Why do they pay this guy!? Why PUSH Buffalo’s Campaigns Suck & Inside their Policy and Strategy “Department”
When was the last time that PUSH Buffalo actually created or developed a winning community campaign in Buffalo? A campaign that anyone really cared about? The answer? It has been years! While the organization is busy strategically creating a toxic work environment for its employees and pursuing grant dollars, it spends an equal amount of time strategically avoiding the creation and implementation of winning campaigns for the low-income Buffalo community it was founded on. Why is that? Let’s take a look.
First off, to actually do anything for the community, one must actually care about the community. Because in order to create a winning campaign that changes actual lives, one must understand the people the campaign would be designed to help. Furthermore, you must know how to create a set of policies and strategies that would be the basis for winning campaigns.
Enter Clarke Gocker, PUSH Buffalo’s ‘Director of Policy and Strategy’, who is a white, middle-aged, college-educated man from Rochester, NY. We will get into his background and harmful actions (and inactions) in a minute, but first, what does a Policy and Strategy Director do? What is policy and strategy? For the sake of setting a framework for discussion, let’s refer to an article
written on LinkedIn by Sanjeev Bagal. “A Strategy is a special plan made to achieve a market position and to reach the organizational goals and objectives, but Policy refers to a set of rules made by the organization for rational decision making. Many people have confusion regarding the two terms, but they are not alike. You should know that policies are subordinate to strategy.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary “policy
” is described as; “Prudence or wisdom in the management of affairs, management or procedure based primarily on material interest, a definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions, a high-level overall plan embracing the general goals and acceptable procedures especially of a governmental body.
Also according to Merriam-Webster “strategy
” is described as; “a variety of or instance of the use of strategy, a careful plan or method, a clever stratagem, the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal, an adaptation or complex of adaptations (as of behavior, metabolism, or structure) that serves or appears to serve an important function in achieving evolutionary success.
Simply put, in the case of PUSH Buffalo and similar action-based non-profits, policy is a set of values created by the organization, and strategy is the way the organization goes about making those values bigger and more publicly powerful through the creation of public campaigns. In this case, the Policy and Strategy Director’s job is to take the values of PUSH Buffalo and make them bigger through the creation and implementation of winning community campaigns. Unfortunately, Clarke Gocker does not have the experience, credentials, or courage to be effective in his position, and yet he is still climbing up the nonprofit industrial complex power ladder at PUSH and in New York State policy around green workforce, energy justice, and climate justice. Just this past year, he was tapped to be on the New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act’s Energy Efficiency and Housing Advisory Panel.
At PUSH Buffalo, where there has been no winning campaign for the West Side community in years, many feel that Clarke Gocker is a huge detriment to PUSH Buffalo’s legacy and future of creating effective community-based campaigns. His presence contributes to the frustration of working in PUSH’s toxic work environment because you see from the inside that PUSH Buffalo leaders like Gocker don’t know what they are doing and are causing harm, even while they are publically getting praised, put on government advisory panels, and awarded grant dollars on the basis of achievements that happened years ago. If an activist organization can’t even create a good campaign to build community interest, they’re in trouble and a ship with multiple holes that will soon sink.
Clarke Gocker is currently the longest-standing staff person at PUSH (he’s been there almost 11 out of the 15 years) and a member of PUSH Buffalo’s Senior Management Team. We’ll go into the Senior Management Team in more detail in another post, but this is essentially PUSH’s body of department directors that manage (and mismanage) the organization. The Senior Management Team makes many of the decisions that have created and/or allowed the toxic work environment that exists at PUSH Buffalo today. They have also made many of the decisions to create “community” campaigns that the Buffalo community and many of their tenants (remember, PUSH Buffalo is also a landlord of 100+affordable housing units) are not interested in.
Many former and current employees feel that Clarke Gocker doesn’t know what he is doing, and is the type of individual who will throw you way up under a bus, and back it up to make sure you’re done to save himself. His lack of leadership, lack of a basic understanding of the job, lack of an ability to stand up for his subordinates, and lack of connection to the plight of low-income people and People of Color in Buffalo has made him an ideal candidate for helping to cook up a recipe for a toxic work environment at PUSH Buffalo.
In addition to the absence of successful campaigns, like PUSH’s ‘campaigns’ around it’s supposed low-income, sustainable job creating Hiring Hall, and it’s PUSH Green energy efficiency arm, one of Clarke Gocker’s many screw ups, which we will cover in more detail in a future post, is his role in the creation and mismanagement of PUSH Buffalo’s not-actually-a-Net-Zero House. In and around 2010, Clarke Gocker, relying on his background in sociology and “working on houses” without formal training, was the overseer of the plans and construction of this “Net Zero” house, which was supposed to generate as much electricity as it consumed. PUSH Buffalo still brags about this failed project as though it’s some great achievement in sustainability! The house’s unique combination of heating systems was installed wrong from jump and led to the Tenant having higher bills than the rest of the community. Instead of acknowledging these mistakes, Clarke Gocker and other staff created a racist and gaslighting framework to deny that this tenant was freezing in a home that had her paying more in utility bills than rent. After about five years of gaslighting that included reports, national news stories, a feature in the HBO documentary “Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution”, healing circles (which Clarke did not attend), and hundreds of PUSH tours going by her home often with no notice, a few employees did extra work to get PUSH to fix the system and finally acknowledge that the Tenant was not lying or confused about how her house worked. In reality, it was Clarke Gocker’s incompetence, arrogance in building a new system with trainees and no formal training himself, and inability to acknowledge mistakes that caused the problems.
In the years that have followed, Clarke Gocker continues to hold his leadership position as the Director of Policy and Strategy at PUSH Buffalo with zero accountability for the harm he has caused to the West Side community and PUSH Buffalo staff. Many believe that he was promoted to this important management job at PUSH to be the ‘white boy’ that the organization needs to maintain the front that PUSH Buffalo is able to do the work it claims it can do. This guy makes nearly $100,000 a year to do absolutely nothing with no consequences and plenty of unearned praise, and is often in the room or on the Zoom call when employees at PUSH get fired. He gets to keep his job and moves up, while many employees there have been thrown under the bus.
Don’t believe us? Ask a former PUSH employee. Or, call or email Clarke Gocker himself and ask him some questions.