“When Democrats controlled the Congress for so many years…[t]he grassroots base withered away while the ‘Christian right’ learned how to mobilize support. They became good at our forgotten game: voter registration, door knocking, phoning, electing people to school boards, writing letters to the editor, calling in to talk radio, turning out voters. Now labor and other progressive organizations must learn from their example.” – Paul Wellstone
THE 2016 election wasn’t the beginning of progressive America’s electoral problems, it was just the culmination. From 2010 onward, the number of progressive or liberal individuals in state legislatures, governor’s offices, and the US Congress began to nosedive. That atrophy was obscured to some extent by the re-election of a Democratic president. And as the Wellstone quote from the 2001 reveals, the past is prologue.
The implications have been and will continue to be far-reaching. Of particular importance:
- Left-leaning officials who remain in office lack leverage to combat bad policies that reduce regulations that protect consumers from predatory practices, target women’s reproductive choices and rights, and further erode funding and support for public schools.
- The 2020 census may well be controlled by GOP legislatures who can exacerbate the gerrymandering they used in 2010 to improve their electoral changes. This isn’t supposition: they had a blueprint and tracked their own progress toward this goal.
- The fewer left-leaning people there are on city councils, school boards, and in sheriff’s or prosecutor’s offices, the fewer well-prepared progressive candidates there are to run for higher offices, like state legislatures, governor’s offices, or a US House or Senate seat.
Change the local landscape
But who cares? You probably know all that. What you might be avoiding, in your exhaustion from the last 8 years (40 years?) of political nonsense, is that this is the time to start moving on the 2018 and 2020 elections.
Don’t run away! These suggestions don’t require you to quit your day job. Here are small ways you can starting nudging your local offices in the right direction:
- Rescue your local 2016 candidates from the also-ran dustbin of history. Was there someone whose ideals and work you really admire who ran for a local office… and lost? Send them an email, and encourage them to run again. Ask them what you can do to support their campaign. If you are in a swing district, check out SwingLeft, a group organizing left-leaning community members in swing districts across the country.
- Identify the awesome people in your life who ought to run and connect them to resources that will prepare them to run. (Or nominate yourself!) People who sprint toward a podium aren’t necessarily the people who should manage our cities and schools. Think about the person in your life who is a great and active listener, is good at building relationships, and sticks to her principles under pressure. I encouraged my friend Mai Youa recently and though she shot me down for now, at least she knows that someone sees that potential inside her.Once you have your short list, tell each person why they would be an amazing addition to your (school board, city council, etc.), and direct them to these resources:
- Research and apply for an open seat on a local board or commission. If running for elected office isn’t your thing, that doesn’t mean you can’t be involved in influencing your government for the better. Most counties and cities have some kind of commission or board, whether it is focused on human rights, parks and recreation, the arts, utilities – you name it. Many of these advisory bodies don’t see enough interested applicants, and they usually have openings every year. Maybe 2017 is your opportunity to help guide one of your local institutions. And if you are pondering a political career, this is one way to start meeting new people in your community. Many thanks to Lauren N. for the suggestion!