Three modes of movement thinking

Mode 1: Advocates for different issues don’t perceive their issues as connected and interdependent. Attention and resources are finite, and allocation is a zero-sum game. Fights about “root causes” and “whose issue is more important” are frequent.

Mode 2: Advocates recognize that their issues are connected in complex ways. Victories are celebrated across sectors, and folks are able to rally around issues that are “not theirs” at least in symbolic ways. However, identity is still primarily defined by issues, and there is tremendous pressure to make all major campaigns fully reflect the interests of all issue segments. Tremendous energy is spent making sure that language and framing is inclusive of all segments/interests in the larger movement, while finding common ground with opponents is shunned as betrayal of the larger movement.

Mode 3: Advocates recognize that issues are complex and interdependent, but that each victory builds the power necessary to enact a long-term agenda, even if each campaign does not fully address all of the issue interests of every segment of the broader movement. Organizations are able to devote significant resources to issues that are “not theirs” knowing that those resources will eventually be repaid with interest — both directly in future campaigns and indirectly via increased movement power before the next campaign even begins.

Conservatives often operate in mode 3. Progressives tend to operate mainly in mode 2 at best — and in mode 1 more often than we’d care to admit.

It’s also interesting to think about donor motivation. Most progressive donors give because they care deeply about one or more issues. Right-wing donors give because they seek power first and foremost. Moreover, if their policies are adopted ,right-wing donors often make more money than they contribute. Progressive donors often pay twice: once to activist groups and then again in higher taxes after their preferred policy wins.