The following is a transcript of the video above, from our webinar on “Remaking the Economy: Finding the Levers for System Change.” View the full webinar here.
Sendolo Diaminah: We come from different organizing traditions, but when you combine them all, we have experience with workplace or labor organizing, experience with community organizing, and experience with electoral organizing. And each of those has powerful strengths, right?
By and large, we’ve seen in the labor and workplace organizing that there is powerful systematic organizing, where you’ve got to get to a majority. You either get there or you don’t, right? The people who have the power are the people who are directly impacted in that system. It doesn’t matter what the organizer thinks or believes or wants. The workers vote on the contract. The workers vote on whether or not they want a union.
There’s really powerful experience that comes out of that. And there are limitations: how do you translate that to places outside of the workplace?
Sign up for our free newsletters
Subscribe to NPQ's newsletters to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.
So many of those who want to concentrate wealth upwards have made the workplace an increasingly difficult place to confront inequality, right? So, there are limitations that we saw with workplace organizing.
With our community organizing, my experience—and that of a lot of folks in my network—hit a limit in terms of our scale. We could go real deep, develop people with profound analysis, build strong relationships with each other—and, ultimately, you’ve got an active membership of 50 to 100 people. And we know we’re not remaking the economy with that many folks, right?
We know there are these strengths of depth and leadership development and relationship building, but we weren’t hitting scale, which of course is something that electoral work puts a lot of focus on. We got to talk to large numbers of people and—similar to labor work—either you win or you don’t. It’s real clear. In community stuff, we can say, “Let’s reframe the win.” No. Did you win the election or did you not?
So, there’s a wonderful scale to electoral work. But then there are also, as many folks know, the limitations around time and cycles. Electoral cycles often don’t give us the space to do that deep relational work. There are all kinds of contradictions like—well, here are the swing voters—and often what that means is focusing on folks who don’t have a commitment to racial justice, to economic transformation. So you are trying to win over persuadables. In the electoral arena, we often don’t talk about Black and Brown folks and working-class people as people who need to be persuaded to vote, based on their self-interest. There are limitations there.
The reason that the Carolina Federation brings together base-building work with electoral work is we’re trying to bring the best of those different traditions together. Not an easy thing. It’s tricky. But we are trying to bring the best of those things together. Because we think that we need the systematic, the relational, and the scale for our people to wield the power that they need to address things, at the scale of the economy.