Let’s just start with the name and then we’ll go from there.
The recently announced political innovation organization spearheaded by Silicon Valley richy-riches Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus likely shot itself in the face by choosing the name “Win The Future.” This is naturally abbreviated as WTF, and even the group has embraced hashtag-WTF.
Of course, the average, non-engineering English speaker will see this abbreviation and think: What the fuck?
That these two otherwise relatively intelligent people somehow thought this name could represent a movement around which people across the country might rally speaks to the utter tone-deafness of the effort right out of the gate.
Hopefully, the first person wearing a WTF T-shirt will be laughed out of their neighborhood Welcome Wagon meeting and cower shamefully in their basement for the next decade.
But beyond the lunacy of this misbegotten name is the concept. Or, rather, the complete lack of one.
“What the fuck is Win The Future?” one might ask. To which one might answer: “No fucking clue.” #NFC
You can read Pincus’ vision statement and search for some clues:
To get there we can’t sit on the sidelines any longer. We can’t wait until elections to fight for what we care about. We can’t hope for a benevolent leader who may choose to listen to us. We need to create our own modern people’s lobby. We need to get organized. We need a network that lets the best ideas and leaders rise to the top through an open, inclusive democratic process.
Ok. WTF? For those of you old enough to remember, this is essentially what crankypants Ross Perot said he wanted to do during his independent presidential bid in 1992. There are a lot of smart people in the U.S., so let’s just get them in a room together and figure out solutions to our problems. We’ll have town hall meetings around the country and create consensus around the issues. And we’ll use polls to figure out how people really feel about stuff.
WTF seems to want to do this by convincing people to pony up money to buy billboards and tweet about it and become a “zip code leader.” The latter would apparently entitle you to be the most annoying person in your neighborhood by harassing your friends into getting together to give money to WTF and tweet more.
At its core, WTF seems to be ignorant of some pretty fundamental lessons from the last election. First, people who felt disenfranchised did make their voices heard. Many of them voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primary. And many more voted for Donald Trump in the general election. They love Trump because they feel he’s listening to their voice.
Second, the notion that somehow money is the issue is laughable. With all due respect, buy your own damn billboards.
Finally, anyone who thinks the Democratic Party lost the election because it slid too far to the left has been living under a rock on a planet in another dimension. Their distance from reality is nearly immeasurable. For many, the Democrats and mainstream Republicans had become indistinguishable. People voted for Trump (and Sanders) because they were sick of established politics.
WTF says it wants to be “pro-social, pro-planet, and pro-business.” It’s an attempt to sound centrist while spewing empty platitudes that include stuff like MAKING POLITICIANS ACCOUNTABLE! Please.
Perhaps worst of all, though, is that the initiative is pure laziness. It offers a chance to feel like you’re doing something without really doing anything. This is basically enabled by the misguided belief that somehow the internet will make all things possible by democratizing participation and lowering the barriers to entry and creating a platform for the voiceless and blablablahutopiansiliconvalleyblather.
If these folks really want to construct a new centrist movement using digital technologies, they would do well to study Emmanuel Macron’s campaign and dig into the details of how he captured the presidency in France. His belief was also that there was a voiceless center that wasn’t being served by the traditional left-right parties.
He created his movement by recruiting several thousand people to walk around France, interviewing citizens and listening to their concerns. Those recruits became the basis of his En Marche! party, but the interviews were analyzed to construct a platform and to understand how to talk to people about the issues. And the process of meeting people in person spiraled into hundreds of meetups that were held across the country over several months.
The result was victory in the presidential elections and a landslide in the legislative elections.
It happened because, from the beginning, he knew it was important to get his hands dirty, build the movement by listening, and get people to actually do the hard work of organizing in person. Even in the digital age, there is no real substitute for human contact and conversation when it comes to creating empathy on both sides.
Macron, like Trump, also understood that politics is not just about logic but rather about tapping into emotion. Macron’s team made an effort to understand what people felt about various issues and to figure out how to speak to them and really reach them. Trump is, of course, the master of stirring emotions despite an almost complete absence of logic or reason.
If I could give Pincus and Hoffman some advice, it would be this: Go knock on doors. Start talking to regular folks.
If you want to build a movement, be willing to do the hard work of organizing. Otherwise, you’re just wasting other people’s time and money.