of the 108 million eligible voters who didn’t vote in 2016. That’s right, one hundred and eight million eligible voters chose not to register or to vote in 2016. The non-voting block is disproportionately young, poor and people of color.
- This is by design.
- The battle over ideas (both in form and content, and as measured by PAC, party, and candidate spending) is breeding cynicism and driving down voter turnout.
- For the formerly incarcerated, people of color, and Black Southerners, rules and administrative practices are designed to prevent millions of potential voters from registering or voting. In Virginia, for example, if you want to register other voters you need to collect each person’s full social security number. In Georgia, the Republican candidate for Governor kept his day job as Secretary of State long enough to hold up 53,000 voter registrations of which 70% were Black. In Georgia, 1.4 million voters have been purged from the voter rolls since 2010.
- Furthermore, in these places and more, the very structure of the electoral system is designed to disenfranchise voters in Presidential Elections due to the counting of votes on a state-by-state basis. Unless you live in the 5-10 states that are electorally competitive, your vote for President is essentially of no value. If you are a Black voter in the Deep South, your vote for President doesn’t matter.
- Elections are neither fair nor democratic. The playing field is tilted – and everyone knows it.
- However, despite, or perhaps because of this, dozens of state-based power building organizations have banded together to lead efforts to build a bottom up long term front against Trump and Trumpism. Over the last twenty-five years, state power organizations have grown to fill the political space created by the decline of Democratic Party local organization, the breakup and collapse of ACORN, and low levels of voter turnout. This reflects a shift from narrow Alinskyism and its very limited political engagement.
- Many groups started locally and began building statewide over time. In part, the organizations realized the overdetermination of state-level power, which can be most aptly perceived in terms of local and state budgets, the Dillion Rule or pre-emption, the role of states in creating Federal House districts, and in the ways that state politics provides space for creative and innovative organizing-led progress.
- These organizations have deep strategic knowledge and practice in their particular states. Starting in the summer of 2017 many leading state-power organizations have come together as a caucus to support peer-to-peer learning and incubate innovate organizing practices. Included among the organizations that have been leading the State Power Caucus are New Virginia Majority, The New Florida Majority, California Calls, Washington Community Action Network, and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
- All told, there are 22 organizations from 15 states involved in the Caucus. Importantly, these organizations recognized the need to develop a systematic and long-term alternative to Trumpism.
- The State Power Caucus has worked to first analyze the collective reach of the national networks who engage in electoral and civic engagement work. This includes Community Change, People’s Action and the Center for Popular Democracy, among others.
- We’ve also begun to assess the collective impact of state-based organizations. Looking at 2016, our rough estimate is that at most 4 million people were contacted and encouraged to vote. This is our high-water estimate. The actual number who actually voted is probably much lower still.
- Now, recall the 108 million people who were eligible but not voting? They are largely our ‘core’ constituency, or in other terms, they are our unorganized social base. This 108 million when compared to the voting electorate is more Black, more immigrant, more working class and poor.
- If we initially target just half of the 108 million, and we acknowledge that some in that half are going to disagree with our values and politics, some aren’t going to vote no matter what, and some are in geographies that we just can’t reach, we believe our real voter mobilization target number is 40 million, and we’ve agreed as a caucus to that number as our target. That’s our natural consistency.
- These are the voters or potential voters who put AOC and Ilhan Omar into Congress. They are our friends and family, and they are the everyday members and supporters of our organizations that fight for racial justice at the state and local level.
- The State Power Caucus is committed to working more effectively, efficiently and collaboratively with national social justice networks. Together, we look to take a big leap forward and move from mobilizing 4 million and organizing many less to mobilizing and organizing many times more.
- The long game to defeat white nationalism and move past neo-liberal corporatism is by building a bottom up movement of 40 million people.
- At a minimum that is a movement where people vote consistently and consciously. Where people share our values for racial, gender and social justice and where people believe they have the capacity to rule.
Towards a National Strategy: Building Independent State Based Power
While the spirit of resistance is strong, inspiring, and seemingly more widespread than any we have seen in recent decades, we know that resistance alone is insufficient to reverse the grave threats we face as a nation.
Our movement’s responses have largely been about registering opposition to Trump, and slowing down or mitigating his agenda. Many continue to pursue a one-dimensional view of power: the election of progressive candidates. Without a focus on sustained, day-to-day, bottom-up organizing, this approach is insufficient to match the forces now in power.
Pushing back on the attacks at the federal level is critical, but we must also push forward through offensive battles that reflect our progressive values. Where we can move from defense to offense is at the local and state level. And, key to an effective national strategy is organized, grassroots organizing for state power.
California Calls has been a leader in the launch of a new State-Based Power Caucus to explore new strategies to expand independent political power centered in states as the building blocks to a national strategy. Currently, 20 state-based efforts across 13 states, along with representatives from national networks and movement leaders, are active in the caucus.
Our goal is to develop a clear and collective understanding of what statewide governing power might look like and how it can be built, articulate an alternative vision to the Trump agenda and the dominant narrative of our time and strategize about how to influence the national landscape towards a strategic long-term state-based power building approach.
- Beyond Bernie: Electoral Strategy for an Independent Left (the full discussion) Organizing Upgrade Published on Apr 18, 2019
- Organizing Upgrade, Toward a Movement 40 Million Strong Articles June 1, 2019 Jon Liss