Unite and Conquer

How to Build Coalitions That Win -- and Last

Unite and Conquer

Kyrsten Sinema shows readers how to move past politics as war and create support for progressive causes by discovering and emphasizing our common humanity.

Written by a dynamic young legislator who has a record of bridging ideological and partisan divisions

Outlines a new approach—and a new mindset—that will enable progressives to consistently win

Livened with irreverent humor, enthralling campaign stories, and solid, practical advice

Too many progressives are still using old-school divide-and-conquer tactics: demonize the other side, frighten the voters, scheme, and maneuver to try to win on your own terms. This approach hasn’t been particularly successful and has led to widespread alienation and apathy, which plays into the hands of the status quo. And it’s a betrayal of some of the most cherished ideals of the progressive movement: inclusion, reason, justice, and hope.

This is starting to change, but old habits die hard. Nobody is better positioned to help than Kyrsten Sinema.Sinema was a leader in the successful fight against banning gay marriage in 2006 and in the effort to divest state funds in Darfur—unexpected victories in a traditionally conservative state. In Unite and Conquer, Sinema shares how we can put together broad-based coalitions that advance the progressive agenda rather than simply make us feel good about the purity of our ideals.

Sinema argues that we must let go of our preconceived notions about who our opponents are, how they think, what specific outcomes we’re aiming for, even our notions of who we are—identity politics have bred insularity and intolerance and closed us off from creating winning alliances and strategies. Using her experiences and examples from a host of campaigns from all over the country, she offers specific advice on how to forge connections—personal and political—with seemingly unlikely allies and define our values, interests, and objectives in ways that broaden our range of potential partners and expand our tactical options.

We have to learn to think “and,” not “but,” she says. Sinema shows readers how to move past politics as war and create support for progressive causes by discovering and emphasizing our common humanity.

• Written by a dynamic young legislator who has a record of bridging ideological and partisan divisions

• Outlines a new approach—and a new mindset—that will enable progressives to consistently win

• Livened with irreverent humor, enthralling campaign stories, and solid, practical advice

Too many progressives are still using old-school divide-and-conquer tactics: demonize the other side, frighten the voters, scheme, and maneuver to try to win on your own terms. This approach hasn’t been particularly successful and has led to widespread alienation and apathy, which plays into the hands of the status quo. And it’s a betrayal of some of the most cherished ideals of the progressive movement: inclusion, reason, justice, and hope.

This is starting to change, but old habits die hard. Nobody is better positioned to help than Kyrsten Sinema. Sinema was a leader in the successful fight against banning gay marriage in 2006 and in the effort to divest state funds in Darfur—unexpected victories in a traditionally conservative state. In Unite and Conquer, Sinema shares how we can put together broad-based coalitions that advance the progressive agenda rather than simply make us feel good about the purity of our ideals.

Sinema argues that we must let go of our preconceived notions about who our opponents are, how they think, what specific outcomes we’re aiming for, even our notions of who we are—identity politics have bred insularity and intolerance and closed us off from creating winning alliances and strategies. Using her experiences and examples from a host of campaigns from all over the country, she offers specific advice on how to forge connections—personal and political—with seemingly unlikely allies and define our values, interests, and objectives in ways that broaden our range of potential partners and expand our tactical options.

We have to learn to think “and,” not “but,” she says. Sinema shows readers how to move past politics as war and create support for progressive causes by discovering and emphasizing our common humanity.

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Overview

Kyrsten Sinema shows readers how to move past politics as war and create support for progressive causes by discovering and emphasizing our common humanity.

Written by a dynamic young legislator who has a record of bridging ideological and partisan divisions

Outlines a new approach—and a new mindset—that will enable progressives to consistently win

Livened with irreverent humor, enthralling campaign stories, and solid, practical advice

Too many progressives are still using old-school divide-and-conquer tactics: demonize the other side, frighten the voters, scheme, and maneuver to try to win on your own terms. This approach hasn’t been particularly successful and has led to widespread alienation and apathy, which plays into the hands of the status quo. And it’s a betrayal of some of the most cherished ideals of the progressive movement: inclusion, reason, justice, and hope.

This is starting to change, but old habits die hard. Nobody is better positioned to help than Kyrsten Sinema.Sinema was a leader in the successful fight against banning gay marriage in 2006 and in the effort to divest state funds in Darfur—unexpected victories in a traditionally conservative state. In Unite and Conquer, Sinema shares how we can put together broad-based coalitions that advance the progressive agenda rather than simply make us feel good about the purity of our ideals.

Sinema argues that we must let go of our preconceived notions about who our opponents are, how they think, what specific outcomes we’re aiming for, even our notions of who we are—identity politics have bred insularity and intolerance and closed us off from creating winning alliances and strategies. Using her experiences and examples from a host of campaigns from all over the country, she offers specific advice on how to forge connections—personal and political—with seemingly unlikely allies and define our values, interests, and objectives in ways that broaden our range of potential partners and expand our tactical options.

We have to learn to think “and,” not “but,” she says. Sinema shows readers how to move past politics as war and create support for progressive causes by discovering and emphasizing our common humanity.

• Written by a dynamic young legislator who has a record of bridging ideological and partisan divisions

• Outlines a new approach—and a new mindset—that will enable progressives to consistently win

• Livened with irreverent humor, enthralling campaign stories, and solid, practical advice

Too many progressives are still using old-school divide-and-conquer tactics: demonize the other side, frighten the voters, scheme, and maneuver to try to win on your own terms. This approach hasn’t been particularly successful and has led to widespread alienation and apathy, which plays into the hands of the status quo. And it’s a betrayal of some of the most cherished ideals of the progressive movement: inclusion, reason, justice, and hope.

This is starting to change, but old habits die hard. Nobody is better positioned to help than Kyrsten Sinema. Sinema was a leader in the successful fight against banning gay marriage in 2006 and in the effort to divest state funds in Darfur—unexpected victories in a traditionally conservative state. In Unite and Conquer, Sinema shares how we can put together broad-based coalitions that advance the progressive agenda rather than simply make us feel good about the purity of our ideals.

Sinema argues that we must let go of our preconceived notions about who our opponents are, how they think, what specific outcomes we’re aiming for, even our notions of who we are—identity politics have bred insularity and intolerance and closed us off from creating winning alliances and strategies. Using her experiences and examples from a host of campaigns from all over the country, she offers specific advice on how to forge connections—personal and political—with seemingly unlikely allies and define our values, interests, and objectives in ways that broaden our range of potential partners and expand our tactical options.

We have to learn to think “and,” not “but,” she says. Sinema shows readers how to move past politics as war and create support for progressive causes by discovering and emphasizing our common humanity.

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Kyrsten Sinema



Kyrsten Sinema is a Democratic member of Congress from Arizona's 9th Congressional District. She was formerly a Democratic member of the the Arizona House of Representatives, representing the 15th District. Born in Tucson, Arizona, Sinema moved to Phoenix in 1995. She attended Arizona State University where she earned a masters degree in social work and then a Juris Doctor. She was a social worker in the Washington Elementary School District before becoming a criminal defense lawyer. In 2006 she chaired Arizona Together, the statewide campaign that defeated Proposition 107 which would have banned the recognition of same-sex marriage in Arizona.  Visit her website.

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Foreword by Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona, 2003-2009

Preface

Introduction: Because You Can’t Get There on Your Own

Chapter 1: The Politics We Want

Chapter 2: Letting Go of the Bear and Picking Up the Buddha

Chapter 3: Creating Coalitions You Actually Want to Join

Chapter 4: Shedding the Heavy Mantle of Victimhood

Chapter 5: Making Friends

Chapter 6:
Letting Go of Outcomes

Chapter 7: Getting Back to Our Shared Values

Chapter 8: Naming Our Interests

Chapter 9: The Third Way

Chapter 10: And, Not But

Chapter 11: Keeping the Team Together

Conclusion: Get Your Coalition On

Bonus Resource: The Coalition Builder’s Toolkit

Notes
Acknowledgments
Index
About the Author

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UNITE and Conquer

image INTRODUCTION
Because You Can’t Get There on Your Own

I kind of fell into this whole legislator gig. I didn’t really intend to run for office, but as a school social worker in the late 1990s, working with immigrant and refugee kids in poverty, I found myself spending more and more time at the state capitol as time went on. I was often frustrated that these kids weren’t getting the same opportunities that I had as a child or that other children in our state had access to, and I thought that lobbying was my best shot at getting something for these kids. Well, I didn’t make a whole lot of headway in that respect, but I did learn about state politics. I was kind of surprised—I’d always assumed that legislators were somehow different from the rest of us. But it turns out that they’re just regular people.

What I didn’t like is that not enough of those regular people seemed to care about the things that I cared about—like affordable health care for kids; good, strong schools with equal opportunity; clean air and water; and investments in the future via smart growth and economic development. So after a while, I decided I’d run for office.

I was elected in November 2004 to represent District 15 in central Phoenix, an urban district that cares about education, health care, and the environment. Going into my first legislative sessions, I felt pretty confident that I’d represent the interests of my constituents well—after all, I told them what I believed in, and they’d elected me to serve them. I showed up to the capitol quite bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take the state by storm.

Except it didn’t quite work out like that. I showed up all right. And for the first several months, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, coming to work every morning full of vim and vigor, ready to face off for justice—which made me rather annoying. I’d stand up four or five times a week on the floor of the house and give scathing speeches about how this bill and that bill were complete and utter travesties of justice, and the paper would capture one or two of the quotes, and then we’d vote on the offending bills and they’d pass with supermajorities. I’d get righteously indignant and head back to my office, incensed that my colleagues could not only write but actually support and vote for such horrid policies!

Meanwhile, everyone else went to lunch. In short, my first legislative session was a bust. I’d spent all my time being a crusader for justice, a patron saint for lost causes, and I’d missed out on the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with fellow members in the legislature, lobbyists, and other state actors. I hadn’t gotten any of my great policy ideas enacted into law, and I’d seen lots of stuff I didn’t like become law. It was just plain sad.

I spent the summer figuring out what I wanted to change. I knew that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing because it wasn’t working for me and I hated it. I had, without actually planning to do so, fallen quite easily into the role of the loyal opposition, the righteously indignant crusader, the bomb thrower. In legislative lingo, a bomb thrower is a legislator who chooses to yell from the sidelines, cackle at the rest of the body, and generally raise hell from the corner of the room. A person who chooses to be a bomb thrower in the legislature is choosing to remove himself or herself from the work of the body: negotiating on bills, working to find compromises, and sometimes teaming up with unusual allies to promote or kill legislation. This person plays an important role at the capitol because he or she calls out the body on a regular basis (which is needed, especially considering that the general public hears or reads roughly 0.3 percent of what happens each day inside the legislature). However, the bomb thrower has made a choice—whether consciously or not—to be excluded from the actual process of negotiating proposed legislation. You can’t play both roles in the legislature; if you choose to be a bomb thrower, you will not get the opportunity to amend bills, participate in bipartisan meetings to craft good legislation, or work with people on the other side of the aisle to kill bad legislation. I unwittingly chose to be a bomb thrower my first session, which led to my unhappiness and regret.

Over the summer, I consciously chose to reject the bomb thrower role. For me, it was not a hard choice to make. I was miserable as a bomb thrower. And since I hadn’t consciously chosen that role, I was even more depressed when I realized that I had become a bomb thrower and worked my way right into that lonely corner. It didn’t fit me. I do love to give fiery speeches. But I also love people. I love talking with people, working together, and making friends. The bomb thrower doesn’t get to make friends much (understandably so), and she certainly doesn’t get to work with all the people she’s throwing bombs toward.

I reflected on the lessons I’d learned as a social worker— about meeting people where they are, forming trust-based relationships, and working with others to create a realistic plan of action that gets you toward your goal. My social worker skills had served me well over the years, and I thought I’d try them at the capitol. I knew that I wouldn’t be successful all the time (after all, Arizona’s legislature is controlled by the other party in both the house and the senate, and Democrats rarely passed bills with their names attached), but I figured I’d be at least marginally more successful (there’s only one way to go up from zero) and certainly a lot happier. So I took the advice that I’d ignored the year before from my state senator, Ken Cheuvront,1 and started over. When I went back to the legislature a few months later, it was like a whole different world had opened for me.

I calmed down and stopped taking everything so personally, which made me a lot nicer and, I think, reduced the furrowing of my brow. I made friends with Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between, which made me a lot happier. I had meetings with lobbyists that were relaxed and comfortable (regardless of whether or not we agreed on an issue). I laughed with legislators both liberal and conservative. I accepted losses with greater grace, participated in a few wins, and started getting invitations from Republican legislators to work together on bills.

It’s not all fun and roses—sometimes it’s still really, really hard to be in the legislature, and some days I still wonder why anyone would do this job2—but for the most part, I’m glad that I’m there, and I’m glad that I get lots done. It took four steps for me to get to the place I am now—where I can work well with just about anyone and where I can form and operate in coalitions that are some of the most unlikely you’ve ever heard about. First, it took recognition on my part that I didn’t like where I was or what I was doing and recognition that it could be different and I could make it so. Second, it took some personal transformation. I had to change the way I thought and behaved so I could see other people and reach out to them and work effectively. Third, it took relationship building. I had to make friends and find common ground with people who were sometimes very, very different from me. I had to build trust with them and allow them to build trust with me. And fourth, it took strategic work where we’d all put aside our own preconceived ideas of how to solve the world’s problems and instead use our shared values to create plans that worked for everyone.

Not only did these four steps change the way that I work at the capitol, in the community, and around the nation, they helped my work matter. Thanks to my ever-developing coalition-building skills, I’ve been able to be a part of some really exciting and meaningful change in this country—from protecting health care for families to fighting genocide to supporting diversity in higher education and more.

I probably could have found other ways to fill my time as a legislator without seeking out and forming coalitions, but I’m thinking that would have been horrid. My first year in the legislature sure was. Going it alone is no fun, plus there’s no one to invite to the victory party. Coalitions, on the other hand, are challenging, hard, exhilarating and rewarding, and ultimately lead to a larger concept of winning. That sounds like a pretty good party to me.

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Unite and Conquer goes to the very heart of what progressive politics needs—a good dose of learning how to work with others, sprinkled with humor and grace, by a truly remarkable woman.”

—Celinda Lake, President, Lake Research Partners

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