The Organizing Gap
Oct 14, 2010 Clay Johnson

There’s a giant organizing gap between politicos and the rest of the world.

Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t know it yet, but he’s obsessed with labor unions. He ought to go spend a week with the AFL-CIO’s Organizing Institute or the more modern, well, New Organizing Institute. When ‘Zuck talks about the “biggest problem in social networking”, his solution is to create Facebook Groups. But what he’s really trying to do is get people better organized. And there’s nobody that’s studied the science of organizing more than organized labor.

Yeah, I know— talking to a bunch of people on the Internet about Labor Unions is about as hip and cool as talking about your love for Glee in a sports bar. But there’s one thing that organized labor really has down— a secret sauce that separates them from the rest — and that’s organizing. After years of selling software for Blue State Digital, I’ve watched people try so hard to boil organizing down to some kind of neat software. People think that if they just buy the software that Barack Obama used, they’ll be able to win the next campaign. But it’s not the case: organizing is a skill that thus far software can only enhance, not replicate.

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Where it gets to be a problem is that organizing isn’t a skill many know or respect, but having been around many organizers here in Washington, DC I struggle to think of a more valuable leadership skill than that. It’s a shame that it’s taught mainly in the realm of politics— it ought to be a skill taught to high schoolers— a graduation requirement alongside critical thinking, reading and math skills. Washington, DC may be the organizing capitol of the United States, but it doesn’t seem to spread far beyond politics.

It’s time to start bridging that organizing gap between politics and government. Organizing is key to blurring the line between citizens and their government. While Gov2.0 at the federal level is happening, it’s still mainly about procurement and apps contests. In the meantime, our neighborhood civic associations lie in wait, filled with an aging and remarkably unwired and unconnected population.

Rebooting the civic association is the missing link between the realm of political organizing and this new SeeClickFix era. We should have block captains not just for get out the vote efforts but for getting the most out of our civil society. An active modernization of government lies in the heart of your neighborhood civic association— they’re the county party without the politics.

To close the organizing gap, first, organizing tools like Facebook, Twitter and Blue State must automatically connect us with people in our neighborhoods. Zuck, in his announcement of Facebook Groups awhile back, wasn’t too interested in creating an algorithm to create groups, but what about a simple one to introduce me to my neighbors?

Those who do possess digital organizing skill can then start rebooting not only neighborhood-level civic associations but also creating block-level civic associations. An organizing infrastructure for the seeclickfixers gets built.

Second, political organizers must move beyond the two year election cycle. They must move beyond the typical pattern of spending odd numbered years in Washington and even numbered ones in swing states, and towards building better government rather than electing new politicians.

Third, we’ve got to start treating the skill of organizing as a skill. It’s something to be studied, learned and taught beyond the scope of activism and politics. Still, the best way to learn it is to volunteer for a campaign in your area, and read some books on getting folks elected.

Information Diet © 2011 Clay Johnson