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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Kathleen Geier: Wendy Davis shows why progressives need to nurture the grassroots

Those of us who want to build a more progressive America would be well-advised to pay relatively less attention to presidential races and more attention to politics at the state and local level. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Because state and local races tend to have lower turnout, you get more bang for your activist buck. A relatively small but well-organized and committed group of activists can make a big difference in a low-turnout election. And because local campaigns are cheaper than national ones, your donations can be more powerful. Think about it: to whom was your marginal political dollar worth more in 2012, Barack Obama in his campaign for president, or Wendy Davis in her campaign for the Texas state senate?
2. Mass political movements with the most staying power and popular support often are enacted first at the grassroots level. Only later do they work their way up the political food chain. Case in point: the modern American conservative movement. In the 50s and 60s, conservative activists tended to focus on local issues, such as school board elections, as this and other histories of that movement document. Only after over 20 years of intense activism did the conservatives finally get their dream president, Ronald Reagan.
3. One way to ensure you’ll have strong progressive candidates for national office (the presidency and the U.S. House and Senate) is by electing strong progressive candidates at the state and local level. That’s where those national candidates are recruited from, after all.
4. Lots of really bad stuff is happening at the state level these days, and progressives should be doing everything they can to prevent it
5. Believe it or not, there are some good things happening in the states, too! The Obamacare state exchanges, for example — when Democrats control the statehouse, these exchanges can potentially work out very well indeed (in California, for example, insurance premiums are surprisngly affordable).
6. Building a strong progressive movement on the state and local level is particularly important during times like the present, when we have divided government and GOP obstructionism runs amok….One reason for the gridlock is that partisan gerrymandering has caused the GOP to punch above its weight in the House. In many states, the state legislatures are responsible for drawing up the Congressional map….
If you’re a progressive and you aren’t doing so already, I strongly urge you to start reading local political blogs and to get involved in issues you care about at the local level. You may be able to make far more of a difference than you realize.

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