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Power Concedes Nothing Offers Pathway to Victory

Recent Supreme Court rulings have left progressives angry, upset and searching for answers. Many are fired up and ready to go for the November elections but not sure what to do. Fortunately, a just released book, Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections, offers a roadmap for activist engagement and political success.

I’ve read a lot about the grassroots campaigns in 2020. This book is far and away the best. Written by organizers on the ground in battleground state campaigns, it provides insights outsider accounts lack. It also demonstrates which of the many groups seeking election funding most deserve your support.

Winning Strategies and Tactics in 2020

Edited by Linda Burnham, Max Elbaum and Maria Poblet, much of Power Concedes Nothing features essays recounting 2020’s key battleground wins. Like my own The Activist’s Handbook, it uses case studies to show the strategies and tactics that brought success (or in the case of Florida and Texas, progress but not victory).

These reports from the frontlines are consistently illuminating. Those involved in grassroots election campaigns at any level might consider setting up discussion groups around these essays. Nearly all speak to the challenges of making personal contacts via door knocking in the COVID era (the 2020 campaigns occurred in the pre-vaccination days).

Power Concedes Nothing

Power Concedes Nothing

No campaign workers addressed the door knocking challenge more systematically than those associated with UNITE HERE. The chapter where Marcy Rein interviews Mario Yedidia, Stephanie Greenlea and Diana Valles packs so many powerful organizing insights into fifteen pages that it alone merits reading this book.

Yedidia believes that election campaigns involve the core basics of organizing. As he puts it, “Every day when you do a house visit or when you knock on the door of a voter you do four things. You share your story. You connect with the voter and ask questions and listen.”

This core election strategy harkens back to farmworker organizer Fred Ross Sr.’s 1949 campaign that elected Ed Roybal as Los Angeles’ first Latino City Councilmember. Ross brought the strategy to the farmworkers movement, who used it in Robert Kennedy’s winning 1968 California Democratic presidential primary. I describe in Beyond the Fields how UFW alumni have brought Ross’s strategy to countless campaigns ever since. UNITE HERE’s 2020 campaign is among them. Reading Yedida’s account highlights the value of the Fred Ross Project, which is raising funds for a film on the organizing legend.

In Georgia UNITE HERE’s team hit 80 doors a day and talking to 30% of the people. How was this ambitious plan organized? The book explains.

Prospects in Florida and Texas

Chapters cover winning campaigns for Biden in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Michigan. The states where Biden lost like Florida and Texas are particularly interesting. The writer/organizer’s assessment of future blue prospects in both states is more positive than the media may have you believe.

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Andrea Christina Mercado’s essay on Florida’s November 2020 election was eye-opening. Many see Florida as moving further into the red state column. But Mercado’s deeper analysis shows Florida remains a true battleground. Reading her account of the Florida for All program convinced me that Florida is still up for grabs in the 2024 presidential race.

Hany Khalil and Jay Malone’s account of the campaign for a “New Texas” is less encouraging but still more hopeful than the state’s all GOP-controlled political alignment reflects. Texas labor activists know their political limitations. They continue to make gains that have yet to show up in the statewide victory column. Beto O’Rourke’s governor campaign now trails by nine points but it gives Texas’s growing grassroots electoral movement a chance for a major success.

Broader Political Dynamics

Power Concedes Nothing goes beyond the specific 2020 campaigns to also include broader strategy discussions. Chapters highlight the specific challenges of Black, AAPI and Latinx voters (and a defense of the term “Latinx”) and the broader question of mobilizing for electoral power.

Some writers touch upon an issue that I personally see as very concerning: the enormous shift of activism toward election campaigns and away from the daily struggles that bring progressive change.

Part of this is due to the increasingly high stakes in elections. When one of the nation’s two major political parties backs white supremacy and ending democracy, working on anything other than national elections seems unimportant. I get that.

But this heavy shift to electoral activism is also attributable to the defunding of groups like ACORN that recruited new generations of fulltime organizers. Most stories in this book are written by those who learned organizing outside elections. Today, there are fewer opportunities to gain this experience. Election work is now the leading training vehicle. The campaigns discussed in this book apply the principle that election organizing is community organizing. But I see a lot of election work that does not create the personal connection to voters that makes a difference.

So while election activism remains essential, progressive change also requires more fulltime organizing jobs for struggles to win results after elections.

As the subtitle states, grassroots power wins elections. The essays show how the strategies and tactics that brought success in 2020 can be replicated in 2022.

Thanks to all of those involved with Power Concedes Nothing for writing this book. It comes out at a perfect time. Readers feeling gloom and doom over the nation’s future will find their spirits lifted. Turning the victories of 2020 into success in 2022 requires people power—so it’s time to get involved!

This articles was originally published on BeyondChron.