Finding strategy for the progressive movement
by Shai Sachs, Sun Jul 08, 2007 at 05:03:51 PM EDT
Late last year, the Progressive Strategy Studies Project (PSSP) published a report called Finding Strategy: A Survey of Contemporary Contributions to Progressive Strategy (PDF). The survey looks at the state of progressive strategic discourse, segments and evaluates a number of progressive strategies; it doesn't draw any conclusions about the relative merits of one strategy as opposed to the other, but it is still a very instructive look at the structure and status of discussion about progressive strategy. Anyone who's interested in making the progressive movement as a whole more effective should give it a read.
Full disclosure: one of the authors, Wolfgang Brauner, is a personal friend.
I'm going to spend some time in this post looking at the report in greater detail; in the next few weeks, I hope to use it as a jumping-off point for more detailed discussion of progressive strategy in a variety of areas.
The first part of the report is concerned with structuring progressive strategic discourse, in a couple of ways. First, by defining the components of a "fully-articulated" strategy:
Goals or objectives ... [incldue] values, visions, worldview, and ideology.
Assessment refers to the analysis and interpretation of a priori reality, of the terrain, as it were, shaping judgments as to what is realistic and possible through purposeful human agency employing strategy. ...
Tactics refer to the techniques employed to achieve objectives. In politics they include various forms of organizing, campaigning, framing, messaging, etc. ... Tactics tend to be focused on details of action and engagement. Operations, in turn, are the coordinated activities that groups and organizations engage in to further the strategic plan. ...
Dynamics is the interplay of one strategic actor against another and the actors with their environment. ...
Resources are about institutions, organizations, money and people. ... Closely related is the concept of infrastructure, but resources and infrastructure are not identical. ...
Evaluation is a critical component of strategy in which operations are systematically studied as the strategy is pursued and ongoing assessments provide feedback guidance to all levels on how to improve strategic plans and achieve strategic ends.
(pages 5 - 6)
A secondary value of the report is the way it segments progressive strategies, by the institutions they are intended to affect. The divisions chosen in the report are electoral, movement, and movement-electoral.
Electoral strategies are those which seek to win elections - usually, a series of elections, at national, state and local levels, and over a long period of time.
Movement strategies seek to organize a group of people defined by demographics (e.g., the women's movement, the labor movement), or defined by their support for a particular issue (e.g., the environmental movement, the civil rights movement, etc.) Movement strategies are frequently not fully-articulated, with a significant exception being strategies for organizing the labor movement. Lately, there has also been some discussion of cross-sectoral strategy, i.e. strategies for combining the efforts of two or more sectors (e.g., The Apollo Alliance, the USW/Sierra Club "Blue/Green" Alliance, a variety of alliances between labor unions, ACORN, and community organizations like Industrial Areas Foundation, etc.)
Movement-electoral strategies are inside/outside strategies which seek to make electoral gains while building the more informal power of an outside movement.
Most of the report is concerned with cataloging a variety of electoral, movement-electoral, and movement strategies - 20 in all. Each strategy is evaluated in terms of the strategic components articulated, and the most striking conclusion is that of the strategies listed, not one articulates all six components. While nearly all strategies discuss objectives, assessments, and tactics, and about half discuss resources, very few are concerned with dynamics or evaluation.
The authors make no claims that the report is comprehensive, that it is fair to each strategy, or even that it represents each strategy completely; so take the conclusions with a grain of salt. In part, these short-comings are just a product of the mechanics of progressive strategic discourse. Progressive strategies tend to be laid out in a piecemeal fashion, or they tend to be articulated implicitly (as a series of critiques of existing institutions) rather than explicitly (as a series of positive statements about what should be done.) There are certainly exceptions to the rule, but these factors make progressive strategic evaluation a very tricky game.
This is a fascinating report, because it gives us a lens through which we can view a wide variety of strategic discussions about the progressive movement, and it gives us a metric against which we can evaluate strategies. Progressive strategic discourse is entirely too muddled and incomplete at this point. Where our strategy is well-refined and robust, as in the case of Congressional electoral strategy, we frequently find ourselves putting together a strategy as we go along, rather than planning it out in advance. We would be well-served by a more deliberate, comprehensive strategic discussion.
I want to keep this discussion going, but I don't want to go into overwhelming detail and entirely new tangents just yet. What I'd like to do is use this report as a jumping-off point for evaluating the progressive strategic discussion in other areas. For starters, I'd like to consider progressive strategies for influencing the traditional media, as well as strategies for building up the religious left. I'll probably write up some thoughts on that in the next few weeks. But I'd invite you to chime in with your own thoughts on what you'd like to see; feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.