Building Governing Power Within the Multiple Arenas of Decision-Making
Below builds on Changing States: A Framework for Progressive Governance (Pastor, Ito, and Wander 2016), with the intent of making it more actionable for organizers building power at the state level. Changing States: A Framework for Progressive Governance
Definition: The electoral arena is where voters have a direct say in who is elected to public office or where voters directly approve or reject laws by referendum.
What it takes to build power in this arena: To build power in the electoral arena, we can educate and turn out voters in support of candidates who share our values, and we can run referendum campaigns.
We can also recruit and develop candidates from our base who are committed to our agenda.
What it takes to govern in this arena: To actually govern in the electoral arena, we would need to have built a majoritarian bloc of voters that can decide the outcome of key elections. In other words, our voters are the majority bloc, and we win major elections and referendum campaigns.
What becomes possible if we govern in this arena: With a majority bloc of voters and the ability to win referendum campaigns, we are able to advance an agenda year over year that shifts the balance of power from the wealthy few to the people.
Definition: The legislative arena is where elected leaders convene to create or change laws.
What it takes to build power in this arena: To build power in the legislative arena, we can partner with legislators to pass policies that shift wealth and power and to create new systems and institutions that increase democratic participation. This includes building grassroots lobbying capacities, policy expertise and public pressure campaigns.
This also means taking a strategic approach to co-governing with elected champions, and organizing caucuses (or teams) of elected leaders to advance our agenda through strategic negotiations.
What it takes to govern in this arena: To actually govern in the legislative arena, we would need to have built sufficient electoral power to have our elected champions be leading the dominant caucuses in both legislative houses, and we would need real influence in the executive branch.
What becomes possible if we govern in this arena: We are able to advance a structural reform agenda that shifts power year over year, and that expands the definition of what is politically possible. Examples of policies that shift power include campaign finance and redistricting reforms, voting rights expansions, raising taxes and redistributing public resources equitably, or a multitude of tactics that rein in corporate power and expand worker and community control.
Definition: The administrative arena is where the directives of the electoral and legislative arenas are transformed into actionable rules and where the process of implementation is shaped.
What it takes to build power in this arena: To build power in the administrative arena, we can develop knowledge of the legal parameters and bureaucratic structures related to the policies we are fighting for in order to bring popular political muscle into the debate around how they are implemented.
What it takes to govern in this arena: To actually govern in the administrative arena we would need to have sufficient influence with elected executives to appoint trusted leaders who are allied with power-building organizations and who have the skills and expertise to shape policy, to effectively implement it and to enforce the laws and regulations around it.
What becomes possible if we govern in this arena: The policies that we pass in the legislative arena or through referendums are made real in practice. They are both utilized and enforced: reining in corporate power, advancing the power of working people and ensuring democratic rights.
Judicial and Constitutional Arena
Definition: The judicial and constitutional arena of decision-making is where laws and rules are interpreted and applied.
What it takes to build power in this arena: To build power in the judicial and constitutional arena, we can engage in strategic litigation to force the application of regulations on large corporations, monitoring the decisions of a particular court, or training and developing judges to be seated on the bench.
What it takes to govern in this arena: To actually govern in the judicial and constitutional arena, we would need to be able to place enough judges on the bench (via elections or appointments) who share our agenda to shift jurisprudence.
What becomes possible if we govern in this arena: We are able to shape how laws are interpreted and ruled on. We have a court system that reliably penalizes and deters bad behavior. We may even have the ability to pass constitutional amendments.
Definition: Worldview is an arena of decision-making where different ideological and political interests deploy narratives to shape popular values, beliefs and what we come to understand as “common sense.”
What it takes to build power in this arena: To build power in the arena of worldview, we can unmask dominant narratives and expose their contradictions. We can lift up narratives that reflect our beliefs and animate people to unite with each other toward solutions that are reflected in our agenda.
What it takes to govern in this arena: To actually govern in the arena of worldview, we would need to establish a new popular “common sense” that reflects our deeper beliefs and values.
What becomes possible if we govern in this arena: With this new common sense, our new governing paradigm is seen as the obvious and only reasonable approach to governance. We have reclaimed the role of government, called the concentration of wealth into question and advanced a deep commitment to multi-racial democracy.
Definition: The economy is the arena where our wages, work-life and consumer choices are decided.
What it takes to build power in this arena: To build power in the economic arena, we can wage campaigns to organize workers into unions to collectively bargain. We can also wage policy campaigns that expand worker control of the economy, and that empower the government to reign in corporate power.
What it takes to govern in this arena: To actually govern in the economic arena would require us to have a large proportion of the workforce organized into unions, and to have sufficient electoral and legislative power to radically extend democratic control over the economy.
What becomes possible if we govern in this arena: We win democratic control over the sorts of economic decisions that have historically been considered ‘private,’ we ensure the government is the entity meeting the public’s basic economic & social needs (like health care or education) instead of profit-driven corporations, and we create new structures that facilitate worker and consumer control. Workers have the ability to use workplace action or government intervention to set standards for wages and working conditions across entire industries.
It is critical that organizers understand these six arenas of decision-making so that we understand how they intersect and can prepare to build power across them. Building a campaign to win a policy, lawsuit or election is an important first step toward governing power. But the problem is that for many of us, it’s often the only step that we are prepared to take. After we “win,” we are eager to move onto the next fight when the real battle is just beginning. A legislative win can be undermined if we don’t pay attention to the administrative arena, where it is implemented. A corporate campaign can be undone by a judge’s decree if we don’t have power in the judicial and constitutional arena. Sustaining what we win so that we can shift the structures of power is what governing power is all about.