The New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl 44. Congratulations to the players, the organization, and, most importantly, Saints fans.
The story of the Saints is a classic rags-to-riches tale. The team had never been to the championship game. They had 2 playoff wins in 42 years. They were so bad that their fans wore paper bags over their head for years and unaffectionately called the team "The Aints."
New Orleans has also had a hell of a ride, going from "Las Vegas of the South" to the flash point of modern government incompetence, racism, and social injustice after Hurricane Katrina. The city and its football team were ripe for a comeback.
Our Progressive movement is too. Why? We took back Congress in 2006. We took back the White House in 2008. We passed health care reform We’re working on that. We need a comeback because we’re disoriented.
It’s like we just woke up. Our eyes are open, but our vision is blurred. We know our slippers are near the bed, but we have to feel around with our toes to find them.
We reorient ourselves by becoming clear in our purpose. Let’s take a page from the Saints and make that happen. Progressive organizers, activists, and politicians can learn a lot from these World Champions about how to win this year and beyond. Here are 3 key lessons.
Be who you are
The Saints have been a gutsy team all season. Their high-powered offense was planned and executed by a coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterback aligned with common purpose. They knew one another well and believed in each other. They gave each other space to be themselves.
Drew Brees doesn’t have the strongest arm in the league, but he’s the NFL’s most accurate passer. Instead of throwing long balls, they played to Brees’ strengths and ran quick, short plays that relied on timing and precision.
Progressives must do the same and play to our strengths. Let’s quit trying to act like people we’re not and pretending to hold views that we don’t. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t grow our thinking or our skills as a movement (see below), but it does mean that we must look at what makes us who we are and work with that.
Now, Discover Your Strengths by Mark Buckingham is a book we all should read. It asserts that the most effective method for motivating people is to build on their strengths rather than correcting their weaknesses. We’re a big tent with big ideas and strong convictions. Let’s remember who we are, remember what our movement is about, and use that to boldly move forward.
Be bold or go home
The Saints didn’t get to the Super Bowl by playing not to lose. They went for it on 4th downs. They kicked an onside kick to open the 2nd half. They went for the 2-point conversion. Some gambles worked, some didn’t. When they were down 10-0 after the 1st quarter, they didn’t forget the traits that made them the highest-scoring team in the NFL and NFC champions.
Progressives must do the same: Be courageous enough to be boldly progressive. Stand up for your vision of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. If something is disgusting, call it disgusting. If someone is dishonest, call them a liar. If something is possible, tell that story. Wimpy politicians finish 2nd. Wimpy organizers don’t win. Sick of losing? Get sick of being timid.
The dirty little secret is that this makes us more attractive to the debutantes everyone is courting: independents. Persuadable, undecided voters are more likely to vote for candidates/support parties that stand strongly for something. Shyness wins neither dates nor political victories.
Remember your supporters
We neither win nor lose alone. The problem is that when we win we salute ourselves, and when we lose, we focus on our opponents. This must cease. Movements, like football teams, thrive on passion. Every player, coach, and representative of the New Orleans Saints thanked their fans first during every interview they gave. They know who propelled them to the top, and they didn’t forget them.
The passion that drives us and keeps us working and organizing must never be aimed toward our opposition. To become sustainable and resilient, we must focus on and feed off of our supporters. Our fans. Our base.
Progressives [sensibly] spewed venom towards the Bush Administration for years, but now we can’t quite articulate what we’re shooting at. What if we showered our fans with hope and a coherent worldview to organize around? Investments made in supporters are like spending time with your grandparents: always a good idea.
Let’s invest in ourselves and our allies. Training. Networking. Leadership development. Technology infrastructure. You want donors of talent, time, and treasure? Invest in your fans. They’ll love you for it.
Congratulations New Orleans.
Thank you for showing me and the rest of the Progressive movement what it takes to win.
Garlin Gilchrist II is the Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change.