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It's Not About the Leaks. It's About the Boats that Can Get Us Out of the Flood.

Jodeen Olguín-Tayler

When you find a leak, do you jump up and point at it? Yell about it? What if the leak is part of a massive flood? Do you call up your friends and make plans to build a dam? What if the leak comes at you when you’ve been trapped in a basement with floodwater rising up to your neck? 

Early Wednesday morning, many media outlets were buzzing with news of a leak.

This leak, a recording of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel praising the Koch brothers’ campaign contributions and railing against the minimum wage, was recorded at a secret meeting for major conservative donors and politicians. 

I’m not sure where you were standing, but when this news broke, my family —who has been stuck in the flooding basement—did not start shouting about the leak. Standing there with the water at our necks, the leak was both completely infuriating and, given the circumstances, the focus on it was almost funny. 

The first wave of press stories focused on the leak itself. A second wave raised how senate races might be impacted.

A few stories got closer to hitting the nail on the head, voicing anger and the need for campaign finance reforms.

But this story of money flooding into our political system is all too familiar to most of us. Recent polls show a majority of the population already knows this story well and wants to see it change.

So, why haven’t we built a dam that can hold back the flood?

I believe the reason is because there is actually another story to tell here. This story is about the multi-year strategy not just to build a dam, it’s the epic about how my communities are building boats to get us out of the flood. It’s about the work we are doing to amass convoys of boats and align into the massive, powerful, diverse fleet of ships we need to get us out of this stank, toxic water. It’s the story about how we get to an entirely different political landscape – one where we, all of us, have an equal say and an equal chance. 

For most of us, it has been no secret that the flood of money coming in to political elections results in politicians promoting legislative agendas that aren’t in our communities’ best interests. It results in politicians’ willingness to bail out banks from financial problems they paid themselves billions to create for the rest of us, and their unwillingness to hold banks accountable for administering the loan that was intentionally structured to bankrupt my dad. The money flooding into elections results in a prison industrial system that profits off of putting and keeping our youth and family in prison. It creates courts and financial institutions that imprison students and families in mountains of debt for going to college, or needing to have a medical surgery. It creates voting laws that, instead of facilitating our ability to have a say in our democracy, instead limit who gets to participate in our elections.

And, for the people that needed a reminder, the past few weeks have highlighted that money in politics feeds the military industry that is selling tanks, bullets and riot gear to police departments in Fergeson, Missouri. Money in Politics fuels ammunition for racially motivated violence. 

None of that has been a secret. And the McConnell leak, while important to trace and notice, is not a surprise. For many community-based organizing groups, what we need to do about it has also not been a secret. If it has been a mystery to some of those who’ve been standing still and yelling into a bullhorn, pointing at that flood of money, then that is because not only are we not effectively telling the story of the impact of the flood, but we are also not getting to the most important story – the strategies being used to build power not just to dam up the flood, but to use our resources to build the vehicles we need to get us to an entirely different political terrain. 

Even in the midst of this flood, groups based in low income and communities of color have run campaigns resulting in incredible victories. Just a few examples include the campaign led by the National Domestic Workers Alliance that won minimum wage and overtime protections for 2.5 million domestic workers, Take Action Minnesota’s and ISAIAH’s campaign that won a nationally celebrated landmark victory to reduce the racial jobs gap, and the jointly-led campaigns and organizing and mobilizations that led to increasing wages for 7 million federal contract workers. Just as important as the wins has been developing and running these campaigns in ways that expand the realm of what is possible for us to win. These kinds of multi-issue, cross sector campaigns transform our sets of relationships, develop our infrastructure and build new vehicles for power that allow us to fundamentally shift the terrain. These are the types of campaigns and partnership work I hope the entire campaign finance reform movement will choose to direct more of their energy to. Let’s not focus on the leaks, let’s deal with the flood by committing to collaborative campaigns that build the skills and vision for what we need and where we want to go, and the unity to get us there. 

Wanna build some boats?

(Originally posted at the Movement Strategy Center)