On June 26, I attended an event in Cambridge, Massachusetts called the City Dance Party. Every year thousands of people flock to this event from all over the Greater Boston Area. The streets ringing City Hall are closed down, and for a few hours the square in front of City Hall is turned into an enormous dance party. At night, the front of City Hall is lit up with swirling lights while colored spotlights pan over the jubilant crowd.
As the event neared its end, the energy of the crowd was surging, and in the darkness someone began to waive the rainbow flag of LGBT pride. The spotlights found it almost immediately, and all attention was immediately drawn to this singular point of light, and the rainbow flag waiving in it.
The crowd roared. It was one of those electric moments that was a thrill to be a part of. The Supreme Court had done something powerful and magnificent. We had all lived through that moment, experienced that history, and in that moment the sense of success, relief, and awe channeled through the whole crowd.
The LGBT rights movement is not over, but the Supreme Court ruling was a monumental milestone, a sign of the shifting tide on this issue. It was the product of over a decade of dedicated work on the part of activists.
Reflecting on this event, this moment, I find myself wondering, when is our moment? What does that moment of palpable energy look like for the Centrists, the Moderates, the Independents, the diverse members of this movement? And what will it take for us to get there?
What Does This Moment Look Like For Us?
What will we be celebrating when this moment comes? Will it be the election of several key moderates and Independents to the Senate? Will it be the end of partisanship as we know it? Would it be a return to power for the American middle?
One of the challenges of this movement is that it is diverse in its objectives and strategies. Our goals range from the broad to the highly specific. This ambiguity too often allows our critics to define us, say that we are indecisive or “fence-sitters,” that we “don’t stand for anything.” I think our critics have fundamentally misconceived why people join this movement, and support organizations such as the Centrist Project.
One of the challenges of this movement is that it is diverse in its objectives and strategies.Andy Smith, The Centrist Project
So while the Centrist Project — like the many other organizations operating in this field — has a very specific goal, the goal of the broader movement is more abstract: return power to the American voter.
So how will we know when we’ve accomplished this? It won’t be some singular success experienced nationwide. We will know through the various successes we will experience along the way. When the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of independent redistricting commissions, that was a victory for the entire movement. Many will be quiet, such as this. But anyone reading this article should understand intuitively that this is progress. This is success, and a movement marching forward.
Our moments of success will also be loud. They will be at the victory rallies for candidates at all levels. They will be celebrated among friends and colleagues, shared between the candidates, the staff, the volunteers, and all the voters who got them there.
Personally, if I am ever in a bar and overhear a bitter and grizzled political operative mutter to himself, “Man, those independents are a real pain in the ass,” that is when I will know we have been successful.
How Will We Get There?
We have a lot to learn from the success of gay marriage. In his article, “How We Won: 10 Lessons Learned,” Marc Solomon, National Campaign Director for Freedom to Marry, provides some helpful insights we can learn from.
#4. Meet People Where They Are
“To make lasting change in America, it’s crucial to make the case — and give it time — to people who are conflicted about your cause…Many good people were conflicted, and we were asking them to take a journey, challenging some of their deep understandings about marriage.”
In our denouncements of partisanship and Washington gridlock, we too often point to partisan voters, or non-voters, and say, “this is your fault.” We are not winning any new supporters doing so. Like marriage equality activists, we are challenging the norms of old institutions that people grew up with. Rather than badgering people into a political 180, let’s cultivate an environment where it is acceptable to break from the traditions of party affiliation and party-line voting.
#7. Invest Heavily In Local Organizing
“Lawmakers and citizens are most often persuaded because they hear from people locally — from regular citizens, same-sex couples, and influential leaders living in their own communities.”
Outraged voters love message boards and comment sections. I know this personally. The problem is that these are forums for the converted, and you don’t move the needle that way. What we need is for the outraged voters, people like you, reading this article or the others posted by the Centrist Project, to take the next step. Find likeminded individuals in your community, and then engage with the key friends, colleagues, and leaders in your community to expand and move the needle of the movement.
There are many large, national organizations like the Centrist Project working in this field. We are consistently contacted by energized voters who want to know what they can do. To be successful, we need the local activists. We need the people who know their community — who know their local government. They know who is on the ballot in local elections and they know who to talk to to get the right people elected.
National organizations can’t do this alone. I can no better organize a community in Arizona than a voter in Arizona could organize my community. But we can help.