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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Field Guide to Some New Pro-Democratic Organizations

In addition to longer-standing progressive oganizations which support Democrats, including The Third Way, Emily’s List, Emerge America, Democratic Socialists of America, The Center for American Progress, New Leaders Council, Working Families Party, Democracy for America, MoveOn, ActBlue and others, there are a host of newer organizations, some of which have emerged as part of the “Resistance” to the Trump Administration’s policies. These groups have helped increase the number of Democratic candidates for federal, state and local office to record levels. They include:

Indivisible began with an online handbook written by Congressional staffers with suggestions for resisting the move to the right in  the Trump administration. The goal of Indivisible, according to founder Peter Dreier, is to “save American democracy” and “resume the project of creating a humane America that is more like social democracy than corporate plutocracy.” As David Faris writes at The Week, “Activists across the spectrum should be taking their cues from the leadership of Indivisible, the group of former Hill staffers who wrote the Indivisible Guide and who have helped organize a national movement to push back against the GOP agenda. These are people who know who their true adversaries are (Hint: It’s not people sitting one standard ideological deviation to their left or to their right) and have devoted themselves and their supporters to winning important legislative fights against the GOP. Do you know whether their leadership supported Hillary or Bernie? Do you care? Because without their town halls and protests and phone calls, TrumpCare would likely be heading to the president’s desk for a signature.”

Our Revolution “is built upon the success of Bernie Sanders’ historic presidential campaign, and will continue to thrive with the support of an unprecedented level of grassroots organizers,” according to the organization’s web pages. The organization’s mission is to educate voters about issues, get people involved in the political process, and work to organize and elect progressive candidates. “Through supporting a new generation of progressive leaders, empowering millions to fight for progressive change and elevating the political consciousness, Our Revolution will transform American politics to make our political and economic systems once again responsive to the needs of working families…Our Revolution has three intertwined goals: to revitalize American democracy, empower progressive leaders and elevate the political consciousness.” Some key leaders of the group include: Former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner; Former Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores; Native American Leader Deborah Parker; Civil Rights Leader Ben JealousPolitical Leader, National Radio Commentator & Writer Jim Hightower; Arab American Human Rights Leader Jim Zogby; Former Chief of Staff for Senator Bernie Sanders Huck Gutman and others.

Brand New Congress is a PAC, also formed by former staffers and supporters of the Sanders presidential campaign, to elect hundreds of new, diverse progressive members of Congress. The group is expressly not partisan, but it’s policy agenda is left-progressive, including “Medicare for all,” significant investments in renewable energy and infrastructure upgrades, keeping abortion safe and legal, tuition-free education and a minimum wage increase. Most of the candidates it will be backing for 2018 will be Democrats.

New Democracy. In “Democrats launch new group aimed at Republican strongholds,” A.P.’S Bill Barrow writes that “New Democracy” will focus on “the goal of winning again in Republican-dominated middle America.” Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute and a former leader of the Democratic Leadership Council, is directing “New Democracy,’ and the group will also include CO Governor John Hickenlooper and former Secretary of Agriculture and former IA Governor Tom Vilsack, both of whom are frequently mentioned as possible 2020 presidential candidates, along with former KY Governor Steve Beshear, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and other Democratic officials. “We have to expand this party, and make it a bigger tent,” says Marshall, quoted in the article. Democrats “cannot be a successful national policy by winning races only on our two coasts.” Barrow also quotes Beshear, who adds that Democrats “cannot be a successful national policy by winning races only on our two coasts.” The party “has to get back to the basics and appeal to folks all over our country.”…Marshall, said “New Democracy isn’t trying to run a shadow party or foment “sectarian battles” between moderates and liberals,” reports Barrow. Yet, “It’s not unintentional that the new effort echoes the Democratic Leadership Council, the group that then-Arkansas Gov. Clinton used to popularize his “third way” political philosophy. Calling himself a “New Democrat,” Clinton tilted the Democratic Party away from its more liberal coastal anchors and helped his party reclaim the White House in 1992 after several landslide defeats.”

Swing Left. “Swing Left was started by Ethan Todras-Whitehill, a writer and teacher, Joshua Krafchin, a marketer and entrepreneur, and Miriam Stone, a brand strategist. “Swing Left’s goal is to flip the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections and put a check on the Trump and GOP agenda. We will achieve this by organizing and supporting volunteers to have an impact Swing Districts across the country…Swing Left is an online community that connects you with your nearest Swing District. This is a district where the winner, an elected official who is now serving a two-year term in the House of Representatives, won the November 2016 election by a thin margin, or is otherwise vulnerable in 2018…Enter your email address to join a Swing District Team, and you’ll be put on a carefully-curated mailing list moderated by a local District Leader…Voters in “safe” districts tend to feel powerless about their impact on local elections that have national repercussions. At the same time, House midterm elections, including in Swing Districts, tend to receive less attention than other races. We formed Swing Left to provide a simple way for voters living both inside and outside of Swing Districts to come together and channel their time, resources, and ideas to help progressives prevail in these critical races.

Justice Democrats. “Justice Democrats is a federal political action committee…Justice Democrats together with partner Brand New Congress, are focused solely on the congressional races for 2018…Justice Democrats was created by Cenk Uygur, CEO of The Young Turks, Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk and Zack Exley and Saikat Chakrabarti. Zack and Saikat are former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers. “Electing hundreds of candidates to rebuild a broken Democratic Party is not a small task…Where we share common ground, we’ll work together on recruiting, vetting, and supporting strong progressive candidates for Congress.” Justice Democrats platform includes reforms to: establish single-payer health care; end political corruption; re-regulate Wall St.; invest in infrastructure and green energy;  “common sense gun regulation” and cut military spending. Notable elected officials joining Justice Democrats inlcude Rep. Ro Khanna (Ca-17), and at least 10 candidates for congress. Justice Democrats have reportedly raised over $1 million for 2018 thus far.

Flippable. “Our mission is to turn America blue by building a movement to flip states. To build this movement, we need to radically simplify political action. We focus on state legislature elections—races that play a huge role in national elections but are often overlooked. Information about these races is hard to find, and busy people don’t have the time to sift through it. That’s where we come in. We’ll tell you which races are more important, who’s running, and how you can support them. The group, which includes co-founder Catherine Vaughn and other veterans of the Hillary Clionton 2016 campaign, has reportedly raised over $350,000 for progressive candidates. Flippable intends “to build a grassroots movement focused on state government. Just as importantly, we needed to be rigorous and focused. Because Republicans consistently outspend Democrats, we need to use high-quality analytics to target the most “flippable” races,” according to the organization’s web page. “State legislative elections are the future of the Democratic Party,” Flippable co-founder and CEO Catherine Vaughan told VICE News. “They determine the future of policy and the future candidates for higher office.”

Run for Something is focused on “helping progressives under 35 run for office.” Alex Altman reported in Time that the group “already has 30 candidates on ballots in races ranging from seats on state legislatures to city councils, and hopes that number will grow to at least 50 by November.” According to the Run for Something web pages, “Our candidate program is structured to get as many committed people as possible in the door and provide them access to resources, money, and experts who can help them. We are not de-facto limiting our focus or our efforts by race viability, “flippability”, or whether or not we think the candidate is the “perfect person.”…Like incubators or venture capital firms in the tech world, we don’t expect all (or even a majority) of our “investments” to win the first time out. By getting on the ballot, holding opponents accountable, and getting Democrats engaged through voter contact, our candidates will be effective in building out the party at the local level.”

314 Action “is a nonprofit 501(c)4 that was founded by members of the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] community, grassroots supporters and political activists who believe in science.” Thoiugh not expressly pro-Democratic Party, ” We are committed to electing more STEM candidates to office, advocating for evidence-based policy solutions to issues like climate change, and fighting the Trump administration’s attacks on science.” The 314 Action name refers to the number Pi, which pops up nearly everywhere in science, technology, engineering and math.

The recent proliferation of pro-Democratic organizations, which have serious missions, is a healthy development. There are some potential pitfalls, including internecine bickering, which has been a problem between moderate and liberal pro-Democratic organizations in the past. As Faris notes, “Some of the intra-Dem warfare it is also a matter of manners. The “purity left” is not a nice way to refer to your natural electoral allies. The terms “Bernie bros” and “Hillbots” should be retired. People who have been on the front lines of every streetfight with the GOP since 2000 probably don’t appreciate being dismissed as “neoliberals.” Nor do left-Dems enjoy being characterized as extremist flakes.

Another concern would be an inadequate emphasis on voter registration. Although these groups are doing excellent work in recruiting and empowering new candidates, as evidenced by the tremendous increase in Democratic candidates already running compared to this point in odd-numbered past years, the Democratic electorate needs to expand as well. Better candidates will certainly help, but the 2016 turnout of pro-Democratic constituencies needs improvement, particulary for African American voters. In addition, there are signs that a growing number of seniors are becoming disenchanted with Trump’s flip-flop on Medicare and Medicaid, embarrassments and other failures, so the time may be ripe for more outreach to this high-turnout constituency.

New Nation Rising includes “signature projects like our Black Church PAC and Woke Vote, serves as an impact model primarily for electoral organizing, training, and engagement with the aim of expanding and diversifying the electorate in mostly southern & midwestern cities via our modernized southern strategy. We are built to elect leaders who will advance our ballot initiatives, and legislative agenda around criminal justice reform, urban gun violence prevention, and other significant equity matters (i.e. voting rights/restoration, education and higher education, community development, among others)…We know that to win elections in the south, familiarity is key. In order to create familiarity among southern voters across the southern urban centers, and to adequately engage these communities, we must start early – operating ground game with 6-9 months ahead of the general. After testing several new organizing tactics, we have concluded that both new and digital media can be used to leverage the info-educations of a targeted demographic, but voter-voter encounters are still foremost critical to voter engagement, thus turnout. We seek not only to turn out voters but to engage voters where they are. Locally. At home.” Woke Vote is “powered by those who want to see an end to mass incarceration, voter suppression, and gun violence.” Energized by young African Americans, Woke Vote works in coalition with New Nation Rising and the Black Church PAC to reclaim community power through voter activism. Woke Vote identifies and supports progressive, righteous leaders at the local & state level – dogcatcher and up. Woke Vote provided a text-based polling place finder for the historic Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate which elected Democrat Doug Jones. Woke Vote is affiliated with New Nation Rising, which challenges politicians that  neglect and exploit Black communities. “By electing righteous leaders and holding them accountable, we are reclaiming power and promoting justice for all.” Black ChurchPAC includes “prominent faith leaders from across the nation” who  are organizing to end mass incareceration, voter suppression and gun violence.

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