Focus Factor

This week I was talking to someone who had been involved in organizing on the gun violence issue. I’d heard there’s supposed to be a day of action on gun violence next week but didn’t know the specifics, but my friend had switched to working on healthcare because Gov. Haslam is getting squishy about expanding Medicaid in Tennessee. And then someone else who had been working on gun stuff is now getting involved in a different state issue, as well.

I’m thinking this is a problem for progressives. It’s not just that organizers are switching focus — all of these issues are really important. But I think ultimately hopping from issue to issue keeps us from ever really accomplishing anything on any one issue. And sometimes I wonder if that’s not the point, if Republicans aren’t intentionally deluging the left with crisis after crisis so we can’t effectively tackle any one thing.

I know back in my organizing days I felt constantly pulled in a dozen different directions as this or that issue suddenly demanded attention. And I know my e-mail box is constantly deluged with demands for attention to write a letter on this or sign a petition on that or show up at this rally or that fundraiser. It’s all over the map. I just wish we could focus on one damn thing for a while until we make some solid strides before we’re all asked to move on to the next one. And yes, I know how whiney that sounds. I don’t mean it that way … or hell, maybe I do.

With all of the good news about same-sex marriage barriers falling lately, lots of people are asking “how the gays did it.” It occurs to me that a big thing in their favor was they pretty much had that one issue to focus on. I’m not saying that GLBT people don’t also care about the environment or immigration or worker’s rights, but there’s an organizational structure in place via groups like the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD which is able to advocate for equality without getting scattered into that other stuff. They really organized around pushing for marriage equality and have stuck with it. And actually now that I think about it, immigration seems to have the same kind of organizational infrastructure.

It also feels like activist groups such as Credo, MoveOn and OFA are such big umbrellas, it’s easy for those using these organizational tools to feel scattered. I might get two or three e-mails a day from MoveOn about different issues. I wish these groups would just pick ONE, already.

I dunno, I’m just sort of think-blogging (thlonking? blinking?) out loud. Maybe this is just me. Maybe I’m just feeling like there’s too much work and not enough workers. I mean, does anyone else think this is a feature, not a bug? That Republicans intentionally throw so much crap at us at once because they know we can’t take it all on? That they know the best way to discourage activists is to give them the feeling of futility that comes when you’re hit on all sides?

Maybe we need a new strategy. Or maybe I just need a nap.


Filed under politics

10 responses to “Focus Factor

  1. democommie

    My strategy is to not argue with liars. That is not to say that I don’t present the facts, I just don’t listen to the same tired, debunked talking points, politely.

  2. Mary Wilson

    Yea, SB, I do feel your pain. And I have worked with all the groups you mention these past 2 years. And I have juggled 3 or 4 issues at a time, and you are correct that here sometimes our activists do not have enough vols to complete one important task. The reason OFA has been so successful is that they DID focus on one thing only…the election and re-election of our President. And they did it by NOT getting involved in ANY State issues, only his campaign. My focus right now is preventing more gun violence…especially HERE in my own neighborhood. As Lawrence O’Donnell said: WE CAN WIN, but we must stay on all our Senators, across the country, calling, and aggreivating them every minute of every day. Of course, I do have other priorities. But this is so personal to me, I WILL KEEP ON.

  3. I myself don’t know which one to focus on…. sequester, gun issue, 2014 midterm elections, attack on Roe vs Wade by Republican – controlled states, Sec 5 crisis at the Supreme court ( which is important ! ! ! this is the reason why it’s almost impossible now to control the Lower House )

    • OMG what is the Sec. 5 crisis??? Is that the Voting Rights Act?

      Yeah nobody could have predicted that when the nation elected our first African American president, suddenly a bunch of white people would decide they needed to keep black people from voting. Just a coincidence I’m sure.

  4. This is a great post. I think there is a focus issue especially around the state. Well said.

  5. gene108


    That’s the difference between liberal activism and conservative activism.

    Big money lines up behind conservative movements and sustains them through down periods of influence. Social Security privatization/reform fell flat on its face in 2005, but people with deep pockets want it, so they keep pushing it into the national debate.

    The Left lacks the money to keep a sustained effort on any one issue going. Outside of the Economic Policy Institute and maybe one or two other think tanks, there’s not a lot of money on the Left to push a liberal agenda.

    Let alone the media outlets the Right has to keep force feeding their brain droppings to the American public.

    On the flip side, liberals are wiping the floor with conservatives on social issues, with the exception of keeping abortion legal, where conservatives have a more zealous focus and drive to do everything within the law to make it impossible.

    On things like gay marriage, legalizing pot, interracial marriage, etc. things that were unimaginable in the 1970’s are becoming a reality and the younger generation seems to be a lot more liberal on these issues than older generations, so the pace of social liberalization is only going to accelerate.

    I think on gun-control, given the backlash many Democratic Congressman felt in 1994 and still feel, the issue went from something debated in public, 20 years ago to an issue, where the pro-gun crowd seemed to have won and killed any momentum for change. After Sandyhook the issue of gun control has shot back to the forefront. Getting people engaged in the issue again, so they will vote to make opposing control a bad political decision will take time.

    I mean at some point, in this country’s history regulating guns was a political winner, with the 1934 and 1968 gun control laws being examples of the popular will getting behind regulating guns in the name of law and order.

    As far as liberal volunteerism goes, I think people need to decide whether to focus on bringing attention to local or national issues. I think given the funding disparity, the most effective use of resources would be to raise awareness on the harmful effects of Republicanism at the local level.

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  7. Chris V

    Focus helps. But, you don’t need the entire focus of your group to be about the topic in order to help with a topic. There are plenty of non-gay groups lending their support to the marriage equality fight. The gay groups successfully brought together a coalition of groups to support their cause.

    That’s how the paid sick days ordinance got passed in Seattle. The Economic Opportunity Institute created the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce. They then worked to bring together like-minded groups who would help support paid sick days. Labor unions came out because paid sick days help their workers. Retiree groups came out since removing sick workers from restaurants means they’re not infecting older customers. Immigrant groups came out since a lot of minimum wage workers are immigrants and they generally didn’t get sick days. Women’s groups came out since a majority of minimum wage workers are women and they tend to use sick days more than men for taking care of children. The list goes on and on. In the end, an entire crowd formed around the issue. The Seattle City Council felt everyone in the entire community was for this ordinance. And, they ultimately passed it.