Sunday, December 18, 2011

The strategic imperative of broadening the base

Recently in Boston I heard Senate U.S. candidate Boston Elizabeth Warren speak and field questions from a crowd of potential supporters. One of the first questions she was asked was how she would be able translate her ideas into concrete policy accomplishments in the hyper-partisan environment of Washington. She used the story of creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as her textbook example of how to get things done and there were some great lessons for our No Kid Hungry campaign.

Warren told how lobbyists for all of the financial and banking interest lined up against the legislation to create the CFPB and how they temporarily prevailed in the Senate to kill a vote on the bill.

“Then we started broadening the base of our support by building a coalition. The SEIU became a huge champion. And we went to the AFL-CIO and they said this is not exactly our top priority but we’ll get involved. And we went to the Consumers Union, which in the past has focused on toasters and other products, and they said we can see why our members might be interested in this. And we went to the AARP which saw that a lot of their members were being taken advantage of by banks and credit card companies. And we eventually built such a large coalition that they had to give us a vote, and once we got the vote, Senators were afraid to vote against us. So it was about organizing that broader coalition.”

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign doesn’t have special interests lined up against it, but we do face a lot of indifference which is just as bad if not worse. And to overcome it we will likely need the kind of broader coalition that is successful in the kind of legislative campaign that Warren described. This is the strategic imperative to broaden the base that is faced by virtually every movement and important cause.

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