Introduction: Why Governing power?

Over the years, as organizers, we have seen the vast space between the campaigns that we wage every day and the larger dreams that our people dream. And as we continue to experiment with different approaches to our political fights that get us closer to bridging that gap, we have learned first-hand what many of you already know—we can’t win all of what our people need by securing small changes within this oppressive system as it is structured. The only way that we change this system is if we, as a movement, can take control and win what we call “governing power.”  

Why governing power? Because we recognize that if we want to move beyond our role as protesters, and into the role of decision-makers who can meet the needs of our communities, we will need to win and control the power of government. This means both controlling the government as it is and creating new systems and structures of governance. It is a long-term project to get to this level of power. Even though the current power structure has some significant weaknesses, the conditions do not yet exist for a rupture that would wipe racial capitalism clean away and replace it with a more humane system. The only way we win the ability to realize our dreams is if we take on the daunting work of defining something better and organizing the scale of popular power needed to make it happen. This process, of both gaining control over and transforming the government, will need to happen piece by piece, with steps backwards and leaps forward over the course of years, until we make our way to governing power.

The good news is that more organizers today are thinking farther into the future about what we want to achieve and how we are going to achieve it. We have discovered that the path toward more power, and more lasting kinds of power, requires us to vastly expand the scale of our work, to build deep alliances, to engage in electoral politics and to integrate narrative into all that we do. It also requires us to reorient our organizing toward our dreams, and to honestly assess the power we have and the power we are up against. Only then can we develop a “governing power strategy” that gets us from the difficult realities of today to our visions for a more democratic and equitable future. 

This paper is divided into four sections. First, it offers a definition of governing power. Perhaps not surprisingly, it does not describe governing power as a static destination, but rather as the North star of power that we are working toward. Second, this paper lays out governing power strategy: the process of organizing to build governing power over time, including an exploration of the 5 big shifts we need to make, as organizers, in our current approaches to our political fights to engage that strategy effectively. Third, this paper offers an in-depth case study that describes the work that Minnesota’s organizers undertook in the early 2010s to build toward governing power. Fourth, this paper offers an appendix of case studies related to the arenas of governing power and governing power strategy.