Illustration by Traci Hafner
This year is all about turning rage into action. Throughout the month of January, we're highlighting the most effective organizations doing that work.
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As we begin 2018, we’re hit by the full force of how absolutely grueling 2017 was, and how easy it was to feel completely sucker-punched by despair and rage nearly every day. Personally, I was angry and resistant to calls to pick myself up and dust myself off during the past year. Grief and anger can take a long time to work through. But: New Year, New You. Time for us to zero in on the organizations and people doing the heavy lifting, putting in the work, trying to make America whole again—and that most need our help. Throughout January, we’ll be highlighting organizations working on all the issues near and dear to our hearts. This week, we’re looking at the organizations that help good people get elected.
Indivisible is the group that first published a guide to help progressives use Tea Party tactics to win. They’ve moved on from there to do grassroots organizing at the Congressional district level, and it’s that local-level organizing that is absolutely mission-critical right now. One of the ways they help you stay entrenched in activism and connected to causes is by showing you what’s ahead, and by providing you with concrete steps you can take to help foster real change. For January, as an example, they point out that another government-funding battle looms; Democrats have another shot at saving DACA; and that Trump will soon be releasing an infrastructure plan that tilts toward giving public money to the private sector. (Big surprise!)
They also provide a wealth of resources for people who may be entirely new to organizing. There’s boots-on-the-ground stuff like how to get the media to cover your event and issue press releases. Equally important, though is their commitment to providing information about how to push back against white supremacy and make sure your movement is inclusive.
And though they took a break for the holidays, each week they issue an action plan that details the most critical events of the week (like the terrible tax bill getting pushed through) and who you should call (and where you should go) to exert the most effective pressure on your elected officials. Some days, our emotional exhaustion gets the best of us and there isn’t space for much, so knowing that you can make an impact by just making a phone call to your congressperson that day can be a huge plus.
Swing Left’s goal is to take back the House in 2018. However, many of the districts in the House are deeply uncompetitive. That means that to flip the House blue, we need to work at the margins, nibbling away at those districts that are truly swing districts. Swing Left does the work of sorting that out for you. They’ve figured out that there are really only 70 swing districts and we need to flip at least 24 of those to take back the House this year. Thinking about the House this way—as a district-by-district fight where we only need to concentrate resources in a few locations—is helpful: It lets us see that we can pick our battles rather than fighting a war on every front.
For example, I live in a solidly blue part of Minnesota, in the urban core, but there’s a suburban district currently held by the GOP (MN-03) that is possible to flip. Signing up to help flip that district gets you two types of resources: help to swing that district from anywhere you might live, and help to swing that district when you live in the district. Outsiders can help door knock within the district (if you live close enough to travel) or phone bank, for example. People who live within the district can get access to a primer on the district, a calendar of upcoming events in the district, and a targeted list of neighborhoods where it would be best to door-knock.
It takes some gumption, and no small bit of fearlessness, to phone bank or door knock, so this may not be for everyone, but if that is a way you feel like you can engage people, Swing Left is a good place to start.
Run for Something
Run for Something helps get millennials to run for offices in those types of races that usually get overlooked—think state legislatures, mayors, city councils, and school boards. These types of races often fly under the radar because they’re not as high-profile as working to elect a governor or a United States senator or the president. But they’re equally vital, if not more so.
Change at the local level can radically reshape cities. Changes at the state legislature likely has the most effective trickle-down result imaginable: if you control the state legislature, you control redistricting in most states. You also have the ability to turn back moves towards voter suppression. You can even work on laws that re-enfranchise people with felonies so they can vote. In short, with state legislative control, you have a real chance at dramatically expanding voting to include those people the GOP has often tried to block from exercising their rights.
At first blush, it might seem unfair or narrow for Run for Something to only target getting more millennials into office, but there’s a solid reason for it: if young-ish people (under 35, in this case) get into politics now, those people can stay in politics for 30 or more years. It helps build a deep progressive bench that we can draw upon for a long time.
Run for Something does a number of different things to support candidates and potential candidates. They’ll talk to anyone who wants to run. Period. They’ll also connect those people to national training organizations like Wellstone and EMILY’s List. Finally, for some people, they’ll provide fundraising, donations, and staff.
You may not be a person who wants to run for something. You may be past the age cutoff to be backed by Run for Something. You can still, however, volunteer or donate and help build the next generation of strong progressives.
Since 1985, EMILY’s List has worked to get pro-choice Democratic women elected on the local, state, and national level. Now, more than ever, it is important to ensure that pro-choice women are heard. The Trump era has brought us things like E. Scott Lloyd, head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, who sees himself as a “foster father” to pregnant undocumented minors and tries to block them from having abortions. A federal 20-week abortion ban looms as a real possibility. Trump is nominating anti-choice judges as fast as he can. With that, it’s vital to have strong pro-choice candidates backed by an organization that can help them win. Over the years, EMILY’s list has notched 900 victories and raised over $500 million for their candidates.
Although they often focus on high-profile races (think Tammy Baldwin for Senate in Wisconsin or Kirsten Gillibrand in New York), they also work with state- and local-level candidates. They even conduct trainings for women who are thinking about running.
She Should Run
If we want a country that is genuinely devoted to solving the problems that women face, we’re going to need more women in office, period. She Should Run was founded during the Obama presidency, but is tailor-made for these Trumpian times.
It’s not news that women are severely underrepresented at all levels of government. As of 2016, women held only 19.5 percent of the seats in the House and only 20 percent of the Senate. Governorships are even worse: only 6 women governors were serving in 2016. At the state legislature level, the number of women in office, across the board, barely breaks 25 percent. However, when women run, they are, this last hellscape of a presidential election notwithstanding, just as likely to win as a man. They just don’t run. Why? Women are less encouraged to run by their parents, teachers, or party leaders. They also think they need to be much more qualified than a man to run for the very same office. (Sound familiar?)
She Should Run aims to change this by starting from the very beginning: approaching women and asking them to consider a future run for office. If you don’t feel like it would offend a friend or coworker, you can use She Should Run to ask them to run for office. Fill out a form and She Should Run will shoot them an email with your message and tell them they should think about running for office. If they say they’re interested, She Should Run hooks them up with a community of other women thinking about running for office and other resources.
For women who want to take the next step, She Should Run has an incubator with online programs to help women see how public service can be a pathway to real change, how to build networks, and become a better communicator and more effective leader.
Ultimately, She Should Run wants to see 250,000 women run for office by 2030. What can you do? You can nominate one of those women. You can donate to help one of those women.
You can be one of those women.
You should run.
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