Radical book club examines how to organize for power successfully.
The first time I raised the idea of Righties learning from Lefties, a lot of people greeted it with derision. Plenty still do. That’s a terrible attitude, one that Righties need to overcome if we want to win.
Some Righties argue that we don’t need to learn from Lefties, because Righties are just better. You’ve heard it, I’m sure: “Lefties are weak, Lefties are cowardly, Lefties are afraid of work.” But absolutely none of that is true. Lefties are tough. Lefties are brave. Lefties are smart. Lefties are the hardest workers you’ll ever see.
Part of the issue here is cultural. Some of the ways Lefties get and use power are very culturally offensive to Righties. It’s hard to intellectually appreciate a difference in values when every fiber of your being is telling you that the other person is just being an asshole. And it’s hard to see the mechanics at work, because the press talks about Lefty movements and moments as if they magically just happen.
But other parts of this attitude go back to high school civics class. Political movements are part of civics, too, but schoolbooks don’t talk about how they actually work. In high school civics we talk about bills, and we talk about laws, and we talk about the three branches of government, but we don’t ever talk about power. We talk about Rosa Parks, but not the Highlander Folk School; we talk about Martin Luther King, Jr., but not Ella Baker. Which means that we don’t address huge parts of how the world actually gets changed.
The legendary biographer Robert Caro mentioned once that he had heard college professors talk very convincingly about how the paths for freeways in New York City were chosen. The professors listed variables, and considerations, and trade-offs, and they talked very knowledgeably and nothing they said was worth a damn because the paths for freeways in New York City were chosen for one reason and one reason only: a freeway was where it was because Robert Moses wanted to build the freeway there. Considerations meant nothing next to power.
That’s what movements are about: gaining power. Movements don’t just happen. And they’re not the product of orders from on high, or rent-a-protestors paid out of somebody’s checkbook. They’re the product of a lot of people doing a lot of hard work over a very long time.
Righties don’t want to believe that. Thus, the same old horseshit: “oh it’s all George Soros.” “Oh we don’t get turnout for protests because we all have jobs.” “Oh we’d win a Second Civil War in five minutes anyway because the Lefties are wusses and we’ve got all the guns.”
It can’t possibly be that there’s work we need to do, work that we’ve been neglecting because we don’t understand how it works and we’re lazy. That’s unthinkable.
Well, think it. Because it’s true.
Some Righties talk about the idea of a post-political world — the idea that a system with less citizen input, on the continuum from Singapore to monarchy or neocameralism — would be more stable. But in a world without elections, there would still be shifts in power. It’s just that the mechanisms by which power shifts wouldn’t have occasional moments of relative transparency. And those circumstances, I hate to tell you, favor the Left: look at how often the Right wins elections but doesn’t get what it wants, while the Left doesn’t win as many elections and gets what it wants anyway. Leftist organizers are some of the most important political figures in the country. I didn’t vote for them, did you?
I don’t know about you, but I like getting what I want, and I like the idea of having as much power to get it in as many ways as possible. I like the idea of having power to keep my politicians honest, power to exercise directly in my world, and power that can be used directly to make my country, the world, and people’s lives better.
And let me be frank about where I’m coming from politically. I’m not coming at this from a hard righty perspective here. I’m not even a fringe type, not a reactionary or an ancap or anything. I’m a normie, and this is me screaming at normies that we have to get up off our asses. Listen up, normies: if we don’t organize for power, other people will.
The good news is: there are a lot of us.
So let’s organize for power. Here are some brief thoughts about how to get it.
Briefly put, the organized Left has power because it has lots of organized groups that
- employ different approaches
- communicate, negotiate, and cooperate
- serve their side’s goals
- show value
- provide service to their community
The Right has groups focused on electoral power and getting out the vote, mainly.
This divergence has led us to the position we’re in: the Lefties are better at winning the culture, the Righties are better at winning elections, and neither political party is what you’d call responsive to its base.
The bases on Left and Right have had different approaches to this situation. On the Left, the base is focused less on pure electoral power than on capturing Institutions and pressuring for power directly. This has actually worked out quite well for them, and provides a foundation from which to press for electoral power. On the Right, the base is focused on evangelism: saying, repeatedly and without means for enforcement, what it believes people should do. This approach has worked out much less well. Righty action is mostly devoted to electioneering, meaning that a Righty base that wants change gets no practice in the mechanics of obtaining it, unless they serve on campaigns which are by definition mostly run by establishment types. This suits the Righty establishment just fine.
The only area where grassroots Righties have had actual measurable success in the last couple of decades is gun rights. And there’s a reason for that: literally everything about guns mandates local activism and involvement. State and local firearm laws vary, so you have to know what’s lawful where you live. And unless you have a lot of acreage and are willing to put in the necessary work to build your own range, you need to go someplace to do your shooting, which means a gun club or a range. Which means you’ll be encountering, on a regular basis, people like you who share your self-interest when it comes to your ownership of firearms. You can’t buy guns on Amazon dot com, meaning that you have to go to a gun store or a gun show, which offers chances to meet people. And at a gun show somebody’s probably tabling for something political, or selling books you won’t find in your local Barnes & Noble, or… you know the drill. Guns are onramps to activism. That’s why gun nuts do so well.
Righties need more onramps.
The dichotomy between Lefty and Righty approaches persists on college campuses. Lefty students are trained to build capacity and power. Righty students are trained to listen to speakers (evangelism) or run a campus newspaper (evangelism). So we’re pretty good at talking, but not at actually accomplishing anything.
So let’s be something more than evangelists. Calling for personal transformation is inefficient without mechanisms that back it up with pressure.
Mechanisms aren’t as fun as just telling people what to do, I know. Everybody wants to be Malcolm X, nobody wants to be Third Brother From The Left X who stuffs envelopes in the mosque’s basement for ten hours. But we need Third Brother From The Left X. And we need somebody to tell him what to do, and somebody to buy the envelopes, and somebody to run the mailing list.
That’s the stuff I’m going to focus on here: making a place for Third Brother From The Left X, and how we do it.
I’m not claiming to be a leader of anything here, and I’m certainly not an expert. I’m just the guy who’s saying, “This is the workshop; the tools are over there.” Even if I were an expert, it wouldn’t do us much good: we don’t need An Organizer. We need tons of organizers. And lots of organizations.
So that’s step one: creating lots of organizations.
I don’t mean social clubs, either. Righties love to make social clubs: get together, hear a speaker, bitch about liberals, punch and pie. Well, screw punch and pie; we need to create effective organizations that have, as their focus, actually doing stuff.
The first thing I’m going to recommend is a decentralized approach I’ve been talking about occasionally for a while. It’s called Five Righties, based on the affinity group structure. Basically, put yourself together with a group of (ideally, but not necessarily) four other Righties you know well who share your politics. Give your group a goofy name. Boom: Five Righties. We’re not doing anything fancy here; these are the principles (cheerfully ripped off in part from Food Not Bombs):
- Five Righties is about people, not money; about making positive rightward change, not making a buck.
- Five Righties has no formal leaders or headquarters. It’s a tactic, not a movement. Every group is autonomous and makes its own decisions.
- Five Righties is dedicated to nonviolent direct action and works for nonviolent social change. It is not a home for garbage people. If that doesn’t work for you, go somewhere else.
Again, it’s okay if you’re not actually five righties — maybe you start off with two or three or four people. Getting together is the important thing. Once you’ve got your group together, go do stuff. Simple stuff, to start. Leaflets and fliers promoting a simple, broadly appealing Righty message. I’m tired of going to coffeeshops and Ys and bakeries and looking at a bulletin board and seeing a bunch of fliers about Lefty things and no Righty ones. If you want to do more for visibility, pull some fun, silly stunts that don’t do any harm but draw attention to your message.
Do research on your town — since there are a bunch of you, divide up the work. Remember when you were a kid and wrote out your whole address: The Universe, The Solar System, Earth, America, State, and like that? Do that, but for the politicians who rule you. And their donors. And their allies. And their enemies. Learn who the movers and shakers are in your town. Same thing with your local press: who are the owners, publishers, editors, reporters? What are their interests, beats, vulnerabilities? Get contact information for all of them.
The most basic pressure tactic is just being a force multiplier: when you call your politicians, there’s five of you, so now instead of one call you’re making five. As you get more practice, and make more friends, you can build up lots of people to call your politicians.
Learn what other groups exist in your town: churches, clubs, business associations, that kind of thing. Go make friends. Get these friends doing stuff too, making their own groups. That’s how Lefties get numbers: they don’t have one group that tries to turn people out; they get a whole bunch of groups turning people out. The more groups you get, and the more people those groups have, the more visible your numbers are when it comes time for protests and actions.
- Jonathan Smucker, HEGEMONY HOW-TO
- LA Kauffman, DIRECT ACTION
- Becky Bond and Zack Exley, RULES FOR REVOLUTIONARIES: HOW BIG ORGANIZING CAN CHANGE EVERYTHING (just skim this one)
- Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald Mitchell, BEAUTIFUL TROUBLE
- Saul Alinsky, RULES FOR RADICALS (again, just skim this one)
- Jane McAlevey, NO SHORTCUTS: ORGANIZING FOR POWER IN THE NEW GILDED AGE
- Eric Mann, PLAYBOOK FOR PROGRESSIVES: 16 QUALITIES OF THE SUCCESSFUL ORGANIZER
- Lee Staples, ROOTS TO POWER
Not covered in detail in the radical book club columns, but mentioned in them, two bonus books:
And don’t stop there. Read other books, too: how-to manuals, activist memoirs. If you’re interested in interesting stunts the way the Lefties do them, one book that’s worth your attention is RECIPES FOR DISASTER: AN ANARCHIST COOKBOOK, by the Crimethinc collective. Your Lefty friend may have an old copy from their radical phase, or you can find them on Amazon or for cash at your local anarchist bookshop/bookfair. Remember that laughably fake “antifa manual” that went around Righty social media? Well, this is the real thing, or one of ’em, anyway. Lots of interesting stuff, some of it illuminating and some of it stupid.
Get your Five Righties group together to discuss your readings. Try some of the stuff you read about. See what works. See what fails. Identify things that you can do, plan them out, and do them. You’ll fail. Really a lot. You’ll feel stupid and ineffective at times. But that’s the learning process. Write up after-action reports to document your learning.
If you make a Five Righties group and feel like letting me know about it, do me a favor and fill out the form at fiverighties dot org. If you’re extremely paranoid, you can use a fake name, a new email, a burner phone if you want, I really don’t care. As I said, I’m not a leader; at most there’ll be an occasional newsletter or something. But this way we can trade ideas and notes.
The second kind of group we need a bunch of is the centralized group: basically, building organizations ala Lee Staples’s recommendations in ROOTS TO POWER. The key, again, is to make these localized groups. Local people, local projects, local campaigns. Because local power is how you get bigger power. You may have some Righty local groups in your town already; look them up and see what’s available to you to join.
What are some examples of the kinds of groups of this sort you might create? Well, we’ve been seeing a lot of problems on college campuses lately, right? You can organize groups from like-minded people in your alumni network, and grow them, and use them to put pressure on your university — I’ll give you a very specific example of how to build something like that at the end. If you live near a campus, you can put a group of people together to offer support and help to student groups, so they can better put pressure on their university. There’s no reason Lefties should be the only ones doing mainstream hardcore like disrupting invited speakers (Righties doing it should chant “THIS IS WHAT YOU DO TO US,” making the payback aspect explicit, as well as making your demand obvious.)
You could start a locally-focused newspaper or blog. Local news is falling apart everywhere; good beat reporting is on the downslope. What’s your city council actually up to? What’s the stuff your newspaper isn’t printing? How does crime actually work in your town? One potential Righty press organization that would be easy to make and scale is something I’ve called “Asking for Comment.” You know how when one Republican in Ass End of Nowhere shits his pants and every Republican in the world is asked for comment? Make that bipartisan. Get when somebody screws up, get everybody who knows them on the record about it. Note who supports him. Then do a second order of calls to people who know *the supporter,* asking their opinion of the supporter’s opinion. Make people denounce or be tarred. All “Asking for Comment” needs is a website, a contact directory, a news archive subscription, and a telephone.
While we’re on the subject of publications, don’t forget lit drops and lit collection. Donate Righty books to your local library, including your local public school libraries — I’m not talking fire-eating polemics for the faithful, like Ann Coulter’s HOW TO COOK AND EAT LIBERALS, but on-ramp books. The kind of thing that get people interested in your ideas. Stamp the inside cover with lists of places to go for more information. Libertarians talk about the importance of charity, but they never stick a copy of THE INCREDIBLE BREAD MACHINE in the little free library at their local Y.
While we’re at it, Righties need more small publishing companies. A huge amount of interesting Righty political writing only happens online, which means that it’s inevitably lost in time. Blogs go away, links go dead. Small-run books on dead tree may be obscure, but they exist forever. Another thing Righty small publishers could be doing: homeschooling resources. Homeschooling is an essential Righty movement. Because at this point it’s an essential everyone movement. You know what parents doing homeschooling could really use? Free to cheap primers. We could use an updated set of McGuffey’s Readers for the 21st century from an organization with a good reputation. Paperback, cheaply bound, downloadable free or available for purchase cheaply.
Put together a local speaking circuit. Get local business owners to go to schools and tell their free enterprise success and failure stories. A good way to arrange guest lectures in schools is to make friends with teachers. If you have jobs or projects where students can get involved, so much the better.
You can organize within your profession. Lefties do this all the time. Ask around; find people who share your politics. You have professional skills that transfer to political pressure, within your workplace and outside it — look at California, where one of the most militant groups on the ground politically is a nurses’ union. So use them.
At this point, it’s pretty clear that Augustus Invictus has failed at organizing the Based Lawyers Guild (for which Righties should probably be grateful). So Righty lawyers, that’s on you: if you’re in something like the Federalist Society already — or if you’re not — start mining local chapters for people who want to do stuff like be on hand for protests or to counter Lefty tactics. Lefties like ambulance-chasing lawyers; let’s see how they like lawyers who chase hard Lefty radicals and their abetters.
If you don’t know who in your profession might be on your side, use the same tool Lefties use to unperson people: political donations. Make or obtain a list of the companies that do what you do. Note their addresses. Cross-reference them against lists of campaign donations. Focus on people who live in your town; that way if you put people together you can get them together for regular meetings. Don’t just look at presidential runs in the general; if you’re putting together a group called “Immigration Pause Now,” you don’t want a Trump general donor who gave to Kasich, and if you’re putting together a group called “Libertarians Against Tariffs” you wouldn’t want to surf old records for a Bush general donor who gave to Buchanan.
Political donations aren’t a perfect predictor — not everybody donates, and some Righties will have done stuff like donating to Obama as part of ye olde Operation Chaos back when Obama was running against Clinton in 2008 — but that’ll give you a good list to work from. Once you have your leads, the Bernie Sanders campaign followed an approach to get volunteers for decentralized work:
- Email 100 (if targeted) to 1000 (if randomly selected) people. Invite them to a conference call. Typically, 10-50 will sign on. If you give short notice for the conference call, you’re more likely to get people who are available on short notice — i.e., respondents who have a lot of free time.
- On the conference call, explain the team’s purpose, what they’re doing, and the big picture.
- At the end of the call, give people a task as a shit test to see who’s serious.
- Invite everybody who did the task onto a second conference call. Choose a leader.
- Give them a means to communicate with each other — a mailing list or Slack channel or something.
- Sacrifice a goat and pray to Cthulhu.
Since you’re concentrating on building a local group, invite everybody who did the shit test in step 4 to an organizational meeting and go on from there. I think it would be interesting to combine centralized and decentralized organizing techniques.
Organize within your interests, too. Everybody needs art. If you have art interests, start a group of Righty artists and musicians. Songs build community; the DSA is singing “the Internationale” and “Solidarity Forever” at their meetings, for pete’s sake. Write some great new Righty songs with catchy tunes and rousing choruses.
For people who like service to their communities, come up with something that has a service component. Lefty anarchists have been doing this for decades with Food Not Bombs, where they serve food to homeless people. Sounds modest, but they got organized for stuff like the Battle in Seattle doing stuff like this. Again, organization is practice.
If you’re interested in something that does food service, the Food Not Bombs book HUNGRY FOR PEACE is extremely detailed and provides a step-by-step of how to start and run a Food Not Bombs-style group, which has been a gateway for massive numbers of Lefty activists: there have been over a thousand chapters involving over 50,000 people. For more reading on Food Not Bombs, with a focus on unflattering sausage-making and the challenges in herding politically radical cats, see Chris Crass’s TOWARDS COLLECTIVE LIBERATION, which has a hugely detailed chapter all about Food Not Bombs’s San Francisco chapter.
And of course you’re not limited to these ideas; there are tons of things that you could do.
But but infiltration and entryism and and and. Look, guys, we’re talking normie groups here. You’re not doing anything crazy or radical. You’re just being normies doing normal politics stuff, so it’s not like the hard Lefties will care; they have better things to do. And it’s not like you’re posting an ad on Craigslist and taking whatever randos show up. You’re picking people you already know. If you don’t have other Righties handy, don’t just post an ad online to see who answers; go out and talk to people. You’ve probably got a couple of punch-and-pie groups in your neighborhood. Drop by a few meetings, talk with people, and find out who’s sick of punch and pie. If you’re recruiting folks you encounter IRL, it’s much less likely that a random person you happen to meet will also be a Lefty entryist spy.
It is a lot of work, but it’s also doable. Honestly, the hardest thing about this stuff is that Righties haven’t been trained to understand how activism actually works.
Here’s a specific example how one person could make an organization and run a pressure campaign.
In the wake of the Milo riots, Scott Adams, of Dilbert and lately Trumpist fame, announced that he would stop contributing financially and in other ways to his the University of California, Berkeley, his alma mater. And he did. And that was the end of it. Because despite being a guy who thinks a lot about persuasion, and has spent a lot of writing time lately on the subject of persuasion, Adams missed out on a golden opportunity to persuade the University of California, Berkeley.
I think this is understandable: Adams’s experience of using persuasion comes from four fields: cartooning, writing, public speaking, and hypnotism (he’s a trained hypnotist). For Adams, persuasion and communication are things that he does to reach an audience, which for him in every case but public speaking is one person. And it’s done by one person: him. So that’s what persuasion looks like in his head. It’s a solo activity. But acting as an individual isn’t how you maximize persuasive power against Institutions.
Scott Adams is a rich and successful guy who went to the University of California, Berkeley. Does he know other rich and successful guys who went to the University of California, Berkeley? I bet he does. Are there any of them who disagree with Berkeley’s decision to enable violent radicals pushing students and the town around? I bet there are. Does Berkeley have a convenient alumni directory in hardcopy or accessible via web browser? Yeah.
Here’s how Scott Adams maximizes his power in this hypothetical: he makes a list of people he knows personally from Berkeley, people who donate money and time to the university, who he knows are unhappy about the Milo Riot. Then he calls them on the phone. They talk for a while, he makes it clear he’s putting together donors who want to do something to make the university act on this issue, gets their commitment, then goes to the next person on his list. He holds a meeting for his group of well-off UC Berkeley donors, ideally of a variety of ages (so their networks consist of different graduating cohorts). They discuss what they’re doing, what their demands will be, and then they go off and do another round or two of phone calls in their own personal networks. Another meeting or two, formalize demands, make sure everyone signs on. Literally make a written pledge, and have people sign it.
While they’re doing this, they keep a tally of how much money their members are worth and how much they have donated.
Then Scott Adams writes a letter to the President of University of California, Berkeley. “Hi,” he says, “this is Scott Adams — you know, the Dilbert guy. I’m writing to let you know that I’ve put together a signed petition from X number of donors, with a combined net worth of Y million dollars. In the past five years, our average donations were N dollars per year; last year’s total was Z dollars. For that money, we got to see you let a riot on campus that caused over a hundred thousand dollars in damages — of our money, as donors and taxpayers — and left innocent people unconscious in the street. We’re not going to stand for that. You’re used to meeting radicals’ demands? Well, you can meet ours. Unless our demands are met, we are prepared to start cancelling pledged donations, and send out press releases detailing exactly why we’re doing it.”
A few possible demands:
- Statement from Berkeley, enforced by policy, committing to free speech.
- Statement from Berkeley, enforced by policy, banning masks at protest on pain of arrest.
- Statement from Berkeley, enforced by policy, that destruction of university property is grounds for expulsion.
- Statement from Berkeley, enforced by policy, that all members of Berkeley’s violent communist cult By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) and associated groups (do research beforehand; name specific groups and individuals) are trespassed from campus, meaning they will be arrested if they set foot on it.
If the University President waffles, Adams’s group contacts the university trustees and informs them of what’s happening; they will put secondary pressure on the President (Adams’s group may choose to add the President’s resignation to stuff they want). He and his people also keep working phones, adding more and more people to the petition, so the number of people and potential financial harm to the university grows. If they still don’t agree, Adams’s group alerts the press, and bring in a deadline: if we do not receive a firm commitment by this date, we will cancel a hundred thousand dollars in pledges. i.e., “We can do at least as much damage to you as the radicals did. Would you like us to do more?”
A few rounds of this should cause some concession on the university’s part. Up the dollar values each time. Adams’s group would have decided in advance what a victory would look like.
That’s a pressure campaign. That’s what a post-politics world looks like. If you don’t want to live in one, I agree — but too bad; that’s what we’re getting.
So let’s go build it.