Living and dying on the numbers

by Wade Rathke

Pearl River   A lesson close to the heart for every organizer is the importance of numbers. An organization can live and die on the numbers. Rising numbers are a sign of health, falling numbers are a flashing yellow caution light. Good organizers learn quickly at their peril that if they don’t manage the numbers carefully, they are in a world of trouble. They vary strategy and tactics in campaigns so that the numbers are appropriate to the target, and they can husband their strength to when they need to show it the most.

Veteran organizer, Greg Galluzzo, the founder and director of the Gamaliel network of community organizations in the United States, once shared with me an analysis of the strength and weakness of their annual convention-assembly model of organizing lay in the problem of managing the numbers. If the founding convention had 1000 people in attendance, it needed to be larger in subsequent years in order to build and project power. In the best cases they could keep the numbers rising for several years, but there was inevitably a plateau that they reached within five years or so, and then a struggle to maintain that level. Since everything was based on this mass assembly and bringing the targets into the event to win, hitting a peak, and then declining showed weakness and made winning new victories harder and sustaining the organization more difficult. Sometimes they could, and sometimes they couldn’t. Every organizer in one way or another know and understands this problem.

President Trump is about to buy this lesson and pay the full price.

First, he and his campaign made a rookie mistake. Rather than downplaying the expected crowd, so that anything larger elevated the event, they raised the expectation of the numbers to ridiculous levels, even for normal events, much less during a masked pandemic. They incredibly claimed that a million people had asked for tickets. They pumped up the media as if hordes were descending on Tulsa for this campaign kickoff rally. Pride cometh before the fall.

If you live by the numbers, you’ll die by the numbers, and he took a body blow in Tulsa. In a venue holding 19,000, a kind estimate would say he broke 12,000. That would have been fine, if you had billed the rally for 5000, but not when you were pumping it up as an event where people were camping out early because you had convinced them they might be turned away by the hordes. Worse for Trump, this was happening in the beating red heart of his base in Oklahoma where he had prevailed in 2016 by more than 30%. Even these numbers were boosted by people driving in from nearby MAGA hot spots like Kansas, rural Missouri, Texas, and Arkansas.

Every community, union, and political organizer knows when you can smell death in an election. Trump’s a campaigner. I’m betting he is sniffing the stench. Heads will fall in his campaign now after this opening debacle, but it is impossible not to see blood in the water.


Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International

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