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The 8-fold Path of New Organizing

DNA-Level operating principles for building a progressive people’s movement
in the 21st century
Note: The order here is not very important – each of these principles is central and they all work in
relationship to each other. Think focal points in a web or legs of a table rather than a prioritized list.
I) Progressive
We aim to push the world in a particular direction -- we are not outcome-neutral process people. So
what are our values? It’s a gut check. We are committed to human flourishing as a collective enterprise.
We care strongly about fairness, we’re passionate about individual rights and liberties, we’re committed
to the short and long term health of the planet, and we’re big fans of deep democracy. We oppose
bigotry, greed that hurts people, and unnecessary violence. But there’s lots of different ways to say it.
There’s no single litmus test. No manifesto. No rigid ideology. People get it. And if we try to make
everyone agree on bullet points, we’ll only divide.
Importantly, we’re also pragmatic. We believe in winnable change – and pushing the boundaries for
what’s winnable one victory at a time.
What we stand for emerges from our members and our members emerge from our actions. Here’s one
handy way to think of it: Flamingos are pink because they eat pink shrimp. In that sense, our
organizations are Flamingos and the members are our shrimp -- when we run campaigns we draw in
like-minded members who give us our colour and show that colour to the world. It’s therefore very
important to start campaigning in the right general direction, so we attract the progressive community
that we know shares our values and our appetite for pragmatic action. But once that happens, over time
the question of progressive orientation mostly solves itself.

II) Grassroots
Fundamentally, we are of the people, by the people and for the people. We are constituted by our
members. We draw our power, legitimacy, and raison d'etre from the collective action of regular
people.
We have an “outside-power theory of change” because our members are outside the power structure.
We can – and should -- use special access to push the members’ agenda or gather intelligence. But we
must never put maintaining that access above maintaining integrity in our relationship with the base.
Power players on the inside will frequently want us to spin our own members, or keep them in the dark
when the insiders let us down. In exchange, they will offer to keep their doors open to us personally. Or
they will threaten to slam the door shut if we do something they don’t like. For issue advocates who
depend on an “inside-access theory of change”, this devil’s bargain is often a necessity -- because
without voluntary access they are kaput. But not for us. We turn the bargain down.

We know our strength as leaders is the affinity and trust we earn from our members -. to providing ongoing leadership opportunities through local or national volunteer structures. can. efficient ways to help change the world. . Influence based on access isn’t actually power – it’s closer to luck. Shaping an organization to depend on an “outside-power theory of change” is a principled choice because it puts power where it should be: the hands of regular people. But once you’ve built a base. part of the “big we”. III) Member Driven Members set the course for our work in many different ways.like sending out polling questions or testing full campaign options to small samples of the base and then running whichever campaign performs the best. or house parties to shape consensus. They’re too busy for most of traditional activism. the members smell it and they leave. That’s the low floor – it brings new people into our movement. But just as importantly it’s a strategic choice for the long term. If we sacrifice integrity in any aspect of how we relate to the base. like making a video or hosting a house party. Sometimes. This ranges from intensive single actions. it’s through big. You can cultivate it for years and then lose it with one personnel shake-up or one election. And then we’re kaput. High Ceiling. And it works regardless of the mood or identity of the power brokers at any given time. And the essential service we offer is helping them work together to change the world. A key way we strive for member service is by building a membership house with a “Low Floor. Insider access can be granted and revoked at the whim of any official at any time. in the right ways at the right times to give our members a strong experience of being served. It’s that simple. no one can take that away. Sometimes it’s a direct process but less publicly visible -. But the most common and probably most important ways are the twin concepts of “Member Service” and “Steward Leadership. includes them in a story of collective action. each communication. and builds our organization.and the strength of our enterprise is the strength of our members’ actions. It’s the right place to start. explicit. most of our members will at least start out looking for the service of brief. So our theory of change does not require keeping the doors to power propped open from the inside -.it requires building enough grassroots power to knock the door down from the outside. By the nature of online campaigning. and public means like online votes. We offer a precious opportunity to put their small amount of time to use by pooling it with the contributions of others. and our whole operation through the lens of serving our members. The high ceiling means those with more to give. So we are constantly asking whether we are working on the right issues.” The low floor means you just take one action – no matter how small – and you’re in.” “Member service” means we think about each campaign.

Ultimately. we have to make many tough calls about what to work on. Being Member Funded is also a source of political strength. This is both a data driven and intuitive effort.but it’s an important goal to keep on the horizon. The Member Driven principle also means that we strive to be Member Funded. And it never ends. It’s informed by years of study.” Energy flows with news cycles. experience. As leaders. we should only be beholden to our own community. we “Chase the Energy. and what to do at any given time. Because we are member driven. Sometimes the news compels us to act because all our members are aware and inflamed -.“high information” moments. . But steward leadership also means we’re obliged as leaders to internalize the perspective of our members. the energy flow demands we pounce. We are also nimble because it is our comparative advantage in the field of social change organizations. And. Of course it’s impossible to start this way. and large donors are almost invariably a critical part of the start up phase -. They have relatively small numbers of highly committed activists and relatively large numbers of expert staff who fight for years in the trenches on important issues and move them towards a tipping point. Traditional groups are kind like the Infantry. because the opportunity is low profile – a “high actionability” moment. once the organization has sufficiently matured.Some members will look for the service of more time-intensive opportunities to get involved. Those moments often come unexpectedly and when they do. The sweet spot is when “high information” and “high actionability” characteristics combine in a highly visible moment to make a real difference on something our members care about. IV) Nimble We are led to operate nimbly for several reasons. It’s part of our job to increase their numbers over time. it’s our mandate to provide these opportunities as well. so that when we act on their behalf we do so with the utmost integrity.” Quite the contrary! We have an extraordinary responsibility to provide excellent strategic guidance. and the community should feel ownership and responsibility. and the opportunity to make a difference. “Steward leadership” means that we can’t confuse “member driven” with “no leadership at the top. skilful execution and high quality information to our members – who have given us their sacred trust to channel their energy effectively. and trial and error. We are like the Cavalry – we can turn on a dime and mobilize in vast numbers to push something over the top. Sometimes we see a chance to change something our members care about that they don’t yet see. because the public financial story should match the people powered narrative.

It’s more than ok. This doesn’t mean we don’t focus and prioritize – we certainly do! But we strive to match our focus and prioritization with the passion in our base and the opportunities for progressive change in our world. We depend on partners and we are prone to collaborate. to execution. Organizations think in “issue-sectors.” People -. Staying nimble allows us to be able to precipitate. opportunities and values. honor and support those we find -. political leaders.and even help start new ones where there’s a critical lack. Many. So we act where there is passion and the potential for change. We’ve seen major social and political shifts happen in big. But it also reflects a big picture theory of change. these factors mean changes can move very quickly from conception. etc.not what we don’t. Our cavalry approach comes from our analysis of how to get the best results out of our org structure. We lose campaigns all the time. The substance of these changes often does not fit within the scope of what strictly partisan or issuesiloed groups are able to address. rapid moments: Sweeping “Change elections”.” We are always looking for new tactics. Achieving this nimbleness requires a bedrock commitment to a Low Bureaucracy Environment. We don’t seek to own or crowd out any particular field. It also requires very clear chains of command and decision making protocol. because we pick tough fights that are worth it. different tactics or strategies supporting the .think in crises. many of the things we do don’t “work”. the rise and fall of major ideas. That’s ok. new approaches. We prefer to pile on efforts with other organizations when they are complimentary. and our path to victory demands that we do. We emphasize what we agree on -. we better serve our part. At the same time. and then take full advantage of these Major Change Moments. V) Multi-Issue As important as our basic values is our refusal to accept arbitrary issue silos. it’s vital. we don’t get enmeshed in coalitions that aren’t working. We consciously “Cross-Pollinate” our members – bringing in new folks from one issue and exposing them to high priority moments in another. We emphasis small staffs of highly capable people with minimum if any separation from the practitioners and the decision makers. By cultivating nimbleness. We quickly develop entirely new ways of doing things because the new situations we leap into demand it. Combined. This makes us naturally “Movement Generous”. Because without experimenting we would never find the big wins. Our nimbleness (combined with our use of technology) also leads to a strong “Innovation Culture.These two approaches work symbiotically. many. The culture of nimbleness and innovation is supported by a bedrock willingness to take risks. to authorization. and distinctly. And many of our tactics or appeals don’t generate relatively high participation from our members.and therefore our members -.

this also means we bring issue advocacy into elections -. Whatever moves the issue forward is what we should do. Bad votes are bad and good votes are good regardless of who casts them. vote. Most importantly. it is very much in our interest to support the parties and politicians who support our agenda. This kind of smooth transition into hard-hitting electoral work requires specific legal and funding structures. Those resources include their voice. Each ask to each member is directly couched as another opportunity for us to work together to change the world. it is often what makes us attractive to our members. Same of manifesto points. To us.same goal. creativity. and always tell our members the full story. our integrity tells us that parties are first and foremost about staying in power. and so on. We are very wary of any coalition that requires consensus to act. We integrate fundraising into the campaign in a way that serves our specific campaign objectives and serves our organizational fundraising goals at the same time. We have an obligation to push friends when the need it. physical presence. Our analysis tells us that not all political parties are equal and we never foolishly pretend otherwise. and these should be in place as early as possible. A lot of this comes down to “Strategic Integration”. we enable our members and the public to cast their vote based on the issues we care about. reputation. and most of all our members. money. etc. because it reduces everyone to the lowest common denominator. and the whole gamut of what a Party or Government can produce. We run petitions that will influence targets and grow our list. reward traditional opponents when they earn it. our values.where it is naturally much more powerful. We tell the real story and hold parties and politicians accountable at the ballot box for their performance on our agenda. VII) Independent We are not a mouth piece for any political party or government. Our allegiance is to our issues. and we are only aligned with that goal as long as it supports our true mission. fundraising is not dirty. . speeches. social networks. This fierce independence is also a practical necessity – in an era of ossified political parties and cynical citizens. However. Therefore. Crucially. VI) Full Spectrum Campaigning Our core service to our members is to offer them good strategy and coordinated action to turn each of their many fungible resources into social change. to the extent that having them in power is often amongst the single greatest boons to our cause. yelling in the wind is not pure.

not an identity. never at all. Tech is a tool. resources and energy. And the results of our activities are always aimed at offline targets to achieve offline results. This means high level. On the other hand. . And ideally. beyond initial design and development and for occasional supplementary work. We are Online and Beyond -.Technology is a critical tool. Technology is only a tool -.we must never get lost in it. Ideally. We do not assume members are technologically sophisticated. We want to be accessible to the most elementary users.a campaigning community that uses technology. We never. ever rely on outside agencies that aren’t responsive to our schedule for core operations. voice. We do whatever it takes to make sure technology plays a primarily enabling. our tech focus is almost invisible. rather than hindering role. We often use it to move people towards common offline action. We do not deploy new tools or fads for their own sake.VIII) Technology is the Tool Two major ideas here: -. What shines through are the people – their ideas. dedicated development and support that operates in real time. round the clock if necessary. We subject all new technologies to the same strategic scrutiny we would apply to any tactic. And we must never be limited internally or externally to being an “online organization”. We must invest accordingly in our technical capacity from the beginning.

presence.we are a campaigning community that uses the net . and maximize in-house capacity • “Tech is only a tool” – We judge tech use on impact. • We offer “Low floor. • “Flamingo Growth”: Campaign choice -> growth -> members -> future campaign choice II) Grassroots • Of. and don’t assume member savvy • We are not an “online organization” -. Our service is changing the world. money. high ceiling” to serve different levels of investment • “Steward Leadership” is key – we learn to channel member reactions • Member funded is long term goal IV) • • • • • Nimble We “Chase the Energy” where high-info meets high actionability We act like a nimble “Cavalry” & join the “infantry” at key moments We believe in “Major Change Moments” and seek to support them Nimbleness requires a “Low Bureaucracy Environment” We cultivate a “Innovation culture” and a willingness to take risks V) Multi-Issue • We reject issue silos and embrace confluence of passion and opportunity • We “Cross-Pollinate” members across progressive spectrum • We are “Movement Generous” with partners but avoid deadweight coalitions VI) Full spectrum Campaigning • We engage voice. by and for the people • Outside-Power Theory of Change – grassroots strength trumps access • Members require the full story – we require members – we tell full story III) Member Driven • Members directly chose through both public-facing and staff facing means • “Member service” is core concept. social networks and all member resources • We use “Strategic integration” to maximize all resources in our campaigns VII) Independent • We are separate from Parties and offer support based on merit VII) Technology is the Tool • “Tech is a crucial tool” -. votes.Appendix: The 8-Fold Path Cheat Sheet I) Progressive • Gut check progressive values – no litmus test.We heavily invest early.