Organising and the Political Base

From the flurry of op-eds lauding people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin lately, it almost seems like some folks on the left are jealous of the right’s organising abilities. We’ve got people saying that we need a figure for the left like, say, Sarah Palin, and while it makes me blanch, the idea is worth exploring in a bit more detail, because there’s some important material embedded in these woeful op-eds.

Say what you will about the right, and I say a lot, the right is organised. It’s not just that the right is organised, though, it’s that the right is very good at staying on point and on message. This combination of traits is incredibly powerful in politics not only because it creates a unified party that’s easy for people to support and vote for, but also because it organises and empowers the base. What the right has done with its organising is encourage its very own ‘populist uprising,’ as much as it may stick in your craw to see that term used to refer to the right.

Meanwhile, the left is fractured, scattered, and disorganised. And it shows.

This is not to say that the right is unified. If there’s one thing we are learning from the upswell of the tea party, it’s that the right has some cracks in it. Politicians on the moderate right are not impressed with the tea party and wish it would go away. Meanwhile, tea party supporters refuse to line up behind moderate and mainstream candidates on the right. And, of course, there are segments of the right that would very much like to disavow certain actions on other parts of the right, like the vicious anti-Muslim sentiment being whipped up by people who are very, very good at manipulating words, generating speeches, and mobilising their base.

The right is organised in part because it invests a lot of energy in it. Even the tea party holds leadership conferences and workshops to teach members about community organising, to create unified messages, to generate clear platforms to help people stay on point. I can’t access any of those workshops in this neck of the woods, where the tea party, is, shall we say, not a very big presence, but I’ve read a lot of reports by people who have attended them, and the thing they come away with is a sense of organisation. Tight political focus. Generating a message and sticking with it.

We see this in all political campaigns, of course, left or right, but it seems like the right has mastered the art of developing a very clear, articulate campaign with a few key points and then hammering those points home over and over again. They appear everywhere, in rhetoric, in speeches, on campaign signs. People showing up at things like tea parties are strongly encouraged to stay consistent with their messages; I tend to see the same kinds of sentiments repeating over and over, unlike protests organised by the left, where you have everything from vegans against animal abuse to people protesting the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, at a protest that might be organised for something completely unrelated.

It is this that I have always kind of loved about the left, personally, the complete and utter cacophony of messages, the inability to hold a focus, the tendency to kind of just let people do whatever. And I’m not necessarily sure that we should be envying the right, or looking for a figure to rally around, to accomplish our political goals. Organisation, well, sometimes I think it can be overrated, and I like having room for different ideas, approaches, and goals within the umbrella of the left.

But it is important to look at what the right is doing, because what they are doing is starting to become very scary. The people in control, the people generating and building and maintaining the messages, are indeed staying very on point, and what they have to say should terrify you. It’s the right that’s promoting the current furor of sentiment against anyone nonwhite and nonChristian, regardless of citizenship status, although of course especially hateful things are reserved for undocumented immigrants. It is the right that is systemically blocking any attempts at government reform, it is the right that is cultivating a culture of fear and hatred, taking advantage of general social unrest and nervousness about the economy. As economic woes continue, so does the rhetoric of the right playing upon the worst fears of people struggling to make do.

We should study the right’s organisation, not to emulate the model, but to understand more deeply how it works, and to counter it. If we don’t, we may find ourselves in a very unpleasant place. Not just in November, when a landslide for the right is predicted, the inevitable political backlash resulting from a populace that thinks the economy can be blamed on whoever is in office, and not on the people actually obstructing real progress. Not just in two years, when we will be in the throes of another Presidential election with accompanying high flown rhetoric.

Right now. In communities all over this country, where the hateful rhetoric of the right is penetrating, deeply, thanks to the ability to organise around tightly focused messages. Right now, the right is setting up some very bad things, and we may already be reaching the point of no return. Are we ready to give up what progress we have made in the area of social justice and civil rights? Because that is what the right is pushing for, and that is what the right is organising to do, and that’s what is coming to a community near you, if it’s not there already.