3 Election Lessons for the Worker Movement

There’s no other way to put it: The presidential election of 2016 was devastating. Many of us have been lost trying to understand what happened and why. At The Workers Lab, we want to share some of the important lessons that we are taking from this moment as we continue striving towards our mission of creating power for working people.

It is clear that we must face the very real consequences of impending administration transition. We can expect tough days ahead for people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks and working people. We believe it is important now more than ever to be smarter and to take the following lessons to heart moving forward.

Organizing and democracy require high-touch, not just high-tech solutions.

Political commentators in 2008 argued that one of Obama’s key strengths was his successful use of digital tools and “big data.” The Clinton campaign, however, was more technologically robust than any before and she still lost. We believe it is an important moment, then, to make the point that technology alone does not win elections, people do. Technology alone does not mobilize communities, face-to-face convening does.

This lesson is important because when we think about building power for people who work we must leverage strategies that prove success in results, not promises. What has proven results time and time again is the high-touch, analog work of bringing people together in a common vision.

Speak fire, unafraid and with courage, and move people to action.

Bernie Sanders self-identified as a democratic socialist. Donald Trump called for a ban of all Muslims. Both generated excitement and support that surprised traditional politicians accustomed to blowing smoke while repeating the party line. These “outsider” messages resonated because our society is malcontent with the status quo, and rightly so. This election showed that we want change and we want to hear it in direct, bold, forceful clarity from authentic messengers.

Now is a key moment for those trying to make the economy work for more people. At The Workers Lab we are actively seeking to fund and support the bold leaders who can imagine new horizons for workers and who speak fire, unafraid and with courage.

To build coalitions, get real with identity.

Identity can bring us together or push us apart. Trump broke the traditionally Democrat working class voting bloc by appealing to white voters, especially middle income people. Sanders, on the other hand, spoke to a working class identity but did not speak to race and thus limited his appeal within communities of color. If we are to be build an active and vibrant economy where all working people can succeed, we must speak to and be real with identities across race, class, gender, sexual orientation and immigration status.

With these lessons in mind we will work smarter and more effectively. After all we are still fighting for living wages, benefits and voice on the job. We can’t do it alone.

We know that over 40% of Americans stayed home this election, a substantially larger group of voters than either candidates successfully turned out. If we are to create a more just and equitable world, these are the people we must mobilize. We can only move them, we believe, by utilizing high touch solutions, speaking our vision boldly and calling out identity as we forge an inclusive movement fit for the future, not the past.

We know it’s time to move forward. We welcome you to join us.