A recent visit with some wonderful old high school chums (that’s them!) brought up a question I’ve been asked more than any other since America lost it’s marbles and elected a racist billionaire hell bent on oligarchy: “Since the unthinkable happened, I have to get involved, but how do I do that?” For my buddies and everyone else who asks this same question, there are things you can do, you can make a contribution, and it’s really not that hard.
First, understand that only people who win elections actually get to make laws. It’s great to be involved in advocacy organizations, social justice groups and other worthy causes (keep doing that), but it’s not enough. Advocacy groups lobby lawmakers and I’ll guarantee you that we’d get our way more often if those lawmakers were on our side.
Next, I can tell you from firsthand experience that only a tragically minuscule fraction of people ever get involved in campaigns or political parties. Out of the million people in my congressional district only about three hundred or so committed liberals are active year in and year out. Again, that’s out of a million people. That’s just three one hundredths of a percent! And that’s in a congressional district with an excellent ground game and which leads the nation in voter turnout. I can’t imagine it’s much different anywhere else. This means that the vast majority of liberals are not directly involved in getting people elected! (Sorry, lobbing facebook posts at your wing nut uncle does not count!)
The world is run by those who show up. So the first thing to do is show up.
So, what can you do?
Well, what can you do? Take an inventory of your skills. People are needed for all sorts of tasks. If you can organize events, volunteer to do that. If you’re a salesperson, teacher or a Toastmaster, you may be great at public speaking and voter persuasion -or running for party leadership. We need IT people, data entry people, graphic designers, managers, videographers, social media junkies, treasurers -and yes door knockers and phone callers -and more.
Here’s a quick story. My crazy neighbor wanted to be involved. I didn’t want to put her in front of voters because… well, because. I told her that campaign staffers live on potato chips and Pepsi and work 18 hour days for months. She said “Well I make a mean lasagna.” Which she then did, as well as providing fresh fruit and other healthy food. Needless to say, she was a huge hit, she felt like a million bucks and we had healthier, more effective staffers.
Join the community of activists in your local party unit.
Visit your state party website, get the phone number and call them. Tell them where you live and ask for the number of a party leader in your area. Note that your local leader will be a volunteer: if they don’t get back to you, you must be persistent. You will definitely want to be plugged in locally.
And yeah, sure, it might feel like an inside group. Consider that many of these folks have been working for years and have won and lost many battles together. You can bet they’re tight. But they do welcome new people and they will help you along. You, too, may come to find that the friends you admire most are the friends you are active with.
You might also look for organizations and events that connect liberals . You can go to a party unit bean feed or other gathering. Check out a candidate fundraiser (these ask for a small voluntary donation) or a town hall. There are often groups that meet monthly and have featured speakers (Drinking Liberally is one and you can check for Meetups in your area). It may surprise you how fast you’ll begin meeting a lot of lawmakers, candidates and other movers and shakers!
Become a delegate
Being a party delegate gets you a vote in party affairs. That gives you power.
Different state parties have different methods, but in election years there will be a precinct meeting or caucus that you can attend (again, your state or local party unit will have the information). In most states you first become a delegate at the precinct level. Technically you run for this position, but quite often delegate seats go unfilled because few people show up, so it’s often as easy as raising your hand when they ask “Who wants to be a delegate?”.
You can run for further delegate positions that can get you to your Congressional and state conventions and even to the Democratic National Convention (the one you see on TV!). You can also run for party leadership positions; these give you the ability to influence how your party works. It may take you a cycle or two to get hang of what’s going on, but if you persist, you can make a big impact.
Special note to Bernie supporters: Tea Partiers easily took over the GOP by becoming delegates. If everyone brought a few like-minded friends and ran for delegate positions, it would not be hard to get a lot of influence very quickly.
Learn to frame.
This last is very important and anyone can do it with a little practice. Framing is a way of speaking to voters that takes into account the way human brains really work, not how we’d like them to work. The biggest mistake we make is to spend nearly all our time righteously debunking the absurd things conservatives say. First off, the conservatives are purposely baiting us, second they get to set the agenda by keeping the argument within their frame and third, throwing facts at people and expecting them to come to the same rational conclusion we did does not work (and will most often work against you)! There is a century of science to back this up.
This site is devoted to teaching people to communicate effectively through cognitive science. It’s the only science that liberal leaders seem to not only ignore, but actively resist and it’s the science, ironically, that conservatives used to get where they are. (Explore the site a bit, especially he first menu item above, to get a taste of framing basics. The resources page will suggest useful reading to get you farther into framing and cognitive psychology.)
(And by the way ladies: thanks for the great munchies, beer and conversation!)