Backyard Talk

It’s The Ground Game That Matters In Politics & Policy

The election is over and the analysis is being done. What worked, what didn’t and how can we learn from this experience? One strategy that everyone agrees worked was President Obama’s ground game; it made a difference.

On election night Donna Brazile a democratic advisor/strategist said that when the Obama campaign staff said they were going to re-energize their base and expand it she didn’t think expanding was necessary. She went on to say that she was wrong. Expanding the base was the right move.

Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what the environmental health and justice movement must do—energize and expand our base. The on-going top down strategy is not working we are not winning. For years the focus and majority of our resources have been placed in the Washington, D.C. environmental efforts rather than building the base . . . and it’s not working. The Climate Change legislation and energy issues, for example failed miserably.

Our movement needs a stronger ground game. We need to take the lessons learn from this past election and begin to build at the base in communities—not for a short term victory but to last over time with a continued effort toward growth. To accomplish this we need to shift resources to create a more balanced approach to change, investing in community groups as well as large D.C. environmental organizations.

Many believed that because of Citizen United that big money will dictate outcomes of issues and/or elections and community organizing is no longer critical to winning. They believe purchasing a full page ads, getting our messages right, investing in lawyers, scientists and so on is the way to win. Again Obama’s campaign demonstrated that all of that ads, message and so on is important but only when directly coupled to an organized, connected and strategic base of community organizations.

The Obama campaign is not the only example of where the ground game mattered. If you look at New York State and the issue around hydro fracturing you’ll see that the governor wanted to move fracking forward. However, due to a massive organizing at the base across the state fracking has been stopped at least temporarily. There were scientists, lawyers and lobbyists involved in that struggle as well, but it was the people at the streets that tipped the scale and forced the governor to rethink his position.

Today we have confirmation of what needs to happen for our issues to move forward—a strong ground game and shifting ample resources to sustain that effort. Large donors and foundations need to rethink their giving decisions and invest more dollars in the base. We need that base to work smarter not harder to energize and expand the reach, goals and breathe of people.

Hurricane Sandy was our most recent wake up call to the enormity of our problems. We can’t afford to move slowly. Today is the day, now is the time for everyone to think about how you can help to build, strengthen, and connect the grassroots efforts for change.