Pissed, but with Purpose*
For many of us Democrats, our post-1970s involvement in politics involved working for candidates we loved, or writing checks for them, or supporting single issue organizations. Aside from that, we showed up on voting day. We gave no thought to building sustainable organizations at every level (there are 520,000 local elective offices!) to support progressive values year in and year out. We did not become active in the Democratic party. While our mothers and aunts and grandmothers supported civics organizations, like the League of Women Voters, we just assumed people would vote and act as good citizens do.
Republicans, though, were behaving rather differently. They were building state organizations that work like machines to win elections. As Hillary Clinton said, “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.” The Republicans knew what they were doing. We learned that the hard way in November of 2016.
Happily, that seems to be changing. Folks young and old are working to build new institutions, structures, and grassroots communities that focus on values and issues. New technologies and databases are being deployed to support victories at all levels. We are recognizing the power of local offices, and their influence on national politics. Just think, for example, how important a Secretary of State is. That’s where voter repression starts. Think about the influence of state Attorneys General, not only on selecting which laws to enforce but on deciding whom to prosecute, for what. Almost 80% of Attorneys General are white men. Nothing wrong with white men, but diversity would bring different perspectives.
New strategies, tailored to local communities and supported by these new institutions, will lead to success. Take Colin Lamb in Pennsylvania, a pro-union ex-Marine who was a perfect candidate for that district, and who won after running an inclusive campaign, soliciting votes even in counties he knew he would lose. Looks at some of the other victories. Flipping Republican seats in the Georgia and Virginia legislatures. Registering over 400,000 new Latino voters. Helping black candidates win their primaries, including Colin Allred (TX), Lauren Underwood and Kwame Raoul (IL). Passing automatic voter registration laws in ten states. And recruiting and training literally thousands of women to run and win—17 in the recent primaries. And that’s just the beginning.
Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean are on to the need for sustainable foundations. Their new organization, Onward Together, vets, selects and partners with organizations that are working on the frontlines, organizing around values, mobilizing voters, recruiting and training candidates, and providing on the ground grass roots support. Their motto: “resist, insist, persist, enlist.”
There are many others too. Time for all of us to get engaged. We have power. Let’s use it.
*A phrase borrowed from Maria Teresa Kumar, President and CEO of Voto Latino.