Documenting the success of Righty – The American Conservative
Local power is the key to gaining lasting power.
PORTLAND, OR – OCTOBER 26: Protesters against the vaccination mandate gather during a Portland public school board meeting to discuss a proposed vaccination mandate for students on October 26, 2021 in Portland, Oregon. The board moved the meeting to discuss a proposed vaccination mandate for students aged 12 and older online after a group of anti-mandatory protesters gathered ahead of the meeting. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
Organize Right is a regular column with less beat than meander on organizing: how the right do it, how the left do it, lessons from its history, and its impact on the present.
Recently, Team Righty has had some success on the education front, and it’s worth taking a look at why. Much of this column has been about either how good the left is at organizing or how badly the right fails at it, but we also need to look at the places where the right did well. And there aren’t that many of them! Leftists are on the rise everywhere; Rightly so that “the people will not accept that” usually leads to disappointment. So why is education (at the moment) different? What lessons should right-handers learn?
The first hour: You have a better chance of building support and making an impact if you choose a topic that many people are heavily invested in. The more potential recruits you have, the better. And in the words of historian Robert Conquest’s First Law, as recorded in the memoirs of Kingsley Amis: “In general, everyone is reactionary on subjects with which he is familiar.” (The Second Law of Conquest read: “Every organization seems to be run by secret agents of their opponents.”) Something many people know well is an effective reason for organizing. Most American parents have their children in public schools. Most American parents attended public schools themselves. American parents, therefore, have reasonable expectations of public schools, and while they may have different values, they overwhelmingly agree that children who attend public schools should actually be learning to do things like math.
Parents find that public schools invest less in this outcome. An alarming number of public school teachers believe that “rigor” and “accuracy” are watchwords for white supremacy and that it’s more important for children to vaguely know that there are some forms of math where 2+2 = 5 is possible than it is, being able to add two and two in everyday life and get four. That’s the kind of thing that makes progressive white math teachers feel good but doesn’t help poor black kids figure out how and where and for how much money a boss or a landlord or a bank or some kind of government agency is ripping them off . Nor does it help public school students of any ethnicity or socioeconomic level to learn more advanced mathematics that can lead to lucrative careers.
The latter has prompted some backlash here in California recently. The elites here are trending away, but when “reforms” threatened expanded opportunities for public school students to study calculus — the sort of things the California elites want their children to be able to do (because a.), elites take pride in their children’s achievements School and b.) see above on “paid careers”) – it was a bridge too far, and these elites revolted. The backlash included an open letter from over a thousand STEM professionals opposing the curriculum changes. There are limits to what an open letter can do; The result was delays, minor syllabus changes… and pretty much the same thing going forward. But in California it is remarkable that elites object to one aspect of public education! Energy and outrage alone aren’t enough to achieve your goals, but having many people who care about them is the first step in recruiting them and turning them into an effective machine.
The second lesson: Document exactly what your enemies say and do. You can’t talk about Righty’s success on the education front without mentioning Christopher Rufo’s efforts on that front. But to get anything out of it, you have to look at what he’s doing. Right-handers tend towards hero worship: When someone succeeds at something, we tend to say that person is great, rather than asking what they are doing that is effective and can be emulated. Rufo isn’t just talking about waking parenting being bad; He talks about what awakened education is, not in general but in particular, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction to jurisdiction. He collects internal documents leaked by fellow insiders that he himself collected while filing requests for public records and releases them publicly. Gathering detailed documentation is essential to effective counteraction, and it’s particularly effective when your opponents are liars, such as B. “This is not happening”. It totally happens; Here are examples! “It’s not common.” It happens in all sorts of places across the country; Here are more examples! “That’s not it Yes, really Critical Race Theory”. Here are documents that say it is! And so forth.
The most important thing about the work of Rufo or other information-gathering activists is not the activist themselves, but what makes this work possible. Documenting what your enemies are saying is not just an opportunity to call them a liar or a hypocrite, because calling people across the country a liar or a hypocrite is not enough to urge them to change. This isn’t a nationwide fight either (and face it, how effective have the Conservatives been in passing federal legislation that isn’t a tax cut?). It’s a statewide fight and it’s 50 state fights and it’s countless county and city fights. Intelligence-gathering activists can collect and release a lot of information, but when locals form persistent groups, they can use that information to pressure the field… and then up.
This leads us to a third lesson: Create pressure against and within the structure you are trying to change. Here’s a case study. As parents increasingly began to complain about schools’ direction to their local school boards, the National School Board Association released a letter equating parental involvement in schools with “domestic terrorism.” The parents, very understandably, added this to the list of things they complained about to their local school authorities. That was necessary and good. However, this did not automatically put pressure on the national organization. Standing up defiantly and speaking your mind is pointless if the people you’re talking to feel like they can just ignore you.
What put pressure on the national organization? Several state groups across the country began to distance themselves from the declaration, or even talk about distancing themselves from the national organization, which (if enough was done) would increase its power, its reputation and, most importantly – as the NSBA collected fee payments – could weaken their finances. These denials of the original letter by the State Chapter were neither spontaneous nor organic reactions. They came because the Parents Defending Education group called these state groups, asked them to watch or downvote the comments, post their responses to a website, and keep a running list of rejection. The group also used public records laws to gain internal discussion of the letter, noting that the head of the NSBA had released it without consulting the organization’s board of directors. This created internal pressures within the organization to add to the external pressures created by distancing itself from the state chapters. The organization withdrew the letter to alleviate this internal and external pressure, but by this time so many state-level branches were left that the question was raised as to whether the NSBA could properly be called a national organization. (It also increases the possibility of a new competing organization if these separate chapters can come together to form one.)
It’s important to track not only your enemies, but also Lesson 4: Track your supposed allies and yourself. School choice activist Cory DeAngelis is a funny social media follower because he cheerfully points out whenever a prominent figure who opposes taxpayer money instead of public school systems funding students does not send their own children to public schools or does not do so themselves go to public schools. What makes his Twitter feed useful and interesting, however, is his labor tracking legislation: when a jurisdiction faces a vote on a bill to fund students instead of systems, he notices. If the bill goes through, he writes it down. If the bill fails, he finds that it highlights those whose platforms or parties were said to be in favor of the school’s election, and who voted against – that is, to give people in that jurisdiction the information they need to know about those candidates to challenge in future elections. Right-handers like full-bodied bleachers, but it doesn’t matter how dismissive people are if they don’t vote properly – so you need to keep track of how they’re voting and pressure them or replace them when they fall short.
All of these individual efforts are important, worth emulating, and lead to progress. One thing that would make them even more effective would be Consolidate and archive the information into concise packages for future reference– not books intended to convey a narrative to an unknown audience, but current, regularly issued, archived and downloadable reports for use by local activist groups.
Local power is the key to gaining lasting power. And when we pay attention to the people on our side who are actually making a difference—not just praising them, but emulating the methods they use and the tools they use—we can set ourselves up for more of the same.
David Hines has a professional background in international human rights work with a focus on recovery from enforced disappearances and mass murder. He lives in Los Angeles.