Why Building Power is the Key to Making Change
Our political climate is getting more and more polarized, but despite this Canadians’ opinions continue trending progressive. Voters across the political spectrum have come to a consensus on the need to tax the rich and for a fair recovery from the pandemic. Similarly, the urgent need for climate action is now a given and no longer debated.
It might feel like this was a spontaneous response to the pandemic, but this kind of shift does not happen by accident. It’s the result of months and often years of dedicated effort. Organizing is what produces these kinds of shifts in collective opinion.
After all, the twin contagions of right-wing ideology (including nationalist populism) and white supremacy are simultaneously making an advance. Having connected government lockdowns and the simple public health message of wearing a mask with a cluster of ideas including racist xenophobia, male chauvinism, and distrust of democratic institutions, the right is successfully spreading its message through ever-multiplying digital media channels.
The inequality crisis is the backdrop
Workers and communities in Canada continually face worsening conditions. Workers balance two or three jobs and barely meet the essentials of life while the gig economy and app-based employment grows. The housing crisis displaces people increasingly onto the street in every community. On top of people’s pandemic experience, the rich got richer and meaningful constraints to corporate profiteering and unfettered wealth accumulation have yet to materialize.
These conditions erode social solidarity. What, then, should the responses be to the urgency for building resistance to the right? How are we to build a broad base of support for worker and community power to pursue a fair, equitable and sustainable future?
Solidarity starts with talking about power.
Focus on power
Power matters because it determines our ability to shape the future. Inequality, discrimination, even the climate crisis - these are the results of unequal power relations in society. But people and communities have the ability to change those conditions, because power is within all of us, and we can flex it like a muscle. When communities come together to define the problems we face and the solutions we want, we can build our people-power through collective action.
While every situation, place, and group of people have unique histories, an important step is asking ourselves who we are and what we want when our goal is to make people-powered change. As workers and communities we need power to get what we need, and yet it’s a resource that exists within all of us - when to tap into collective action, which is enabled by organizing.
The essence of organizing is in people learning how to help ourselves, knowing and asserting our rights. Organizing, as opposed to mobilization or advocacy, relies on local leadership that grows from within the community, building trust and moves people to action. It is the real-life stories told by people affected that show the urgent need for change and become a valuable organizing resource.
Once demands are determined by the people most affected by policy, funding and other decisions, organizing efforts turn to developing strategy. This includes mapping and connecting with decision-makers and those who influence them. Mobilizing in numbers to demonstrate your power in numbers is the leverage to meet goals for change. Building on small wins, we collectively increase our capacity and our ability to build the future we want for ourselves and our communities.
Learn more about power and how you can build it within your own community through our new training module, What is Power?.
The economy is all of us: Community benefits organizing in Canada
The Broadbent Institute’s leadership development and training mission is to build backbone for left organizing in Canada. This takes on many forms, including training activists for campaigns. Increasingly we are aligning our organizational objectives, and that has opened new areas of leadership activity that focuses on our policy priorities: climate change, inequality and democratic renewal. This has led us to focus on supporting the development of a community benefits movement in Canada.Read more
We sent 9 Canadian organizers to the front lines in the US election
Here's what they learned.
The Broadbent Institute sent Canadian organizers and campaigners to the United States last fall to gain hands-on experience and insight into how Americans run campaigns.
Mitch Stewart on getting into politics
Saskatoon Change Makers, organized by Upstream and the Broadbent Institute, was an an evening of discussion and inspiration that considered the best ways to bring about positive change in the city of Saskatoon!
Mitch Stewart, principal at 270 Strategies, and President Obama's former Battleground States Director spoke to the crowd about how he got involved in politics.
Watch the video:
Jeremy Bird: organizing to win in your community
On December 7 2013, Jeremy Bird, Barack Obama's National Field Director during the 2012 presidential election, gave a keynote speech on the fundamentals of community-based organizing to the Broadbent Institute's Municipal Political Action Conference.
Jeremy helped to build a people-powered election campaign based on strong volunteer organizing that propelled Barack Obama back to the White House.
About the Instructor/Host
Jeremy Bird is a founding partner at 270 Strategies and a longtime grassroots organizer with broad experience across domestic and international politics, labor, and policy. He helped launch 270 Strategies after serving most recently as the National Field Director for the 2012 re-election campaign of President Barack Obama, where he had primary responsibility for building a nationwide army of staff and volunteer organizers. Dubbed the campaign’s "Field General" by Rolling Stone magazine, Jeremy was listed among "The Obama Campaign’s Real Heroes" and has been cited as "a former Harvard divinity student who took to political organizing as though it were his higher calling." He is credited with helping establish a ground game and turnout machine that in 2012 "reproduced – through brute force, dedication and will – a turnout in the swing states that in some cases bested the campaign's remarkable performance of four years ago."
Broadbent Institute launches state-of-the-art training program
OTTAWA—As part of its commitment to supporting the development of a new generation of Canadian campaigners, the Broadbent Institute is launching Camp Progress Plus -- a hands-on, intensive training and campaign placement opportunity for Canadian organizers and activists.
The program, offered in collaboration with 270 strategies, a firm founded by senior strategists from U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, involves a five-day intensive training retreat in September, during which participants will learn from the architects of President Obama’s presidential campaigns. Following the week-long training in Barrie, Ontario, the Broadbent Institute will place participants in volunteer leadership roles in Democratic election campaigns in the fall of 2016 or in a progressive campaign in Canada.Read more
Cutting-edge training program sends Canadian organizers to U.S. midterm election campaigns
OTTAWA—As part of its commitment to supporting the development of a new generation of progressive leaders in Canada, the Broadbent Institute is pleased to announce the second phase of Camp Progress Practicum -- a new hands-on, intensive training and placement opportunity for Canadian campaigners.Read more
Saskatoon Change Makers: building capacity for positive change
Recently I had the chance to participate in Saskatoon Change Makers, one of the Broadbent Institute’s first events to enhance capacity for people to work for positive change. This emphasis on training and leadership recognizes that it’s not enough to have the best ideas; winning campaigns, electoral or issue-based, requires the organization and skills to do so.Read more
Top Obama swing state strategist to speak in Saskatoon
January 31, 2014
This article originally appeared on CKOM Newstalk 650.
Barack Obama’s top swing state strategist is coming to Saskatoon to talk about how everyday people can bring about the social changes they want through grassroots action.
Mitch Stewart directed the American president’s successful 2012 campaign within 10 of the 11 swing states votes. He was also involved in Obama’s 2008 campaign and several organizations.
“To say (the campaign was) magical probably doesn’t do it justice,” Stewart said.
“The thing we really learned during the campaign is the nexus of using better data and analytics on one end and probably more important is this relationship or community based organizing.”
Saskatoon Change Makers is co-organized by left-wing think tank the Broadbent Institute and two-time provincial NDP candidate Ryan Meili’s UpStream.
“Mitch brings that real on the ground experience on how to win campaigns and we look forward to hearing what his advice is for folks in the local context,” Graham Mitchell, Broadbent Institute training and leadership director said.
Stewart will talk about the tactics he used in the 2012 campaign to usher in a second term for Obama including building social networks.
“Teaching how you can build those relationship structures and teams … making sure groups have that information, how powerful it can be and guide them through that process,” Stewart said.
Through his organization 270 Strategies, Stewart has also spoken at other Canadian venues including Ottawa and Vancouver. He was also brought in to stress the importance of grassroots movements and "progressive change."
“The important thing about grassroots movements are everybody has a role to play in making change. “
(The Broadbent Institute is) pushing for people to take seriously the opportunity to get involved in politics,” Mitchell said, adding what progressive means changes depending on the community.
“For different organizations and different communities it means different things, that’s partly why we’ve pulled together other local communities and working with UpStream to identify challenges that local communities face.”
Stewart will be joined by co-speakers Meili, University of Saskatchewan student union president Max FineDay and Idle No More co-founder Erica Lee, at the Roxy Theatre at 7 p.m Friday.
Obama campaign strategist to speak in Saskatoon
January 28, 2014
This article originally appeared in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
Mitch Stewart, the political strategist who oversaw Barack Obama's victories in battleground states in 2012, will speak this week at an event in Saskatoon about progressive change.
Stewart has been involved over the years in numerous organizations and campaigns, including several that were important to the success of the U.S. president. He was Battleground States Director for Obama's 2012 campaign, and his strategy led to wins in nine of 10 battleground states.
"It was a life-changing experience," Stewart said about working with the president. "It's been a fantastic professional experience for me, but more importantly, from a personal perspective, it will go down as one of the greatest accomplishments of my life."
The tactics Stewart used during the campaign will be part of his discussion at Saskatoon Change Makers, which takes place at the Roxy Theatre at 7 p.m. Friday.
"We want to share those lessons, share those strategies, with other like-minded organizations that are trying to bring positive social change to their communities," Stewart said.
A model of building and organizing relationships has been important to his success, he said.
"This team structure that we know works, this very intentional relationship building, is probably the biggest lesson that we've learned," Stewart said, noting 10,000 neighbourhood teams across the U.S. performed various roles for Obama's 2012 campaign.
Building relationships is "the best vehicle that progressives can have to enacting change," he said.
Part of what he wants to do with Friday's speech is explain "the long arc" of facilitating social change, he said, noting that while change is never easy, it is important to have a clear and concise theory of change that can be easily explained and related to people's personal lives.
His efforts in Canada - he is speaking elsewhere in the country, too - will focus on advocacy work and not Canadian partisan politics, he said.
The event in Saskatoon is co-organized by two leftleaning organizations, the Broadbent Institute and Upstream. The director for the latter is Ryan Meili, a Saskatoon doctor and two-time former candidate for the provincial NDP leadership.
Graham Mitchell, director of training and leadership at the Broadbent Institute, said the organizations are bringing Stewart to Saskatchewan to share the message that grassroots efforts can lead to change.
"What the Obama campaign managed to do in terms of mobilizing regular people in support of a broad, progressive agenda is really remarkable and amazing and we're hoping that people hear that message that there is something that you can do," Mitchell said.
"There is hope, and there's a good reason to get involved, and one of the most highprofile examples comes from the American presidential election in electing Barack Obama, but it can be done in your local community on smaller scales."
Other speakers at the event will include Meili, as well as Max FineDay, president of the U of S Students' Union, and Erica Lee, one of the founders of the Idle No More movement.
Learn more about Saskatoon Change Makers: https://www.broadbentinstitute.ca/en/training-leadership/sessions/saskatoon-change-makers