January 28, 2011

An Open Letter to Color of Change

 I'm a member of Color of Change.  I have participated in some of your campaigns, such as the current one on the KelleyWilliams-Bolar case, which I was gratified to see you take on.  I'm a conservative, so I do not always agree with your campaign priorities.  I have the following comments and I hope you'll take them to heart.

1.  Democratize campaign formation; enable member defined campaigns, not just those COC picks: Color of Change has a large number of members, but its very top down when it comes to selecting campaigns.  You solicit campaign suggestions from members, but the selection of those campaigns is done by COC leadership.  Those decisions are not democratic, transparent or accountable to your membership in any meaningful way that I can see.  I think that your advocacy model would be that much more powerful if you changed that.  I would recommend a model for public online submission by members of campaigns and a mechanism for members to vote for the implementation of submitted campaigns.  I also suggest not only broadening the types of campaigns your system can enable, but that you open up the system to support user defined and created campaigns in addition to COC's sponsored campaigns. 

I would borrow shamelessly from the approach used at the website The Point.  That site has mechanisms for fundraising around user defined campaign goals baked right into the site.  I think incorporating some of their site ideas into COC could help you create an even more powerful platform, especially if you empower members to initiate and lead user defined campaigns.  The tea party movement has created a powerful "starfish" organization by enabling grass roots to take the initiative. Its a leaderless movement.  Draw from that and enable an equally disruptive and effective movement from the black community. Stop dictating the advocacy efforts of membership with a totally top down decision making approach to campaign formation, and I predict you will help unleash an incredible wave of activism. My other critique in this area is that you focus your campaigns more centrally around policy issues which are fundamentally in the best permanent interests of black folks, not simply those which fall in step with the democratic parties interests.  The two don't naturally coincide. I don't really expect you to change your political stripes, but you ought to exercise more independence from the democratic agenda than you do.

2. You need to go deeper with campaigns.  While attacking issues which are topical can be effective in the short term, the reality is that many of the major challenges the black community faces are bound up in systems changes that need to take place.   Making progress on a host of issues we face requires the application of effort, resources and persistence over time to win important policy, political and financial battles.  You need to explore ways to connect your members advocacy to long term efforts that have major payoffs when you win the issue.

Taser deaths in the United States is a good example.  Hard headed, strategic and coordinated pushback is whats required to change the behavior of police departments when it comes to taser use.  The typical reaction is a march, maybe some outraged advocacy around a specific incident.  But that simply is not enough to get us to the result we want when it comes to Taser use.  A long term campaign of coordinated, strategic action involving national civil rights organizations teamed up with local groups, employing negotiations and targeted legal/political pressure to make examples of police departments in egregious cases, raise the cost of unbridled taser use by departments and thereby effect a moderation in the use of tasers by police departments is whats required.

Your approach to campaigns currently can't support such a long term approach.  You can do the short term stuff, move people when emotions run hot, but not beyond. I've often asked the question on this blog "is a march the only thing in our playbook?".  Don't let the electronic advocacy you've engaged in so far become the only play in your book.   So I urge you to think about how you can use your system to engage a million black folk in the kind of long term sustained pressure strategies necessary to address issues such as police misconduct, financial policies that operate to our detriment, and a whole host of problems that require more than a quick email campaign.  

Your platform has been able to accomplish some good things. But now its time for it to evolve, and frankly COC too.  Take it to the next level.

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