When it comes to running for public office, there is a well-worn path. All that’s required to take this route is money and lots of it. Multi-millionaire investment banker and soon-to-be-former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel put it this way: “The first third of your campaign is money, money, money. The second third is money, money, money. The final third is votes, press and money.”
For those keeping score at home that’s money 7, press 1 and votes 1.
That kind of thinking is undeniably the conventional wisdom in American politics, but it’s anything but wise. It’s absolutely ruinous. It destroys faith in democracy and trust in government. Another way is desperately needed.
Money is powerful in politics, no question about it. But it is not the only political currency. There are other currencies that, when combined, can make a concoction potent enough to overcome conventional political power. India was freed from British colonial rule using what Mahatma Gandhi called satyagraha or “truth force.” A disciple of Gandhi’s, Martin Luther King Jr., put what he called “soul force” to equally effective use in the fight for racial justice and civil rights in America.
At least four ingredients come readily to mind that can be substituted for large sums of money in a recipe for a successful election campaign:
- People power, creatively employed. Conventional campaigns rely on costly paid advertising to reach voters. Campaigns not powered by big money need to be people powered. Old-fashioned shoe leather can be combined with new-age cyberstumping, using the power of social media and other new age tools to complement volunteer effort. Neighbors talking to neighbors, getting the word out in a way that’s far more trusted than pricey television, radio or print ads.
- BIG IDEAS, fearlessly shared. Money is a form of political capital, and it’s pretty much the only one recognized by conventional politicians. Provocative ideas are an alternative political currency. Consultants teach conventional politicians to play it safe and avoid saying or doing anything controversial. Defeating convention necessarily involves risk. Successful low-budget campaigns have to make friends with controversy.
- Revolutionary spirit, properly understood. Never forget the U.S. is the product of revolt against a king’s power. Distrust of government is in our national DNA. Most Americans hate politics and politicians with a burning passion. Most dislike both major parties. Smart shoestring campaigners swim with these currents. They’re anti-royalty. They put the “little guy” on a pedestal. While conventional politicians are fawning over VIPs, people-powered campaigns make privilege the enemy. Large numbers of people see both the political system and economy rigged against them. They see both politics and economics working well for a few at everyone else’s expense. Embracing what they see is valuable political bitcoin.
- Love, publicly displayed. Hate is an undeniably powerful emotion. It incites people to action, even to violence. Fear and the hate that grows out of it are regularly put to use for political gain. Well, love is a powerful emotion too, and can inspire social action just as readily as hate does. With hate on the rise in our society, never has there been a greater need for love, empathy, compassion and concern for the common good. We can’t be afraid to say it’s important to look out for each other and that we are our brother’s—and sister’s—keeper. Our society has become very self-centered and driven by greed. Now more than ever, “me” politics needs to be assertively challenged by “we” politics. Love is another currency that needs to be put into circulation.