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.