November 18, 2016
(See below for 2018 update)
In the aftermath of the presidential election, many of us are asking, “What do we do now?”
There is a way forward, a way to fix our broken political process and make all people feel less alienated from their government. There is a way to elect people who will serve the people, not just donors and lobbyists, and who will protect our rights and respect our civic institutions.
We can’t do it by continuing to run political campaigns the way we do. We can’t recruit good progressive candidates when we make them spend 8 hours a day raising money and debase themselves with attack ads.
WE CAN do it by rebuilding our campaign process from the ground up, by organizing and training millions of ourselves to revitalize political campaigns with our talent, intelligence and passion.
We have to build the infrastructure to support our most critical resources: the skills, local knowledge and relationships of political volunteers, people just like you.
How many of you have skills that are useful to campaigns? How many of you have networks of friends and colleagues in your communities and across the country? How many of you offered to help a political campaign only to be told that your options were restricted to canvassing or calling using pre-written scripts? How many of you asked for literature or lawn signs only to be told that the money was being reserved to buy TV ads?
We need an uprising of political volunteerism
How we got into this mess
The U.S. progressive community is full of people with great policy solutions to the problems we face as a nation – solutions which make our society and economy work for everyone, from the bottom to the top of the economic ladder, from here to around the world.
In contrast, our political campaign industry is increasingly dysfunctional. We often treat our millions of supporters like little more than ATMs. We waste too much of our money on useless polls, digging for dirt, and running endless attack ads.
For more than 20 years the creativity, energy and positive word of mouth generated by political volunteers has been squeezed out of the process by an increasingly top down system, dependent on an endless cycle of fundraising and attack ads and tone-deaf to feedback from on the ground. There have been exceptions, but they are few and far between.
Our resources are focused on the top of the ticket, on the biggest campaigns which disappear after Election Day and contribute nothing toward state and local party operations, ongoing infrastructure, or future state and local campaigns.
I have traveled across this country talking to campaign staffers and candidates, party leaders and staffers, and every one of them feels trapped in a system in which they have insufficient resources and no decision-making power.
Real Campaign Reform
We can’t beat the Right Wing by outspending them on attack ads. We have to beat them with the one thing money can’t buy: real people in the community who care and are willing to work.
We are advocating a campaign reform strategy that focuses political campaign operations on maximizing the only thing that actually works: positive communication by people in the community to their friends and neighbors.
The evidence shows that what really works are the old-fashioned campaign activities like house parties, yard signs, neighbor to neighbor postcard writing, tabling farmers’ markets and other direct person-to-person outreach and visibility.
Political volunteers and activists are critical partners in this effort. They have relationships with their friends and neighbors, they have the skills and experience that can help campaigns to do more at a lower cost, they are the source of valuable information about the communities they live in, and they are the voice that will deliver our message.
Donald Trump built a revolution of anger. We must build a revolution of hope. We can build a passionate, benevolent, and extraordinarily effective nation-wide political volunteer community.
Across the country there are millions of kind and decent people like you who could and should be trusted to engage in positive political outreach and deep community organizing on behalf of good candidates. What we need is a way to organize ourselves and develop our campaign skills.
Imagine a place where you can build local volunteer communities, seek opportunities from a wide range of campaigns and causes and also organize your own house parties, speeches and town halls, street teams, demonstrations, lawn sign and other visibility campaigns, and more.
Whether that place is virtual or brick and mortar, we have to dedicate resources to building and maintaining relationships in our communities, year round.
UPDATE: 2018, Arizona
Since the 2016 election, countless new groups have been created. Protests and marches are growing. The 2017 elections in Virginia and special elections across the country are showing the power of volunteers. We saw this in postcard writing in Florida and Virginia, community outreach in Alabama, and in grassroots campaigns like that of Beto O’Rourke in Texas.
But we have only scratched the surface of what we as volunteers could be doing. We need to continue to push campaigns to embrace peer-to-peer outreach and visibility.
We need to organize ourselves and create regional communities around the activities we like to do; communities that can work together across multiple campaigns and collaborate across multiple advocacy organizations.
We are currently in Arizona, working to build volunteer communities around activities like postcard writing, house parties, yard signs, citizen journalism, event planning and more, populated by local volunteers and activist groups, to assist progressive candidates from the top to the bottom of the ticket.
We believe that the success of this new movement depends on our ability to work together to assure that each and every volunteer or activist finds a way to engage that is productive, meaningful and satisfying.
The success of our new movement also depends on our ability to translate this people power into electing progressives to office at every level. Effective change, and possibly the survival of our civil society, requires putting progressives in office and removing people who are opposed to everything we stand for.
We ask you to join us. We are a work in progress, but we have a plan and we believe it will work. If you are interested, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org about how you can participate as a volunteer, organizer, campaign or donor, or even by organizing a meeting of like minded reformers in your area.
As I sit here in the campaign office, dozens of volunteers walk in and offer their amazing skills and experience, their camaraderie and sense of humor, and relentless hard work. They give me hope that, together, we can fix this.