Walking the Walk
December 17, 2014
I’ll be honest, running leadership development and training programs is always a little weird: my role is to prepare and support others to do amazing things. And the members of the Wellstone Corps did amazing things, I couldn’t be more proud of them, or more excited to see what they do next.
Over the last 6 months, I helped lead Wellstone’s most ambitious program yet: Wellstone Corps. From start to finish, we walked the walk of what politics the Wellstone Way means.
We started with the premise that thoughtful and strategic recruitment would yield a candidate pool that truly represents our movement. So we set out to hire a staff of organizers whose diversity reflects that of the US, both in terms of identity and experience. Every member of the Wellstone Corps was chosen because of their demonstrated leadership and personal commitment to progressive change.
Then we trained 20 organizers, developed their leadership, and deployed them to work on 2014’s toughest US Senate races. Working on campaigns this past decade, I’ve learned there are two ways to be an organizer. You can be a solo organizer or a team leader organizer.
Solo organizers spend hours a day on the phone calling voters, they spend hours a day canvassing, they work tirelessly to meet their goals. Many of these solo organizers do incredible work but their overall impact is limited.
A team leader organizer spends the hours making calls and knocking doors like the solo organizer but they prioritize building a team from the beginning. They take their volunteer recruitment call time just as seriously as their voter call time. They schedule regular phonebanks and canvasses which they fill with well trained volunteers. They replicate themselves 10 and 100 times over. This is how campaigns go from talking to a few hundred voters to many thousands.
Organizing as a team leader is organizing the Wellstone way. It’s how we build long-term power. So it’s what we trained the Wellstone Corps to do.
We trained them to become master of “the ask”
We trained them to do 1:1s
We trained them that relationships are the key to organizing
We trained them to train and coach every volunteer
We trained them to have a plan for developing the leadership of their volunteers
We trained them to create a calendar of actions
We trained them to delegate and be good managers
The sum of all this? The Wellstone Corps, and their volunteers, are responsible for knocking on over 65,000 doors and making over 2,100,000 calls in four of the most important Senate races of 2014.
But more important is what can’t be quantified by raw numbers, it’s the enduring progressive power we’ve built. Members of the Wellstone Corps knew that a volunteer can do anything a hired organizer can do. And amazing things happen when an organizer builds a trusted team: volunteers become more and more dedicated to a campaign, and to the movement. So today, even though the immediate campaigns are over, there are more leaders in communities across America ready to execute effective campaigns to win real progress.
And then there’s our Corps themselves. After all the training, all the coaching, and all the hard work in the states, our organizers came together for a final debrief right after Election Day. They will go on to work all over the country. Some will even do international work. Some will continue to organize for candidates or progressive causes. Some will work on policy. I won’t name names, but we even have two who say they’re planning to run for office!
Being a leader is hard work and it can feel lonely sometimes but they have built strong, beautiful, relationships and I know they will support each other along the way. Furthermore, they know they are now a part of the larger Wellstone family.
I’ve learned that no matter how many polls I read I can’t predict our political future. But I do know that if we continue to invest in leaders that represent our values and teach them how to build power we are pulling the arch of the moral universe towards justice. That’s progress.
The truth is, when you invest in people you win big. At Wellstone, we win big every day because investing in people is part of what we do best.