by Howard J. Ross, founder & chief learning officer, Cook Ross Inc.
There are so many aspects of last night’s election that we can and will talk about (and talk about, and talk about…) but a few thoughts occurred to me this morning, both in regard to President Obama’s victory and the success of the three Marriage Equality Issues in Maryland, Maine, and Washington.
We have been hearing about how the changing demographics of our country were behind the Presidential election, and no doubt that is an important factor. But there is something more important here that I think, as people who are committed to a healthy and just society, can and should really take to heart. These campaigns were not won only because of demographics. They were won because of organization.
Years ago when I was with Saul Alinsky he repeatedly hammered home a message that impacted me deeply. He said that our passion was great. Our righteousness about our deeply held beliefs was important. Our knowledge and understanding were helpful. And our willingness to work hard was noble. He wrote in Rules for Radicals, “The radical is that unique person who actually believes what he says. He is that person to whom the common good is the greatest personal value. He is that person who genuinely and completely believes in humankind. The radical is so completely identified with humankind that he personally shares the pain, the injustices, and the sufferings of all his fellow humans. For the radical, the bell tolls unceasingly, and every man's struggle is his fight.”
BUT, and he couldn’t have emphasized this any more strongly. ALL OF THAT MEANS NOTHING AND WILL PRODUCE NOTHING WITHOUT ORGANIZATION AND EXECUTION! In my experience this was so true yesterday. Alinsky wrote, "The end is what you want, the means is how you get it. Whenever we think about social change, the question of means and ends arises. The man (or woman) of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms. He (or she) has no other problem; he (or she) thinks only of his (or her) actual resources and the possibilities of various choices of action. They ask of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work. ... The real arena is corrupt and bloody."
The Obama campaign was meticulous, steady, and deliberate in their plan. They designed it. They built it out over time. And then they executed it. What happened was not magic. It was not only demographics. It was the result of organization and execution. The Marriage Equality campaigns were the same. I have spent time with Marty Rouse, the Field Organizer for HRC, and he is a community organizer of the first order. They knew exactly where they had to be, how much money they needed and who to put where…for months. They predicted almost to the day when the opposition’s ad campaigns would start. They knew the key players to establish relationships with.
Of course there is always some luck involved, but it is amazing that the more we organize and the better we execute the luckier we get!
I’m sharing all of this because there are important learnings here for all of us. We can be the most committed people in the entire world of diversity. We can be the smartest, the most creative, the most dedicated, and the hardest working. And we should. But if we don’t continually develop our ability to organize ourselves and execute more and more effectively, we will never reach our potential. That is why we must think from a systems perspective and build infrastructures that allow us to create sustainable change. That work is how we will continue to grow individually and collectively.
That is how we will create organizations that are effective and inclusive, and that is how we can continue to move towards a society of diversity and inclusion.