It’s in our name: The Incorruptibles. Occasionally when people first hear about us, they are concerned that we think some people are naturally “incorruptible.” Au contraire.
We hope that our name inspires these questions: are some people incorruptible, while others are corrupt? Could anyone become corrupted? Why do some politicians stick by their progressive principles for years, even decades, while most end up caving to pro-corporate forces within a few years of being elected?
We recently presented to grassroots organizers on the east coast and one of them brought up the question directly.
Which of these two do you believe?
- That we just have to put the right people in power, and then leave them alone? Or
- that we have to train candidates in a mode of operating that will keep them aligned with the people?
We do not believe anyone is incorruptible. You, me, every politician you’ve ever heard of, all of us can be corrupted in the wrong circumstances. What are these circumstances? More importantly, what are the circumstances that cause someone to remain true to their values even after decades in our caustic, poisonous, and amoral political swamp?
One way to look at this is to ask questions like these: who do our elected officials owe allegiance to? who they are dependent upon? It’s their donors, right? Well, not exactly…their future donors is closer.
What they’re really dependent upon is their own system of raising funds for reelection. If you are dependent on a system in which you spend 4 hours a day calling the wealthy, then obviously you will need to call wealthier and wealthier people as you move up to costlier offices. If you rely on many small donations, then obviously you will need to find a way to get more and more small donations.
Spending hours a day calling the wealthy will lead even the most progressive person down the wrong path. Anyone you talk to every day will influence your opinion. You hear their concerns. You learn about their families. You share stories and jokes. It is human nature to want to help the people who are in front of you, and to forget the people who are far away. So if your system of raising funds has you, the candidate, calling wealthy donors, then you’ll have to do something to balance that out.
What you need is a system that has you engaging with more and more of the people who are not served by our government. Just about anyone in the bottom 60% of wage earners falls into this category, so they’re easy to find. A good system has you, the candidate, listening to, educating, and mobilizing more and more people, some of whom become repeat small donors.
We are big believers in systems. And many people misunderstand how systems work. Social systems, like mathematical systems, prop themselves up. They display what is called homeostasis: the tendency of a system to resist change and maintain status quo.
Systems are stable (or spiral in a certain direction) because the actors continue to follow the “rules” — they do what has worked in the past. But all it takes to cause a system to become unstable, to move toward a completely different system, is just the right kind of nudge in the right direction. We are finding those nudge points, and this is one of them. Change the system candidates use to raise funds for their elections and it can overcome the rampant corruption in our political world.
Many people are working on changing our elections to reduce the influence of money in politics, including public financing, ranked choice voting, ending gerrymandering, and many others. We support these systemic changes 100%. But until they are a reality in every city, state, and national election, candidates need their own systems for raising funds and staying aligned with the people they want to serve.
Staying Aligned with the People
One first, easy step is to refuse corporate donations. Corporations exist to increase profit for their owners at the expense of the environment, workers, the community…if you take corporate donations you’re already beholden to the wrong people. But that’s just a start.
Candidates need to have a system of campaigning that makes them dependent on many small donations, and that inspires average people to donate. This system should be married with a year-round practice of listening and empowering. Listening to the people who are not being served by our government. Empowering them to not only be heard but to make change, to come up with their own ideas about how to change their city and to implement those changes. Bernie-style Continuous Town Halls are a great way to get started with this.
The Richmond Progressive Alliance has pioneered another great model for electing candidates that stay aligned with the people. They run a city-wide organization that cultivates and runs slates of candidates every election. This is not your standard endorsement — the RPA doesn’t wait for candidates to decide to run and ask for an endorsement. This organization works year-round every year with a coalition of service organizations, unions, churches, progressive thinkers, and others to cultivate candidates. These candidates are people who would never have run for office if it weren’t for the RPA. And when canvassers go door to door, they often convince the voter simply by mentioning the RPA, because that organization is well-known as a true representative of the people of Richmond. When politicians from the RPA serve in office, they remain true to their original values. It’s clear that they trust the RPA to re-elect them if they do their job of serving the people of Richmond.
Here at The Incorruptibles we train grassroots organizers how to create a long-lasting organization like the RPA in their city. We incorporate the best practices from the RPA, Bernie, great union organizers, and others who have succeeded in winning real change in their communities. We have workshops on strategy, town halls, coalition building, inequality education, fundraising, participatory democracy, and specific candidate training that covers campaigns, corruption, and how to frame issues.
We’re on a mission to create 1,000 Bernie Sanders. We do that by training not just the candidate, but entire city-wide organizations to run campaigns in ways that keep politicians dependent upon and aligned with the people instead of the money. Join us for a national info call on Wednesday, November 1st at 6pm PT/9pm ET to find out more.