Author Archives: Antonia

What Democrats are FOR: Our Values

We need to help people see the better world we want to bring about.

If we want people to think of us as good people, we can’t just argue that our opponents are bad people. We have to express to people why we do what we do, how our policies reflect our values and beliefs, and help create a vision of a world they would want to live in.

Video: A Message From the Future With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
This wonderful short film illustrated by Molly Crabapple describes the future we would have if we actually pulled off the Green New Deal. Wherever you stand on the policy, it is a wonderful piece of communication that literally “paints” a vision of a better future.

Fascism should not be on the ballot.

The midterms shouldn’t even be close. I’ve been reading a lot about what motivates people to respond to populist rhetoric and support leaders who are a nasty cocktail of nihilist and authoritarian. But what mystifies me even more, is the idea that we are somehow “just as bad.”

Why is there such an enormous gap between what we believe and want to do, and how people perceive it?

  1. Conservatives invent and promote narratives that explain how our behavior and positions are motivated by really bad intentions.
  2. We usually don’t tell people stories that reveal our positive intentions, because they live so deep in our subconscious, we’re not sure how to express them.

Democrats might argue over tactical issues, like what to do first or when to compromise, but we agree on what is right and wrong. We have to talk about those core values, the deeper moral codes behind all of our positions.

This is the first part of a series on what Democrats believe. In future issues, I will talk about reimagining the relationship between our economy, society and government and about what we believe to be the proper role of government in our society.

We have to express to people what we are for, what we believe about how people and our society work, and why we will never, ever stop trying to build a better society and a better country, no matter what happens in this election and the next.


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Our Values

Why are you a Democrat? Because we’re all in this country together.

Political choices are all about people’s most gut level beliefs about right and wrong. How people judge right and wrong depends on whose version of right and wrong they are using. If we want people to use our values to judge, we can’t just assume that people share them, we have to talk about them out loud.

Our individual issues and positions will make sense and feel morally right to people, if we think and talk about them in the context of these larger beliefs.


EMPATHY v. SELF-INTEREST

EMPATHY is the driving force behind everything we do.

I am a Democrat because I care what happens to everybody. I care about what happens to my family and my community, but I also care about what happens to yours. We share this country and we have an obligation to look out for each other, because everybody matters.

Patriotism = Caring what happens to all Americans.

Because we all have INHERENT WORTH a.k.a. essential value, we have natural, fundamental human and civil rights, including the right to have our essential needs met, like air, water, food, shelter, health, safety, and freedom from poverty and oppression.

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS are things you don’t have to earn, that you shouldn’t have to compete for. You just get them because you are a human being.

Conservatives generally believe that people are naturally bad and selfish, but somehow, if we are driven by rational SELF-INTEREST, we will make individual decisions that collectively lead to positive benefits for the whole society.

We believe that people are naturally good and caring, and that society only works when we work together for the good of each other. Like the musketeers said, “All for one and one for all.”


INTERDEPENDENCE v. SELF-RELIANCE

Democrats recognize that, as people who live together in a society, we all depend on each other and we have an obligation to take care of each other. We take RESPONSIBILITY for ourselves, for each other as individuals and for our society as a whole. We believe in community values.

To us, INTERDEPENDENCE is not an opinion, it’s an observable fact about how the world works. Since human beings first formed families and tribes, they have depended on each other for survival and success.

Think about what we have learned from the pandemic about things like supply chains and what it means to be an essential worker. Whether we are talking about a small town or the vast interconnectedness of a major metropolitan area, we depend on others for everything from child care across the street to microchips from across the planet.

In our culture, the myth of SELF-RELIANCE is both pervasive and destructive. It denies the undeniable fact that we all rely on each other. It tells people they are morally wrong for needing help, and that they have noresponsibility for the well-being of others.

Quotes from my imaginary uncle:

“Being a good person isn’t about never needing any help. Everybody needs help! It’s about keeping on paying it forward and trying to meet your maker on the plus side of the karma-go-round.”

“We’re all in this country together and anyone who says different is just lying to you.”

“Besides, I don’t understand how you can be a good person and not bother yourself about what happens to other people. That doesn’t sound very Jesus-like to me!”

We are all responsible for each other. It is perfectly natural and good to rely on others, because we all rely on each other all the time. That is the only way we can all thrive.

That is also why we believe that cooperation is the key organizing principle of society.


COOPERATION v. COMPETITION

We believe that, while there is a place for competition, our society runs on COOPERATION. Even GOVERNMENT is just a tool that we use to cooperate on a larger scale.

A beautiful piece of writing from Ezra Klein:

Cooperation is humanity’s superpower, and the way we have enlarged our circle — from kin, to tribes, to religions, to countries, to the world — is miraculous. But the conditions under which that cooperation has taken hold are delicate, and like everything else, part of the biophysical system in which we live. We are changing that system in ways we do not understand and with consequences we cannot predict.

If you believe in COOPERATION like we do, the right thing to do is to work together so that we can all succeed. It would be wrong to leave anyone behind. There should be enough for everyone. Wanting more than your share is greedy and morally wrong. Not helping others is selfish and morally wrong.

Conservatives believe that COMPETITION is the main way that life works. There is a limited amount of stuff and the only fair way to distribute it is through competition. They believe life is a zero-sum game. Winners deserve to win. Losers deserve to lose.

SHARED PROSPERITY v. SCARCITY

Conservatives use the competition frame to drive wedges between people with fear mongering about SCARCITY. To them, someone else’s gain always has to mean your loss (student debt relief) and the “undeserving” are coming to take what’s yours (immigration).

Competition is about fighting over the pie. Cooperation is about making sure there is enough pie for everyone, like creating enough good schools and enough good jobs, and even creating different kinds of schools and jobs to meet different people’s needs.

We can strive for ABUNDANCE rather than accepting scarcity. We just have to make choices that reflect our belief that everybody deserves to succeed.


Sample Pro-Democrat GOTV Messaging

The following are scripts from a 2018 hand-written postcard campaign that resulted in a 2.37-point increase in turnout among Democratic voters who don’t usually vote in midterm elections.

“I want to live in a society where people care about each other, and I need a government that works! That’s why I’ll be voting for Democrats on Nov 8th!”

“We have a choice. People can fight for themselves, or we can all work together. Please vote for Democrats on Nov. 8th so we can all have a better future!”

“A Democrat is someone who cares what happens to other people, will face up to big problems and bring us all together to solve them. Vote for Democrats on Nov. 8th and we all win!”

Photo by Antonia Scatton

EQUALITY v. HIERARCHY

All people are created EQUAL. We believe that the law must apply equally to everyone (black or white, rich or poor, etc.) We believe in protecting everybody’s rights.

We don’t just tolerate DIVERSITY, we celebrate it. The great variety of people and cultures is what makes America unique, dynamic and strong. People are infinitely diverse in genetic makeup, personality, and life experiences. We may all be different, but we are all ultimately worth the same.

We assume everyone thinks that EQUALITY is a cherished American value, but we actually have to make the case for equality, because some people do not believe that all people are created equal.

Some conservatives believe that there is a natural order, a HIERARCHY determined by God in which some people are worth more than others:

  • God over humans,
  • humans over nature,
  • “in-group” members over “out group” members,
  • men over women,
  • police over civilians,
  • “whites” over people of color,
  • Christians over non-Christians,
  • “straights” over LGBTQ+ people,
  • owners over workers,
  • Americans over foreigners, and so on.

The hierarchy manifests itself in divisions between who is considered “us” and who is considered “them,” who is deserving of empathy and who gets dehumanized, who gets resources and who doesn’t, who has rights and who doesn’t, who the law protects and who the law constrains.

It explains an enormous range of conservative political positions: opposition to abortion, denial of global warming, opposition to transgender rights, tolerance of police brutality, and on and on.

The worst believers in hierarchy are the ones who suck up and punch down. (Trump)

Just because something is one of our core values, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to keep working to live up to it. If we want people to see us as champions of equality for everybody, we need to be careful about how we talk about people who are different from “us,” perhaps in level of education, religion, culture, where they live, or even who they voted for in the past. For example: we should not refer to people who didn’t go to college as “uneducated voters” or make fun of people for poor spelling.


FREEDOM v. LICENSE

We have to get out there and talk about FREEDOM as we see it. We believe in core freedoms like the right to choose our government, civil liberties and civil rights, and the rights to control our lives and our bodies.

To make our society both safe and fair, we choose to impose rules on ourselves. We’re still free because we collectively choose the people who make those rules. That’s why we believe so strongly in DEMOCRACY and must fight to protect our right to be heard.

SELF-GOVERNANCE, voting and representation are what makes us free. This also applies to UNIONS that give us freedom through representation in the workplace.

We believe in CIVIL LIBERTIES: limits on government, like the freedom to express ourselves, to have privacy, to believe, to worship and to gather.

We believe in CIVIL RIGHTS: obligations of government to protect and defend our rights as citizens and our equality, both in society and before the law.

We believe in SELF-DETERMINATION: the freedom to determine the course of our own lives, to seek success and fulfillment, and to be free from the restrictions imposed on our lives by poverty, illness, disability and discrimination. This would include the freedom to engage in public life free of gun violence or police brutality.

We have an inherent right to BODILY SOVEREIGNTY a.k.a. bodily autonomy.

Art and language by Teafly Peterson. Click for full essay!

Physical self-determination is an essential condition of freedom. This is why we believe in reproductive rights. We believe that it’s wrong to use other people’s bodies without their permission, not even to save someone else’s life.

We believe in FREEDOM OF RELIGION. We have the right to make decisions about our lives and our bodies in accordance with our own beliefs. In a pluralistic society, it is wrong to use government to force everybody to live by one group’s religious beliefs.

Some conservatives want permission to pollute, to discriminate, to incite violence or spread viruses. That’s not freedom, that’s LICENSE. “License” is wanting government to give you a permission slip so you can be excused from responsibility for how your actions impact others.

Right now, conservatives are attacking our freedoms of self-government, physical self-determination, religion, speech and safety, among others.


The Bottom Line

Everything we believe starts with empathy; Democrats care about what happens to other people. Everybody matters and deserves to have their basic needs met.

We all depend on each other. We share responsibility for each other’s health and happiness. It is perfectly natural and good to rely on others because we all rely on each other all the time.

We believe in cooperation; we work together so that we can all succeed. Government is just cooperation on a larger scale. We work toward having enough for everyone.

We believe in equality. Our society is better for having a lot of different kinds of people in it. Every person is unique but we’re all worth the same.

We believe in core freedoms like the right to live under the government we choose.

We believe in limits on government, like the freedom to express ourselves, to have privacy, to worship (or not) and to gather. We also believe government has obligations to protect our rights as citizens and our equality.

We have the freedom to determine the course of our lives and the right to sole authority over our own bodies.


PLEASE, give me your feedback on this!

Thanks, as always, for reading! This is a work in progress. Let me know where you think I am wrong or what you feel is missing. Talk about how these things connect, or fail to connect, with the issues you are dealing with right now. Help me make it better.

Thanks!

Warmest regards,

Antonia

Thank you for reading Reframing America! This is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts by email please consider becoming a subscriber. All content is free, but some people choose to become paying subscribers to support this mission!


The Prosperity Gospel: The moral code that binds corporate and Christian America.

It’s not just a marriage of convenience.

The marriage between market fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists isn’t just one of convenience. They actually share a common moral code. We can’t beat the conservative movement until we understand what they believe and how they prey on people’s desire to be good.



Why do they believe what they believe?

A Democratic volunteer recently told me that she was burned out from the constant barrage of hate and negativity. I reminded her that the worst of it comes from the leadership, the candidates and the ads, but that voters are generally pretty decent.

When we meet voters who support our opponents, it can be hard to understand their motives and even harder to understand their negative judgment of us. But if we want to persuade or even convert voters, we have to understand why they (mostly) aren’t “bad” people.

The secret to the conservative movement’s success is that they appeal to people based on their desire to be good. When conservative voters espouse positions that we believe are morally wrong, we have to remember that they were raised to believe that those positions are morally right.

This is not about the MAGA fan base or the “the cruelty is the point” crowd. Those people are not persuadable and their behavior will most likely turn off more voters than they gain. It’s about the people who still identify with conservatism based on concepts like “family values” or “fiscal responsibility.”


Thank you for reading Reframing America! This is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts by email please consider becoming a subscriber. All content is free, but some people choose to become paying subscribers to support this mission!



The Unholy Alliance

Why does Joe Manchin believe that child tax credits are bad because they foster a culture of dependency? Why do people think that the most moral way to help the poor is to give tax breaks to the rich, or that it is bad for government to interfere in your business, but good for government to interfere in your medical treatment? How did “voodoo” Reaganomics become as American as apple pie?

There used to be a broad consensus in America and much of Europe around a mainstream liberal value system. The majority of Americans believed in New Deal and Great Society programs and more activist Keynesian economic policies.

In 1964, when Lyndon Johnson trounced Barry Goldwater, so-called “free market” ideology was at a low point. Goldwater’s wipe-out instigated a massively-funded long-term collaboration between conservative politicians, corporate interests and the religious right. Historian Heather Cox Richardson calls this coalition movement conservatism. By the 1980’s, free-market anti-government ideology dominated our culture while “market fundamentalism” became an orthodoxy in economic circles.

Set aside for the moment, the massive investment, the network of people, the institutions they built and so on, all of which you can read about in many other places, and focus on the purpose of all that effort: to popularize ideas. They are reaping the ultimate fruit of this labor now in Supreme Court rulings that radically alter the relationship between our economy and our government, to their enormous benefit.

How did movement conservatives achieve this?

They did it by creating and promoting a moral justification for their free-market beliefs. This is critical: it was not a rational or a fact-based argument. They created a way for people to look at the world that made heartless market fundamentalism feel morally right.

Human beings across the political spectrum have a very strong need for self-respect, to think of themselves as a good person. That’s why they vote for the party and the candidate that they feel to be morally right. Not everybody is motivated by religion, but we’re all motivated by a gut level sense of what constitutes right and wrong.

People don’t judge what is right and wrong based on facts, but on the stories we tell that put those facts in contextWe frame the debate with narratives that assign meaning to what people see and experience. Movement conservatives understood this, which is why they developed a whole different way of explaining what it means to be a good person.

Now, the public debate is a competition between two these belief systems, consensus liberal and movement conservative, and their radically opposed narratives about what is right and wrong. What people perceive to be right depends on whose belief system they use, and in fifty+ years of organized effort, conservatives got a whole lot of people to use theirs.

Classical Conservatism

Historically, the conservative belief system is based on rational self-interest. They believe that society is about competition over limited resources. While people are inherently bad, if everyone is driven by rational self-interest, they will make individual decisions that collectively lead to positive benefits for the whole society.

Classical conservatives weren’t making judgments about what was morally right or wrong. They were just trying to explain how things worked based on what they thought was a “realistic” assessment of human behavior.

Movement Conservatism

The “unholy alliance” between market fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists wasn’t just a marriage of convenience. There were clear benefits for both sides, but the true driving force behind this merger was the near perfect alignment of their belief systems: their core view of the world, of human nature, and of right and wrong.



The Prosperity Gospel

The “Prosperity Gospel,” in the formal sense, is just a wing of Christian fundamentalism practiced by “God wants you to be rich” preachers like Joel Osteen. However, if you look at the prosperity gospel as a moral narrative, you can see that it has quietly become the dominant moral code of American politics.

In this narrative, “God” and “The Invisible Hand of the Market” (The Hand) are virtually interchangeable, as are “God’s System” and “The Free Market.”

The Narrative

If you are virtuous, God/The Hand, will reward you with material gain.

Virtuous is defined as hard working, self-reliant, respectful of authority and your place in the hierarchy, and abstaining from sins of the flesh: your basic “family values.”

Because God/The Hand rewards the virtuous with material gain, those who are the most successful at material gain must be so because they are the most virtuous.

Because God/The Hand can’t be wrong, wealth itself is evidence of virtue.

This is why taxing the wealthy is seen as punishing them for their superior morality. In their view, it’s best to give even more money to those who already have the most money, because they have proven their virtue and they will use that money the “right” way.

Those who are less materially successful must be so because they are less virtuous. The only way to help people become more successful, is to help them become more virtuous.

For this reason, any attempt to assist the poor would actually be harming them, as it would take away their incentives to be virtuous, making them less virtuous and therefore less successful.

Sound familiar? This is where the concept of the “undeserving poor” comes from. As disturbing as it may seem, people have been taught to believe that it is genuinely morally wrong to assist people in need.

What is the role of government in this narrative?

God’s system/the Free Market is natural and perfect as it is.

Government should stay out of the market. It should also repeal all previous attempts to interfere in God’s perfect system, such as environmental regulations and social programs.

However, in order to help people become more successful, government should promote virtue by prohibiting and punishing so-called “sins of the flesh.”

This explains the across-the-board opposition to business and environmental regulation and their perception of any form of public ownership as morally wrong and therefore Evil Socialism.

This also reconciles their anti-government positions with their use of government to impose “family values.”

There’s a lot more detail to this and how it is applied, but that’s the core of the narrative.



Why People Believe This

If you actually believe all this, conservative positions appear both logical and morally right. Here is the thing: many millions of Americans were raised to believe this in their homes, churches and schools.

Sometimes we think that people raised to see the world from a conservative perspective should be able to figure out what’s “wrong” with their beliefs, but they know what they know because they were told it was true by sources they were taught to trust. How do we know what we know? Because we were told it was true by sources we were taught to trust.

Narratives about the nature of people, how the world works, and what constitutes right and wrong, are taught and modeled to children by their parents and families and then reinforced by teachers, community leaders and news sources.

When it comes to the prosperity gospel, there are whole industries (Christian parenting, school privatization) working to establish these moral codes in young people to influence their political beliefs in adulthood.


We won’t reach these people by telling them that they are wrong. From their point of view, they are not wrong. We have to get them to see things from a different point of view.



The Bottom Line

We need to advocate for a better and kinder moral code.

When you add the prosperity gospel to the “self-interest” core of traditional conservatism, you end up with a moral code that tells you that you have no responsibility for the well-being of others. Even worse, it tells you that others are bad for needing help from you and that you are bad for needing help from others. I can’t even begin to guess how much destruction this has wrought on our society.

When you are out there knocking on doors, let voters know that their natural inclination to help other people is not only not wrong, but is morally right and should be encouraged and rewarded.

I talk about the contrasts between their core values and ours in Empathy is President Biden’s Superpower and in virtually every issue of this newsletter.

In brief:

I would rather live in a world where everybody helps everybody all the time, than a world in which nobody ever helps anybody.

Skip the attacks. Mountains of data show that at best, they don’t work and at worst, they cause backlash. Let the criticism of our opponents be implied in the contrast between what they advocate and what we advocate and between how they behave and how we behave.

Share with people our narrative about what it means to be a good person. Make people feel safe, let them know that they aren’t out there all alone, that they are part of a community, that we share responsibility for taking care of each other and that they too deserve help when they need it.

Our core message? As always:

It will be okay. We can do this if we work together.

We don’t know what will happen in the midterm elections, but either way, it will be close. There are too many people out there who still vote for our opponents despite everything that many in their party are doing. It just means that we have a lot of work yet to do to get the American people to understand and adopt our value system as their own. This has always been a long-haul mission. No surprises there. Win or lose, we keep going, together.



Thanks, as always, for reading. I hope you are able to use this in your work and your activism!

I look forward to your feedback and ideas.

Warmest Regards,

Antonia


Thank you for reading Reframing America! This is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts by email please consider becoming a subscriber. All content is free, but some people choose to become paying subscribers to support this mission!


NOTES:

The Prosperity Gospel in Action:

New York Times Opinion, Oct. 8, 2021
Joe Manchin Should Stop Talking About ‘Entitlement’
By JAMELLE BOUIE


Attack Ad Research:

Liam C Malloy and Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz (2016). Going Positive: The Effects of Negative and Positive Advertising on Candidate Success and Voter Turnout. Research and Politics, January-March 2016.

Richard R. Lau, Lee Sigelman, and Ivy Brown Rovner (2007). The Effects of Negative Political Campaigns: A Meta-Analytic Reassessment.  Journal of Politics, 69 (4), 1176-1209.

The Election is Going to Get Messy

The freedom of American citizens depends on their right to be heard.

Republicans are creating chaos to shake our faith in the institutions of democracy. We can only fight that with clarity. We have to lay down simple and morally unassailable criteria by which election disputes should be judged, both in the courts and in the court of public opinion. Every case must be decided, not on strict adherence to rules, but on the standard that the freedom of American citizens depends on their right to be heard.

Molly Adams from USA, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Your voice is your freedom.

The “Citizens’ Right to be Heard” Narrative

As an American citizen, your right to have an equal say in choosing your representation is essential to your being a free person.

What happens when someone attempts to vote and is prevented by election officials, or their mail-in ballot is rejected?

The decision must be judged based on this standard: Does this person have the right to be heard? If the voter is eligible to vote in that election, if they are a citizen, they are over 18, and a resident of the district, they have the right to have their voice heard. You must let them vote and count their vote.

Anything else would be morally wrong.

Applying the “Right to be Heard” Standard

Just yesterday, a judge in Wisconsin ruled against American citizens’ right to be heard.

To vote by mail in Wisconsin, you must have a witness sign your ballot and write in their street address. The League of Women Voters sued to make election officials count ballots with partial witness addresses, if the information present was sufficient to determine the identity of the witness. This morning, a Dane County Judge rejected the League’s request for an injunction, saying that loosening the requirements would “would upend the status quo and not preserve it” and also “frustrate the electoral process by causing confusion.”

Apparently, as many as 7% of mail in ballots have incomplete witness address information. We’re talking about American citizen voters whose ballots might be missing, say, the street number for the witness. There is no question as to whether the voter is eligible to vote in this election. There is no question as to the identity of the voter. There isn’t even an actual question about the identity of the witness.

This judge chose to deny these American citizens, as many as 7% of those casting mail in ballots, their right to be heard: their right to have their vote counted. This judge, in essence, robbed these American citizens of their most fundamental freedom: their right to have a voice in the choosing of the government under which they will have to live.

In doing so to enough eligible voters to potentially change the outcome of an election, this judge also robbed the entire body of eligible voters of its voice, its right to have the election faithfully represent the will of the voters, and the freedom it gets from living under a government of its own choosing.


Thank you for reading Reframing America! This is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts by email please consider becoming a subscriber. All content is free, but some people choose to become paying subscribers to support this mission!


NYTimes: This Threat to Democracy Is Hiding in Plain Sight, Sept 23. 2022


The Purity War

Creating Chaos

Republicans have been recruiting activists to become poll watchers, election workers and election officials across America. They are putting their people in place to challenge every possible vote.

They are planning to make a HUGE mess, and then argue that the only way to clean it up is to throw out every vote that has even the slightest hint of non-conformity. For example, in the NYTimes video above, they talk about poll watchers challenging votes because someone “looks like an immigrant.”

Republicans say that they are against “fraud” and that stopping even one fraudulent vote is worth making it a lot harder for everyone to vote. They talk about things like the “purity” and the “sanctity” of elections. Of course, the “purity” frame has very nasty connotations about who should or shouldn’t be eligible to vote, as with the virulently racist “replacement theory.”

Even without the racist dog-whistles, there is huge problem with “purity” being the criteria for legitimate elections. If you block 99 out of 100 people from voting, that remining vote might be pure as the driven snow, but that doesn’t make it a legitimate election.

Weaponizing Technicalities

If people are determined to subvert democracy and defy the will of the voters, they can use the letter of the law to violate the intent of the law.

We are expecting rampant voter suppression: frivolous challenges to voters and ballots and excessive enforcement of minor regulations. These will be based on a patchwork of election laws, many of which are new and designed for this very purpose.

Just recently in Arizona, a voting rights initiative signed by more than 500,000 voters was blocked from being put on the ballot. More than 250,000 signatures were disqualified over irrelevant technicalities by Republican-appointed judges. Were mistakes made? Yes. Does that justify a massive violation of the clearly expressed will of the voters? No.

The rash of new and overly restrictive voting laws and regulations will make it difficult to rely solely on the courts to remedy this problem.



The Court of Public Opinion

He Said, She Said

The right-wing attack machine has spent two years insisting that we’re encouraging fraud and stealing elections. We’ve spent two years trying to say it isn’t true. What happens when we’re the ones who have to argue that elections are being stolen? We’re heading into the mother of all ‘He Said, She Said” debates.

Just talking about what they’re doing wrong or assailing their motives isn’t going to work. The attack machine will continue to use their “firehose of falsehoods” in their ongoing campaign to destroy faith in elections and in democracy. We know from experience that fighting every claim individually is a recipe for failure.

Restoring Confidence with Clarity

We need to restore order to the chaos. We need to set clear and universal terms by which people will judge election disputes in the court of public opinion, terms that will appeal to people across the political spectrum. We need to override the case for what might be technically right with the case for what’s morally right.

Our message is morally powerful: the freedom of American citizens depends on their right to be heard, with “being heard” meaning “getting to vote and having your vote counted.” Wherever a vote is challenged, we must rule in favor of the voters’ right to be heard.

Leaders, election officials and judges could restore confidence in the election process as a whole by using this simple criteria as their guide across the board, knowing that the public will understand their choices and judge them as morally right. After all, they will be ruling on the side of freedom.



Citizens have the right to be heard.

Talking Points

The power of the Citizens’ Right to be Heard narrative depends on our making sure people understand the relationship between voting and freedom. We have to state and repeat the fact that voting is what makes us free.

I talk more about the connection between voting, the will of the people, and freedom in my previous issue, Reframing the Threat to Democracy.

This is about self-government. What makes America a free country is our right to live under the government that we choose. We have elections to determine the will of all of the people, the will of the entire body of eligible voters, in choosing that government. That’s why every citizen must have equal access to vote and why we have to count every vote.

In all election disputes, nothing matters more than this: What will make this election more faithfully represent the will of the people?


How does that apply to the wave of challenges we are about to face? What happens when someone attempts to vote and is prevented by election officials, or their mail-in ballot is rejected?

The right of American citizens to have an equal say in choosing their representation is essential to their being a free person. Taking away that voice is taking away their freedom.

A person is not free if they have to live under a government they did not have a voice in choosing and obey laws that they did not have a voice in making.

In decisions about whether a person should be allowed to vote, or whether their ballot should be counted, there is only one standard that matters: Does this person have the right to be heard?


What determines whether someone has the right to vote in that particular election?

It’s about eligibility. Are they a citizen? Are they 18 or older? Are they a resident of the district? If yes, they have the right to have their voice heard. Anything else would be morally wrong.


What are some important strategic points we need to make?

These are American citizens whose right we are fighting for.

There’s a BIG difference between not being eligible, and being eligible but not making it over all the bureaucratic hurdles.

If the person is actually eligible to vote, it’s not fraud, it’s a paperwork error. Errors can be fixed.

We must take every possible step to remedy these errors, because losing their vote means losing their freedom.


We could use a little audacity.

How would you feel if you went to vote on election day and didn’t realize that your drivers’ license had expired? Does not having a current drivers’ license mean that you are no longer a citizen?

Is forgetting to sign your mail in ballot a crime worthy of depriving an American citizen of their freedom? No.

Depriving someone of their vote is like stripping them of their citizenship rights!

It would be morally reprehensible to violate the most fundamental freedom of an American citizen because the post office took too many days to deliver their ballot or they only had a college ID.

Republicans capture the attention of the public debate by turning everything into a dramatic case of moral injustice. We could use to lean harder into the moral angle, even if it pushes us a little out of our comfort zone.



The Bottom Line

They intend to sow chaos so they can argue for throwing out millions of votes by eligible voters. We have to start now to push our message of what is right. Every single one of us has to promote this narrative of “protecting American citizens’ right to be heard.”

We might have to fight the legal battles individually, but we know that in the public debate, fighting the lies and attacks individually doesn’t work. We have to have a simple and consistent message. That’s the only way it will get through.

If we can generate enough public support for “citizens’ right to be heard,” we can make the case for applying that standard across the board as a means of restoring public faith in our elections.


Thanks, as always, for reading! I hope you are able to use this in your work and your activism!

I look forward to your feedback and ideas.

Warmest Regards,

Antonia

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Blueprint for a Better Party

I originally developed this Blueprint for a Better Party working with the leadership of the state Democratic Party of Arizona, for deployment in early 2019 through the 2020 elections.

It is a set of recommendations for a strategic improvement process to build capacity, improve services to candidates, develop leadership at all levels, increase volunteer participation, develop year round community presence and voter engagement, and improve the party brand both internally and externally.

These recommendations were based on more than 120 individual interviews and feedback from hundreds of party stakeholders including staff, leadership and volunteers at all levels, professionals, community activists and representatives of allied organizations.

Property of Antonia Scatton and UpRise Campaigns.



Introduction

The purpose of this project is to significantly increase the effectiveness and capacity of your State Party Committee in the building year and into the next election cycle, by tapping into the skills, knowledge and relationships of your volunteers, activists, allies and other community leaders.

The project will involve

  1. Identifying the stakeholders: a broader range of people in the community who have a stake in the success of the Party and whose work, professional and/or volunteer, contributes in some way.
  2. Identifying what people want and need from the Party.
  3. Organizing groups to work on specific areas of improvement.
  4. Throwing out preconceived limits and imagining what we could do.
  5. Collecting existing information – no reinventing wheels.
  6. Developing ambitious plans for new programs.
  7. Writing quality proposals and seeking funding for new programs.
  8. Making a collective commitment to follow through.

The “project team” refers to the dedicated person or persons either assigned by or hired by the state party leadership to shepherd this project.



Needs Assessment

Stakeholder Inventory

The project team will work with the state party and others to identify stakeholders across the broader allied community including elected officials, candidates and party leadership at the state, county, regional and local levels, political donors and professionals, precinct committee members and volunteers. The project team will also reach out to activists and leaders of allied issue, identity and community organizations, and will build a contact database of these stakeholders.

Stakeholder Outreach

The project team will conduct surveys and organize both one-on-one interviews and focus group sessions to gather feedback and assess what people want and need from the party. During this process, the project team will identify and recommend people to participate in the next phase of this project and otherwise volunteer their skills, experience, local knowledge and relationships. This stakeholder identification and outreach should become an ongoing part of Party operations.

Bringing people in from the broader community will be critical. This is a huge undertaking. The more people to share the workload, the more we can achieve. We need the contribution of everyone’s skills and professional experience. The project will need buy-in from the whole community if we’re going to succeed in implementing these major changes. We will also be living up to our values of inclusiveness and democratic engagement.



Working Groups

The project team will work with the state chair and party leadership to organize willing participants into working groups. The following areas of improvement have emerged from stakeholder discussions so far. Others may be identified as stakeholder interviews continue.

  1. Year-round voter and community relations
  2. Candidate recruiting, development and campaign services
  3. Precinct committee member recruitment, development and support
  4. County and local leadership development and support
  5. Communications, party branding and content (separate from policy/issue questions)
  6. Volunteer relationship management and engagement
  7. Creating permanent local office and community centers

See Exhibit A below for a preliminary description of the scope of each working group.

Working groups will operate under the authority and leadership of corresponding state party standing or ad hoc committees. New ad hoc committees may need to be created. Each working group should have at least one member of the state executive committee or executive board serving as a coordinator and representing the working group to the full state party leadership.

Each group will meet regularly and carry out a clearly defined process to:

  1. Define their mission. If necessary, break into subgroups with narrower missions. Describe what success looks like.
  2. Gather and review all existing information. (No reinventing wheels.) Get input from the community. Consult expert advice.
  3. Make decisions. Define improvements. Set qualitative and quantitative goals. Determine what new programs are needed.
  4. Write program funding proposals including staff, infrastructure and resource needs and accountability measures.

Skilled Support Teams

The project team will work with the volunteer community to identify people with skills relevant to this process and build teams who will provide “staff” support the working groups. These will include people with professional or other expertise in business operations, project management, human resources, grant writing, research, event planning and business analytics.

Note: In early 2019, before we even announced the program, we had four professional project managers and fifteen professionals in writing/advertising/marketing fields volunteer to provide free staff support for the working group efforts.



Strategic Plan Development and Funding

The state chair will appoint a special task force to compile and prioritize these proposals into a strategic plan for the state party for building capacity for the next election cycle and beyond. This task force may also choose to use the output of the working groups to develop longer-term strategic plans.

This may seem ambitious but there are several reasons to believe that significant increases in funding are achievable.

First, these proposals should have the level of detail and accountability usually seen only in proposals for federal government or major foundation grants. This will provide potential donors with greater confidence that funding will be effectively utilized.

Second, both the level of ambition and the unique process of development should provide ample opportunity for positive media coverage which will draw attention from small and large donors alike.

NOTE: Donors may be motivated to fund longer-term or off-season projects with high rates of return on investment, like the type of long-term organizing that showed postive results in Arizona and Georgia.



Implementation

The project team will facilitate the completion of the working groups and the transition to, and management of new implementation teams. The number and composition of these teams will depend on the output of the planning process. We expect to build dozens of teams, each with fewer members, more narrowly defined tasks and a longer term, possibly open ended, mandate.

Some operational improvements can be adopted by existing party staff. Some improvements and new programs could be managed by skilled volunteer teams and/or skilled volunteers acting as full or part-time uncompensated staff.

Other new programs will be dependent on the acquisition of funding for new staff positions or other needed resources. The project team, with the help of volunteer support staff, will assist with generating presentations to solicit support from potential funders and promote new programs to stakeholders from the local to the national level.

Working closely with state party leadership and staff, the project team will assist with defining new staff needs and potential roles. We expect that most new staff positions will be managing the work of large teams of skilled volunteers. The project team will work to leverage every new position, whether paid or unpaid, into exponential increases in volunteer labor across all areas of our workload.

The project team will also assist in the development of new training programs needed for effective adoption of new programs and activities.

The project team will also work to assess and define technology needs to support all new and existing operations, evaluate off the shelf options and potential customization requirements, and make recommendations for new technology acquisition and/or development.

For all programs, the project team will establish best practices for continuous improvement: processes for meaningful measurement, feedback gathering, analysis and ongoing adjustment.



Building Institutional Trust

A new ombudsperson role will be created to facilitate ongoing feedback procedures, hear issues and intermediate between stakeholders and volunteers and the state party.

The ombudsperson will also take responsibility for helping the party at all levels live up to a code of behavior designed to build trust in the party as an institution and encourage greater commitment by outside individuals and groups.

The following code was derived from the feedback of hundreds of dedicated party staff, state and local leaders and volunteers across the state and across the country.

The Better Party Pledge

We will:

  1. Practice our values internally and externally.
  2. Listen, communicate regularly and keep you informed.
  3. Build real relationships, not just get what we need​.​
  4. Increase local decision making and reduce top-down rigidity.
  5. Build procedures for feedback and improvement into everything we do.
  6. Measure what really matters, not just what is easy to count.
  7. ​Be transparent about decision making, roles and responsibilities.
  8. Be held accountable for getting our jobs done.
  9. Give you the information and tools you need to effectively do your job.​
  10. Allocate resources in a way that reflects the right priorities.
  11. Invest in our people (“human capital”) whether they are current or potential candidates, staffers or volunteers.
  12. Pro-actively increase diversity and inclusion.
  13. Build trust by being honest and following through on our promises.


Campaign Season

Once the campaign season kicks into high gear, change will necessarily slow down in favor of scaling up the programs we have put into place. For this reason, we should do our best to build all the infrastructure we can in advance and leave nothing to the campaign season except that which cannot be done in advance.

We firmly believe that the best outcome for all candidates necessitates activating every single volunteer and stakeholder to the best of their ability, in every district across the state.

The role of the project team during the election cycle could be to facilitate the intake, assessment and placement of volunteers, either with individual candidates or with independent volunteer teams organized around particular skills (like graphic design) or activities (like postcard writing) that serve to support multiple candidates.

For more information, contact Antonia Scatton



Exhibit A

Year-round voter and community relations

How could we develop deeper relationships with voters across the state and across a wide range of communities between election cycles, especially underrepresented and low turnout communities? How could we generate positive word-of-mouth by giving people more opportunities to personally interact with the party and making that interaction a positive and memorable experience? How could we improve relations with our community organization partners and collaborate in mutually beneficial ways?

Candidate recruiting, development and services

How could we build a diverse bench of talented future candidates, campaign managers and staffers? What information do people need about running and about their communities? How could we help develop their skills? What kind of support do they need from us before and during their campaigns and after they have been elected?

Precinct committee member recruitment, development and support

What is the role of the precinct committee member (PC) a.k.a. precinct captain, in community organizing? Supporting the party? How could we communicate that to potential PCs? How could we help them develop their skills? What additional training and resources could the party provide PCs to help them do their jobs? Might we need to expand the definition of PC to include a wider diversity of volunteer roles, including the many described in this document?

County and local leadership development

How could we clearly define the roles and responsibilities of county and local committee leadership and the relationships between them and the state party? How could we identify and share best practices? How could we best support county and local leadership in their efforts to improve? What training and resources could we provide? Should we build cross-committee teams around areas of expertise?

Communications and content

Independently of our platform/positions on issues, how could we develop a brand identity for the party that is culturally appealing to voters and allows our candidates and supporters to represent us with pride? How could we best articulate the common value system that underlies and connects our policy positions? How could we develop emotionally impactful language and content that illustrates those values and then distribute it through all available channels: owned, earned, paid and social media? How could we train our candidates and other spokespersons to communicate effectively? How could we enable every party supporter to distribute that language and content to others?

Volunteer management and engagement

How could we engage every volunteer as an individual and find the most productive and rewarding way for them to participate? How could we maximize the value of the 60% of volunteers who prefer not to engage in “direct sales” type activities like canvassing or calling voters, especially those with relevant professional skills? How would we build an infrastructure to leverage thousands of hours of skilled labor with a small paid staff? How could we build and sustain volunteer communities between elections? How could we better provide a sense of achievement and the social rewards that incentivize volunteers to get and stay engaged?

Creating permanent local office and community centers

Having local offices open year-round would support local committees and keep volunteer communities together in between campaigns. It would give the party a physical presence in our neighborhoods so new people can find and join us. A year-round community presence would also help dispel the recurring complaints that we “only come around when we want something.”

We need to investigate the possibility of a better model than the current one of limited, temporary office space completely dependent on donations. We have volunteers with business experience who could help us create multi-purpose community centers. We could theoretically combine elements of campaign and local committee offices, coffee shops, co-working spaces for allied organizations and individuals and even party gift shops. It might even be possible for a multi-use center like this to operate at some level of financial self-sufficiency.

Learning from Lakoff

In 2011, I spent a semester at Berkeley studying cognitive linguistics with Professor Lakoff whose work I have admired since I read Moral politics in 1996. I was so convinced of the importance of his work that I returned in 2015 to spend a year working directly with George to develop a training program to help people put his work into practice. I am only now finishing this project, and the end result is the LeftWords training program you can learn more about here!

Quintessential George Lakoff at the Berkeley coffee shop. (BAP photos)

I had the privilege of working with the brilliant and delightful Professor George Lakoff at University of California, Berkeley. I went to study framing. I learned far more than I ever imagined about how our minds actually work.

These discoveries in cognitive science elevate Lakoff’s work on political framing from “good advice” to “critical truths we ignore at our own peril”. We have to understand the foundation of our competing moral systems if we are to succeed in reaching people and overturning the Right’s dominance over our public debate. Continue reading