From Short-Term Campaigns to a Long-term Governing Agenda

In order to build governing power, we need to move from waging short-term campaigns to developing long-term governing agendas. A long-term governing agenda is not a step-by-step playbook that can tell you exactly how to win governing power. Rather, it recognizes that the political terrain is continually evolving and that, as a result, our specific campaign plans need to adjust as opportunities and barriers present themselves. A long-term governing agenda encompasses three elements that point the way toward the transformation of government and the economy: 1) it extends our strategic time horizon, 2) it makes power-building as important as our wins and 3) it embeds power-building and enforcement into the policies we fight for. 

Extending the Strategic Time Horizon

Often, even if we have a vision of a radically more just society, we tend to create plans and agendas in two-year to four-year increments that are tied to the electoral or legislative calendar. That means that we are set up to fight for what’s already on the table, using the power that we already have. We are not making plans to reset the table: to greatly increase our own power and to sustain what we hope to win. 

A long-term governing agenda extends our strategic time horizon by laying out stepping stone campaigns that may take 1-2 years to accomplish and that lay the groundwork to win larger milestones, like shifts in power, narrative change, or building infrastructure for a more substantial fight in the future. As organizers, we strategize around short-term campaigns all the time, but we tend to think about these campaigns in terms of what they can win for us immediately, not in terms of the transformation that those wins could set us up to achieve years down the line. 

Grassroots Power Project’s Long-Term Agenda (Hinson 2019) is a useful framework for mapping the progression of issue campaigns and power-building gains over time. It helps groups in an alliance orient their work toward achieving transformational goals that extend 20 years or more into the future. 

The Long-Term Governing Agenda asks us to evaluate what big structural reforms have the potential to fundamentally transfer wealth and power to as many of our people as possible, which means we have to think through the milestone reforms that we could win as we work our way to those larger shifts. This also means thinking through the stepping stone campaigns we can take on in the next 1-2 years that would get us to our milestone reforms.

Making power-building as important as the win. 

Whether we are talking about creating new systems or passing more significant policies that pave the way for bigger victories, a long-term governing agenda also makes a plan to build power year over year so that bigger breakthroughs become possible.

This means that rather than relying on the most expedient path to the win, the way that we structure our legislative, electoral and corporate campaigns has to center the question of how we make the power that we build more durable, year after year. This can look like embedding goals for growth, base building and new alliances within our campaign plans, and creating structures that keep people engaged after the current campaign concludes. It can also look like using our campaigns to push forward a specific narrative that will help to consolidate and align different organizations and constituencies. Applying a governing power orientation to our organizing means we must think about who will use the policies we want to pass. We must consider how they can be organized into coalitions that can, in turn, take on the next stepping stone fight.

Embedding power-building and enforcement into policies. 

Lastly, a governing power agenda has a clear plan to sustain the policies and power that we win. We must plan to run past the finish line of securing the policy victory we want and into another race entirely—one where we implement, utilize and enforce it. We need to pay attention to not only who will benefit from that particular policy, but how the use of the policy might build and align new constituencies. And we have to learn to put as much popular political muscle behind using and cementing our campaign victories as we do behind winning those victories in the first place.

We can develop a practice of thinking about the “end” of a campaign at its beginning, by asking ourselves questions like: When we win this campaign, how can we take on the work of enforcement as an opening to build more power? How can we organize the beneficiaries of this victory as members so that we build more power? Can we embed other mechanisms that create organizing opportunities within or across constituencies? (Sabeel Rahman’s Governing to Build Power is a rich resource in this vein.) We know that our corporate opposition will immediately get to work to roll back our victories, so embedding the future work of power-building into our campaign victories is one of the core tools we must prioritize if we are going to move our agenda forward.

See Case Study: Million Voters Project: Extending the Strategic Time Horizon and Making Power-Building as Important as the Win

Case Study: Million Voters Project (MVP): Extending the Strategic Time Horizon and Making Power Building as Important as the Win 

In 2019, Million Voters Project (MVP) launched a process to develop a Long Term Agenda (LTA) (Hinson 2019), just as they were gearing up for the fight to win Prop 15, the Schools and Communities First (SCF) ballot measure, a historic effort to reform California’s inequitable system of property taxation. MVP is a statewide alliance of seven community-driven state and regional networks, representing California’s geographic, ethnic and racial diversity. MVP recognized that in order to maximize all the power and momentum that they would build through the SCF campaign (regardless of the outcome of the election), they would need to be able to quickly pivot to the “next big fight.” They also recognized they could not fight on all fronts, and had to prioritize issues if they were going to advance transformative structural reforms.

In partnership with the Grassroots Power Project (GPP), MVP began a multi-phase process to identify its Long Term Agenda: prioritizing a set of structural reforms they would advance for the next 3-10 years. MVP and GPP started by deepening ideological and strategic alignment within the networks, conducting strategic political education on key concepts, such as the multidimensional view of power and the Long Term Agenda. MVP and GPP worked together to articulate four “strategic pathways” for change, or fronts on which power can be shifted over time, that cut across issue areas and overlap. The strategic pathways identified by the alliance were: 

  • Building Economic Power: redistribution of wealth, clearing the economic barriers to pursuing popular economic reforms like fair taxation. 
  • Expanding Democracy: efforts to reduce the role of money in politics, to expand voting rights and to create more experiences with direct, democratic decision-making.
  • Building a government based on care and inclusion: to provide the basis of good quality of life for all communities, including education, healthcare, transportation. 
  • Reparations and Restoration: Addressing the effects of systemic inequalities, discrimination, racism, exclusion, disinvestment, environmental racism and criminalization. 

Developing coalition power 

MVP recognized that they needed to be in coordination and alignment with a broader set of allies, because no one organization or alliance can make the big wins that communities need alone. MVP convened grassroots power-building organizations and networks, policy intermediaries and aligned funders to grow the coalition power necessary to develop a multi-year, multi-issue and multi-sector agenda. This became the “North Star Committee” (NSC), a group created to help align the movement ecosystem, build greater constellations of power and collectively develop the Long Term Agenda. 

Utilizing multiple strategies to develop a Long Term Agenda 

MVP and GPP’s first step was a strategic research project. The organizations started with a scan of structural reforms across seven key issues: progressive revenue, immigration, housing, gender justice, criminal justice, climate and democracy. MVP and GPP interviewed over 60 organizers, advocates and academics, reviewed research with NSC members in the field, and brought forward 7 structural reforms, with a power and landscape analysis, for the NSC’s consideration. 

The North Star Committee then discussed and debated all 7 reforms, and brought them back to their core leadership to narrow the 7 down to 3 reforms. Over the course of six weeks, 16 state networks and their affiliates and over 250 people discussed and debated the 7 potential structural reforms with the goal of narrowing down a prioritized set of 3 reforms for the NSC to take on as part of its Long Term Agenda. After all organizations voted, the NSC selected universal family care, progressive revenue and social housing for deeper research and consideration. 

Groups within MVP and the NSC all represented a wide range of constituencies and issues, so narrowing the reforms down was challenging. All of the issues the potential structural reforms represented are deeply felt by communities across California, and the groups had an impressive track record of work on many of them. However, all participants recognized that the social movement was split across too many fronts and was up against powerful opposition. If MVP and the NSC were going to win big, they would need to focus. To help move the process forward, the NSC created a set of “strategic criteria” (included below) that provided a shared framework to assess each structural reform, and which looked at a range of factors such as resonance with the base, political positioning and movement infrastructure. 

The next phase included deeper research, power-mapping and grassroots engagement to further narrow the 3 top issues down to 2. GPP and MVP brought together 28 different organizations and 3 different research consultants in research work groups to further explore the policy mechanics of each, the balance of power, the movement landscape, and the potential path to winning. 50 organizers and leaders from across the state then participated in another six-week long process to discuss the research findings and evaluate all the recommendations against the strategic criteria that had been developed. 

MVP also deployed additional strategies to develop the LTA; to ensure breadth of engagement from the base of all affiliates, MVP surveyed 20,000 voters to test the resonance of the reforms. MVP also conducted research to help inform narrative strategy and issue terrain.

Grassroots engagement and finalizing a Long Term Agenda

MVP also worked to authentically engage grassroots members in the process of finalizing the LTA. Over the course of many community and organizational meetings, a statewide conference, and one-on-one’s, 750 organizational and grassroot leaders used bilingual, popular education materials to discuss the top 3 reforms. Each NSC member then voted again, and landed with strong alignment on the top two issues to focus on for the next 3-10 years: social housing and building progressive fiscal infrastructure. 

The selection of these two issues reflects both the material conditions in communities, and the body of shared work together within the NSC. Housing costs impact almost all Californians in some way, particularly low-income communities of color, and MVP aligned around the visionary goal of winning housing that is not on the private market. Winning progressive fiscal infrastructure means generating new progressive revenue, like the Schools and Communities First property tax, but it also means changing the rigged finance and budgeting laws that favor corporations and the elite. MVP recognized this would also mean building the local infrastructure and capacity for organizations to engage in budget fights to directly control where resources are spent in their communities. By including this in the LTA, it builds on MVP’s leadership and the many lessons learned over the course of moving progressive revenue measures, and reflects the shared assessment, reaffirmed over the course of the LTA process, that revenue is needed across issue areas, and thus a critical terrain to fight on. 

At a broader level, the LTA process:

  • consolidated MVP and key partner organizations’ shared commitment to a Long Term Agenda that is  deeply grounded in power-building;  
  • built strategy muscle, by engaging participants in rigorous issue analysis, power assessment, prioritization, discussion and debate on a wide range of issues across a diverse set of organizations; 
  • fostered deep, democratic process and debate by authentically engaging hundreds of organizational leaders and grassroots members in a deliberate process;
  • strengthened the social movement ecosystem by creating new conditions and relationships for better coordination, shared strategy and stronger community leadership in future fights.

MVP is now focused on bringing the LTA to life with shared campaigning, strategy development, continued issue analysis, and deeper engagement in the related social movement sectors. Having an LTA now informs how MVP takes on any of its immediate term work, be it policy, electoral, or organizing, helping the alliance think strategically about how any fight it wages will help it to move towards its Long Term Agenda. 

Download Criteria for Narrowing Down Structural Reforms Worksheet

also view “The Creative Methods Workers Are Using to Stop Bosses’ Abuse” (Scott 2022) about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) embedding power-building and enforcement into policies.