03/09/2007 12:17 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bowers Is Right, But We Still Need To Talk Strategy

Chris Bowers over at wrote a response to my post at the HuffingtonPost where he makes a great point:

While I think Mike is onto something with the way he divides the different camps, I also think that his question as to whether or not the movement should pick fights carefully or engage in all-out-war is flawed. Ultimately, the progressive movement is highly decentralized, and while there are "leaders" in the movement, in reality the movement does not take marching orders from anyone. It is in this sense that his framing of the strategic options available to the movement is flawed, because it really isn't as though any organizations or individuals have the option of choosing whether the movement engages in "all out war" or "picking its fights." Since no one even comes close to controlling the movement as a whole, the reality facing individual agents within the movement is always one of picking your fights. You find different campaigns you want to either start or participate in, and those campaigns gain traction to varying degrees. For example, you might want to run primary challenges in a dozen different districts, but in the end you might only be able to find two or three in a given cycle that really move forward. Similarly, you might want to see progressives make real moves for party office in every state, but in the end there might only be four or five states where the movement really makes some noise.

My point is this: there is ultimately no decision making body that determines whether or not to pick fights or engage in an all out war. The reality of political work for players in the progressive movement is one of moving from campaign to campaign, often unevenly, and with wildly differing degrees of success. Different campaigns I have participated in, such as Use It Or Lose It, excited a large number of participants, developed a simple way for people to get involved, and had enough institutional support to get off the ground. The Fox News debate campaign is also gaining quite a bit of steam, and the 50 state community blog project is doing alright too. However, for all of our successful projects, there have been a much larger number of suggested campaigns that never got off the ground. The campaigns that become successful do so largely because the people who start them make a good argument that others should become involved, because they offer useful ways for other people to become involved, and finally because enough the people who act as individual agents within the progressive movement choose to become involved. The structure of the progressive movement, a diaspora of email lists, blogs, new organizations, free agents, local activists, junior staffers, conferences, and campaigns, picking and choosing our fights is the only way we can ever act.

Mike's question can really only be asked in a micro sense: "do I engage in fight X?" People ask themselves that question, and then figure out to what extent they engage in fight X. It probably works this way on the establishment side as well, although I can't really speak to that. Outside of rare moments like the Howard Dean presidential campaign or the 2006 Connecticut Senate primary, these battles are always waged on a micro-level.

I agree with this in part. The progressive movement is decentralized, and it does not take marching orders from anyone. That is, in some ways, one of its greatest strengths: the bottom-up, grassroots nature of at least the netroots aspect of the movement is what gives it its juice, passion and intensity. As Wes Boyd taught me long ago, he could propose anything he wanted to the folks in, but it was the membership who decided what would happen and what wouldn't.

But when Chris writes:

Mike's question can really only be asked in a micro sense: "do I engage in fight X?"

I have to challenge that. I am by nature and training an old organizer (my first training was by the Alinsky organizing institute), and the whole idea of organizing, of building a movement, is that you look for strategies that will get people working together. As Chris acknowledges, there are leaders in the progressive movement, and part of how we should lead is by thinking, talking and acting together in a strategic way. Not just battle by battle, project by project, or issue by issue, but in a constantly engaged dialogue over the long-term. Otherwise, the progressive movement -- newly revitalized in great part because of the netroots -- stays forever atomized and siloed. The difference between the extremist conservative movement and the progressive movement over the last 40 years is that their leaders did engage in long term, big picture strategic thinking, and ours mostly did not.

Does this mean that the leaders of the progressive movement meet together in their castle, and then hand out "marching orders" to the movement? Well, uh, no. It wouldn't work. The great vitality that the netroots is bringing to progressive politics is that of constant dialogue, fresh ideas and creative spontaneity coming from every corner of the movement. The leaders of the movement should work, think and plan together strategically, but understand that all of our ideas will come to nothing if the marketplace of our readers and numbers don't respond.

Mike Lux is the President of American Family Voices, an issue advocacy group sometimes described as the "free safety" of the progressive movement, and does consulting for progressive organizations and donors through his consulting firm, Progressive Strategies, L.L.C.