Skip to main content

As we watch the Democratic primary process grind candidates into oblivion, it is important to know what truly motivates human behavior and which actions translate into building an effective campaign and, even better, a movement.

Bernie Phenomenon

Leadership begins with understanding who you are: what you value, what motivates you, and how you reached this point in your life. In addition, a true leader helps others to achieve their purpose by connecting with their values. And the only way to understand that you have shared values is through honest, compassionate and genuine relationships.

When we think of current leaders, how many of them do we share values with? Who amongst them would we want to form a relationship with on levels other than political? In whom do we see a little bit of ourselves as they share their ideas for how to rebuild our country? And who would we trust with our energy, time and emotions?

If true leadership is based on caring relationships, then how does a candidate like Bernie Sanders galvanize a broad swath of our society to be a part of the movement he is creating? One of the keys is that there is a stark difference between mobilizing and organizing. And most politicians either don’t know the difference, or they are too encumbered by other priorities to find out.

Organizing, on the other hand, requires that you actually do make a significant personal commitment to a movement or candidate. That is, frankly, the whole point!

Mobilizing, essentially, is the process of accessing and deploying a voter’s resources. For example, it is the time that it takes to show up at a rally, the motion to click to sign an on-line petition or letter to their representative, or to send money to the campaign via its web site. Generally, mobilizing is an action that takes little effort and requires no follow-up, homework or continued participation. And it definitely doesn’t require that you begin a long-term relationship with that candidate and expend the level of intimacy that one entails.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Organizing, on the other hand, requires that you actually do make a significant personal commitment to a movement or candidate. That is, frankly, the whole point! As the result of the genuine relationship that you have built, one is willing, and even eager, to wholeheartedly jump into the frenzy of the moment. Much of this eagerness is based on the fact that you see the value of committing to work together in the pursuit of a common vision or purpose. The chemistry involved only happens, like any healthy relationship, when two people have learned enough about each other’s interests, attributes and values to care about one another.

The amazing result of organizing is that genuine relationships, which are based on common values, spawn even more participants. These new enthusiastic members form action teams, enlarge the network and gain momentum that is then able to mobilize resources over and over again. The process becomes a never-ending loop of humanity who all want to be a part of something bigger than each individual.

So why has Bernie catapulted into the lead in the Democratic primary campaign? The clear reason is that he has the most effective organizing system in the country today. So many other candidates focus on mobilizing by spending millions of dollars on TV ads or hosting campaign rallies in the next battleground state. And, except for the billionaires, they are relentless in their efforts to raise money.

However, none of them has the sophistication or structure that can match Bernie’s organizing system, which emphasizes shared values, leadership development, teamwork, purpose and mutual respect. So they rail about his positions on the issues, complain about ‘Bernie Bros’, call his proposals unrealistic, then look to the Democratic Party to save them from defeat. If they spent more time on building genuine relationships through their campaigns rather than complaining about the “crazy Senator from Vermont”, maybe they would resonate more with voters.

brian biery 2020

Brian Biery

Brian Biery is a community organizer, documentary photographer, and Adjunct Professor of Advocacy/Social Justice at Pacific Oaks College. His world view has been shaped by serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and by engaging his community on social justice issues for over 20 years.