We’re in for a long fight. Republicans and Trumpistas dominate Washington and a majority of state legislatures and governors’ mansions, to say nothing of school and library boards. Even if Donald Trump is impeached, look who’d be president, and who’d still be in charge of Congress.
It's bleak. On the other hand, great things are happening. People are marching, organizing, and resisting.
Now let’s start winning. Let’s march, but let’s also run for office. Show up, make phone calls, and hold our elected officials accountable, but let’s also become elected officials, and campaign workers, ourselves. The goal is simple: to reclaim power. We do so by winning elections.
Having spent many of the past 25 years working on campaigns, I get why people don’t like electoral politics. Campaigns are ugly, expensive, dumbed-down, and too long. But campaigns are the way we get power. Conservative dominance of Congress is the result of decades of organizing and winning elections at the local and state levels.
We can do it too. Here’s how to start:
Support the candidates running in upcoming special Congressional elections.
In the coming weeks, there will likely be four special Congressional elections – in Georgia, Montana, South Carolina, and Kansas - to fill seats vacated by the president’s Cabinet picks. Pay attention to these races. Despite being in heavily Republican districts, anything is possible in an environment where waves of protests are sweeping even deep-red districts nationwide. Victories in even a couple of these races are important not only for adding sane voices to Congress, but as a tool for recruiting candidates nationally for the 2018 mid-term elections. Winning begets winning.
Pressure your elected officials.
Emails are good, calls are better, showing up in person is best. Congressional town hall meetings are happening all over the country, maybe in your district. To learn more about where your representatives stand on upcoming legislation, how to contact them, and where you can engage now in the 2018 election cycle, check out sites like Countable and Swing Left.
Add “political donations” to your family budget.
Campaigns cost a lot. Small donors help win elections. Set aside some amount of money – even $10 or $20 each month – to political giving. Other people are out there doing the same. Money begets money.
Attend a training for candidates, staffers, or volunteers.
“Maybe I should run for office” and “maybe I should volunteer on a campaign” are sentences all of us should try saying out loud. If you decide to run, you’re making a big, important decision – and you could use some training to help you win. Running for office isn’t for everyone, but everyone running for office needs a smart, organized team.
Trainings – and there are a lot of them out there – offer a great way to not only learn new tools for political organizing, but they also let you try on what it feels like to be a campaign activist. Organizations like Wellstone Action offer a range of training options, from communications to digital organizing. Slate has a list here of other good options.
Support state-focused campaigns in 2018.
Yes, we have to win back seats in the Senate and House, and 2018 could be a big year. But the Senate map is brutal. The House is so gerrymandered that even if we see big gains, Democrats could be a cycle or two from taking back the House. States – governors races, legislative races, local races - should be our top priority in 2018.
We’ll never take back (or keep) the House if we don’t win governor’s races and state legislative races. Big wins at the state level in 2018 – from governors and attorneys general to state legislators – get us to the real prize: redistricting.
This is going to take a while. Reclaiming power over the next few election cycles will be a grind. It’s hard to keep up with the day’s news, much less plot out a strategy for the next few election cycles. But strategy, planning, and prioritizing are just what we need right now. We get power back when we win races. Campaigns are nasty, exhausting, expensive, and totally worth it.