A warning to those living in open and privileged societies and working in well-funded top-down advocacy institutions: This book may cause intense feelings of inadequacy and a burning desire to innovate.
Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything
Becky Bond and Zack Exley
November 18, 2016
Chelsea Green Publishing
Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything is an inside look at the massive volunteer-driven campaign supporting Bernie Sanders’ run for U.S. president. Becky Bond and Zack Exley, key Sanders campaign strategists, draw on their experience creating a “Big Organizing” machine that leveraged supporter enthusiasm and put volunteers in leadership roles along the way to making seventy-five million calls, sending eight million text messages and winning caucuses and primaries across the country.
Though Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton, Big Organizing demonstrated how supporter-driven campaigning can operate at a scale never seen before in the U.S. and perhaps the world.
Rather than a self-flattering “I was there” account, the book is intended as a practical work that transmits a unique and innovative set of 21st century campaign techniques to progressive strategists. Thanks to Bond and Exley’s candid style, this under-the-hood look at a fascinating instance of mass organizing is anything but dry. A straightforward and laid-back writing style builds intimacy with the reader. At times, one feels as though Becky and Zack had leant us their campaign journal or were coaching us privately on the ins and outs of their method.
A recipe for Big Organizing
Putting aside the candidate himself and inside politics, the focus here is the Big Organizing model, which is presented as the secret behind the rapid and surprising scaling of the Sanders campaign. In unbranded terms, Big Organizing is a distributed organizing model supercharged by the rare concentration of resources and energy that the U.S. electoral process brings together. The core innovation, and departure from traditional staff-driven campaigning, is to confer greater levels of power and agency to self-starting volunteers This opening to grassroots power liberates significant energy that can be channeled towards central objectives.
As it turned out, people were just waiting to be asked to do something big to win something big.
–Becky Bond and Zack Exley
As we read through the 22 rules that present the dos and don’ts of Big Organizing, Bond and Exley keep coming back to a handful of key principles. Foremost among them is the exhortation to trust and value volunteers at the same level of staff, allowing for the creation of a “peer to peer” culture throughout the organizing structure. This dispersal of trust and agency necessarily involves sacrifice for those used to a command and control model and the authors advise campaigners to allow for some messiness and imperfection as a price to pay for rapid growth and overall impact.
Despite the peer-to-peer collaboration and self-organization at the heart of the model, Big Organizing is not meant to be a free for all. However distributed, a central plan anchors the operation, according to the authors. This plan, as devised and refined by Bond and Exley, involved a concrete set of predetermined actions, performance targets and milestones, all of which are transmitted to supporters through constant communication.
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