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Our Revolution: Yes; But First Some Questions

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God or Mammon, that is the Question. A more serious, fundamental question is the core heart and purpose of this organization. As California's Big Daddy Unruh was credited with observing, "Money is the mother's milk of politics." To run multiple local and statewide campaigns all across the country is going to require enormous sums of money. Will Bernie's followers be capable and inclined to provide it?

There's a big difference between an individual contributing money for a single candidate -- especially a presidential candidate, and more especially one like Bernie Sanders -- and contributing money to a fund diversified among 100 or more individuals running for everything from school board to U.S. Senate, candidates from distant cities whom one does not know and had no role in selecting.

The Web site shouts that Our Revolution is a Section 501(c)(4) organization (ineligible to provide donors a tax deduction). Is what is envisioned, in effect, just another PAC for millionaires and billionaires with progressive inclinations to give money subsequently distributed by Our Revolution staff members to candidates of their choosing? If so, I don't see that there is much role for the participation of at least most of what were once Bernie's enthusiastic followers.

I once asked Senator Hubert Humphrey what he told new U.S. Senators when they arrived. He said, "Nick, I tell 'em they have to give four years to the Lord, and then two years to get re-elected; four more years to the Lord, and then another two years to get re-elected."

Today's new senators are told, from their first day on the job, that it's six years of fund raising and campaigning to get re-elected, and then another six years to do it again. To make sure this happens, they are provided with targets for hours on the phone each day and week, and the sums they are expected to raise.

The question for Our Revolution is whether God and Mammon can co-exist; whether wealthy donors, and their large contributions, can co-exist with a progressive grassroots organization; and if not, whether either can bring about Our, or anyone else's, Revolution all by itself.

An insightful and fuller exploration of these and related issues can be found in Lambert Strether, "Is 'Our Revolution' the Way to Build Transformative Politics?", August 30, 2016.

Governance. There is a literature regarding board governance. See, for reading suggestions, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "Board Governance: Theory and Practice," April 28, 2000.

Governance involves all stakeholders thinking through, agreeing upon, and putting in writing, the assignment of responsibilities, delegations, and the relationships between Senator Sanders, the Board chair Larry Cohen, other Board members, President Jeff Weaver, other administrative persons, staff, and Our Revolution "members."

For example, will board members be limited to providing direction, determining mission and goals, and overseeing a management information reporting system regularly disclosing accomplishments along a timeline toward measurable goals, or may they also involve themselves in some administrative decisions? Must all board statements and actions come from the entire board, acting as the board (including accompanying concurring or dissenting opinions), or can the chair -- or any individual member of the board -- speak on their own, whether to the president, a staff member, or the public?

Will the Board members create their own meeting agenda, or will "board meetings" become in effect "president's meetings" to which Board members are invited to attend for purposes of listening to reports from the president and other members of the staff? Will the president sit in on all board meetings, or are they just for board members -- and whomever else the board may invite to discuss a specific item at a single meeting?

What will be the day-to-day role of Senator Sanders with Our Revolution, given his responsibilities to his Vermont constituents and his Senate colleagues?

There is no one "right" way to answer these, and dozens of other challenging questions regarding governance. The only truly "wrong" way to proceed is to fail to identify, address, and resolve them as the board's very first order of business.

Candidate Selection. If the, or at least a, major purpose and strategy of Our Revolution involves the election of populist, progressive candidates "from school boards to the White House," a central process question is the way, the process, and the standards for Our Revolution's selection of those candidates. There is then the process question of what resources (whether campaign worker hours or money) will be provided these candidates, how much will be accorded each (and the standards for making those decisions), and what kind of oversight and regular reporting will be used.

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Nicholas Johnson is best known for his tumultuous seven-year term as a Federal Communications Commission commissioner (1966-1973), while publishing How to Talk Back to Your Television Set, 400 separate FCC opinions, and appearing on a Rolling (more...)

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