WHAT IS A GRAND STRATEGY?
A "Grand Strategy" is an overall plan that describes how we get from where we are to where we need to go. It is a roadmap for achieving our strategic objective of political equality for all people, with an end goal of passing fundamental democracy reforms. Functionally, the Grand Strategy provides a unified strategic framework for independent and autonomous local teams and individual volunteers.
WHY DO WE NEED A NEW GRAND STRATEGY?
The 2016 election fundamentally reorganized the political landscape upon which we wage nonviolent struggle. With an outright fascist in the White House and a now blatantly anti-democratic Republican Party controlling both houses of Congress and two-thirds of all statehouses, our movement needs a strategy that both addresses the profound and immediate threat posed by Trump and the GOP, while also reckoning with the need to make long-term and foundational changes to our political system.
Our original plan—to use the growing momentum of the democracy movement to force through fundamental reforms in 2017—presupposed far more favorable conditions, namely, at least one Democratically-controlled house in Congress and a Democratic, pro-reform president. Given the vast gulf between the political conditions that would have been needed to advance a more rapid strategy and those that we have ended up with, a new strategy is called for that reflects our current political conditions.
WHY IMPEACH TRUMP? ISN'T PENCE JUST AS BAD (OR WORSE)?
While Mike Pence may be more conservative on social issues and equally or similarly regressive on issues of economic and political inequality, there are enormous differences between him and Trump. Pence is a career establishment politician with a long track record of reliable behavior, while Trump is an erratic, volatile, and shamelessly self-serving outsider, which makes him an incredibly unpredictable and dangerous president and commander-in-chief.
Trump has eschewed the rules of politics as usual and the typical aims of conservative Republicans who (mostly) fight within our constitutional order. He has embraced a form of fascism that openly cultivates white supremacy and political violence, attacks basic democratic norms, and boldly defies the rule of law for personal financial gain and the consolidation of power. Further, by embracing or pretending to embrace elements of progressive economic populism (pledging not to cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, opposing the TPP, etc.) that typical conservative Republicans like Pence would never freely adopt, Trump has the unique possibility of dividing the potential Democratic base and reconfiguring political alliances to support his rise to power.
Trump’s polarizing policies and personal excesses are creating a genuine possibility for impeachment that would embolden, empower, and unify the organized left as we have not been in decades. Impeaching Trump would generate awesome momentum that could be harnessed into long-term movement building and electoral victories.
WHY FOCUS ON ELECTIONS?
Elections matter. Who is in office helps determine what is politically possible and thus how much total social force our movement must apply in order to win our objective. That said, Democracy Spring is—at its core—a social movement organization rooted in the longstanding American tradition of nonviolent struggle. We believe that massive nonviolent action, wielded strategically over time, can be a force more powerful than any president, any party, or any elite that wishes to exercise authority over the vast majority of the population. Civil resistance has the power to bring down dictators. Thus, our Grand Strategy incorporates an understanding that we must use nonviolent action to both impact elections and build our own strength as a movement. We understand that in order to pass fundamental reform, we cannot simply rely on any electoral results, but must be prepared to escalate to massive and sustained civil disobedience and noncooperation.
WHY DIVIDE DEMOCRATS? SHOUDN'T WE ALL UNIFY TO DEFEAT TRUMP?
Consistent and aggressive resistance to Trump and the GOP will be one of the measures by which we judge Democrats. If there is real aggressive unity against Trump, we will foster, promote, and celebrate that.
But if that is our only measure for standing up for democracy and progressive values, we will: (A) not be able to mount an effective electoral opposition to Republicans in 2018 and 2020 because we will still be led by uninspiring establishment politicians who can’t get out enough votes to overcome Republican voter suppression and gerrymandering and (B) even if Democrats do win back a significant number of Congressional seats, their dependence on Big Money will disable them from being implementing bold and ambitious policies to tackle climate change, mass incarceration, economic inequality, free universal healthcare, etc.
The primary race between Sanders and Clinton showed us that there is an enormous appetite, especially among young people, for a radically more progressive and independent Democratic Party. It illustrated the stark contrast between corporate-backed neoliberalism and a populist-fueled vision of the future. By issuing a demand that the party break with Big Money, we will force candidates and party leadership to shift with their base to the left or else crash and burn as they try to defend corporate and billionaire campaign contributors instead of the American people. If we don’t take this opportunity to polarize within the party now while the progressive populist base has serious momentum, we could be stuck with ineffectual centrist neoliberals running the only instrument we have to concretely institutionalize our strategic objective of political equality: the Democratic Party.
WHY FOCUS ON DEMOCRATS? – WHAT ABOUT A THIRD/INDEPENDENT PARTY?
The American electoral system is fundamentally hostile to any prospective third party. Our first-past-the-post, winner-take-all voting system means that any candidate for national or state legislatures (with a few exceptions) who wins a simple plurality of the vote wins all of the representation from their district or state, instead of an amount proportionate to their share of the vote total. That means unless third party candidates beat both major party challengers in a general election—despite overwhelming disadvantages in resources, name recognition, and procedural and legal barriers—they will receive no representation and no power. Not only that, but insofar as third party candidates actually do win a substantial portion of the vote, but still less than the plurality, they will be weakening the chances of their politically most aligned competitor by splitting up the votes and increasing the likelihood that the candidate most politically opposed to them will win the election. This “spoiler effect” functions as the great regulator of the two-party system.
So in short, because of the structural realities and limitations of our two-party system, we must ultimately plan to institutionalize our strategic objective of political equality as federal reform through one or both of the major parties. With the Republicans embracing an extreme anti-democracy agenda and the Democrats vulnerable to a progressive takeover, we feel confident that applying sustained and concerted pressure on Democrats to adopt our reform priorities is our best avenue for having them institutionalized as law.
WHY FOCUS ON DEMOCRATS? – CAN'T WE WIN OVER ENOUGH REPUBLICANS?
There are three main issues that undermine our representative democracy: voter suppression, big money corruption, and gerrymandering.
The Republican Party is essentially the sole purveyor of voter suppression, because they understand that if voter turnout is high, especially among the growing demographics of young people and people of color, they will lose elections. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the Republican Party as an institution will fight for equal voting rights when we have clear evidence that they have adopted a strategy of deliberate disenfranchisement for their own political survival. So no, we won’t win over many GOP members on protecting and expanding voting rights.
Both major parties participate in big money corruption and gerrymandering but historically the Republicans are far better at exploiting both of these issues and therefore have benefitted far more from them. This means that Republicans have a clear structural incentive to sustain and accelerate anti-democracy strategies, while Democrats have a clear structural incentive to pass reforms that would result in free and fair elections.
With all that in mind, we should not expect any substantial support for political equality from Republicans, while we have distinct opportunities to pressure and shift the Democrats.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE DEMOCRATS TO "BREAK WITH BIG MONEY?"
We are demanding that both the Democratic Party as a national institution and individual Democratic candidates commit to sever their dependence on Wall Street, corporate interests, and the billionaire class. We are developing a universal standard that Democratic candidates could independently adopt and which the DNC and other national and state committees could collectively enforce that would ensure this outcome.
This standard would focus on transforming the Democratic primaries by presenting a demand that will favor progressive candidates over establishment rivals, both because it will provide a concrete way for progressives to differentiate themselves as running people-powered campaigns and because bold progressive candidates will be the ones able to inspire large number of small dollar contributions from rank and file voters. While the universal standard is not yet decided, we have a working proposal that would require candidates and committees to raise between 70-80% of their money completely from small-dollar donors.