Posted June 29th 2010 at 10:31 pm by
in The Urban Labs

Be a Champion, Not a Rock Star Candidate

There is only one way to counter the effects of organized money: organized people.   The true keeper of this country’s democracy is its people, whether they decide to participate in the vote or not.   The ability to raise money is still considered the number one factor in being able to win an election, but recently we have seen campaigns backed by informal citizen groups show the potential of a people-powered campaign. If you have actual relationships with people in your district you can create a campaign that is fueled by sweat and shoe leather rather than money and consultants.  A people-powered campaign may not look as slick as a well-funded campaign, but being authentic and inclusive of your district will pay in creating a viable campaign.

Developing a people-powered campaign is not as easy as you may think.  No matter how good you think your message is or how good you look in a suit, people are tired of politics and leery of wasting time on a candidate who will not be accountable.  In order to get your supporters to take time to support your campaign, offer diverse points of entry into your campaign that are easy to sign up for and do.  Allow space for a community of volunteers to emerge to support the needs of the campaign. Winning a campaign with a movement requires more than a tactical or message shift; it requires a philosophical shift in placing how you win a campaign in the hands of the people.  I hope to offer both tactical models campaigns can adopt to harness the power of a movement and win a campaign.

Create a voter-centered campaign, not a candidate campaign. Shifting elements of your field campaign structure to be more fluid will allow the input of your supports to be tapped.  Finding ways to decentralize your campaign allows your campaign to grow additional legs to help move it forward. Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, author of Starfish and Spider, a great book on decentralized structures, explains the benefits like this: “A decentralized organization stands on five legs.  As with the starfish it can loose a leg or two and still survive.  But when you have all legs working together it can really take off.”

I am not suggesting that you decentralize your campaign all together, although I believe that is where campaigns are evolving.  It is advantageous to begin to shift the traditional roles in a campaign to allow for a democratization of campaign leadership. Removing yourself as the motivational apex of the entire campaign will create space for voters to become surrogates for your campaign. From your communication methodology to campaign materials find ways for potential voters to participate in your campaign.

Riffing off of Brafman and Bekstrom, “A champion is relentless in promoting a new idea … there is nothing subtle about a champion” and a catalyst is a person who initiates circles, or member of the group, and then fades into the background. These suggested definitions of how to view the role of leadership inherently work with party membership. Don’t see the candidate and campaign managers as the heads of your campaign.  Instead, look at the candidate as a champion of your policies and your manager as a catalyst of the campaign and field.

The question is, can you be a champion and not a rock star?

This post is by Malia Lazu and originally appeared on The Urban Labs site. Read more about The Urban Labs’ projects on Malia’s blog feed on CoLab Radio.

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