This election cycle has taught the US a lot about it’s own politics. Not just the Republicans and what the election of Donald J. Trump means to the further fracturing of their coalition and usurping of their conservative ideas by a narcissistic bigot who’s only loyalty is to himself. Not just to the Democrats who suffered their own near party-takeover by an independent and failed to unite their own coalition of diversity into a win. But, for all of us that are outside the confines of the traditional political spectrum and how we can and should participate in the future of the country.
The left, be them traditional Democrats, or liberal independents, or progressives, or so-called Democratic Socialists, or the left-leaning Green Party NEED to do better at the local level. Full stop. Ever single one of these groups is a complete and total failure when it comes to local politics. And, that failure continues to resonate at a national level. It began with the swinging of the Federal Court System, and then of the State level Representatives and then in the US Legislature and now, the Presidency. Where it is felt next is anyone’s guess, unless something drastic is done.
Personally, I think for those of us on the center-left part of the ideological spectrum we need to reengage with downticket politics more often. Progressives and third parties absolutely need to do this if they ever want to have any chance at the national level. Generally, this has been an ongoing weak spot for the Democrats which is why they fail to mobilize the entire left-leaning population when they need to the most in purple/swing districts.
A lot of this is right out of the conservative playbook. There’s quite a few articles about how the Evangelical Right have used these kinds of tactics for more than two decades in order to provide grass roots mobilization at the downticket election level in order to both swing districts and deepen extreme conservative support in already red ones which then created opportunities for redistricting that affect the up-ticket elections. There’s also some good documentation of this strategy being employed by the Tea Party to quickly flip already conservative districts from RINOs to extremists.
The reality is despite what the GOP talks about in the campaign cycle, they’ve been in charge where it really matters almost exclusively for years. They have held more State Legislators than the Democrats for the better part of two decades and spent more than the past decade pushing up their majority of the Governorships themselves. To the point where even traditionally blue states like New Jersey and Massachusetts have featured high profile GOP leadership. This local level dominance allowed them the groundwork to change election law be it through gerrymandering districts, more complex voter registration, stricter voting opportunities, and more.
Local politics more greatly shape your daily life than any act of the Federal Executive Branch despite how hype is put on the Presidential Election. IF you want to make your quality of life better immediately, the best way is to influence your local politics and the reality is, if you are effective in doing that it will in turn influence the national politics. The left time-and-again misses this most obvious tenant in it’s top-down strategy and this is one of the biggest reasons why the Presidency was lost. When you lose the undercard you weaken everything else … here’s my prescription to fix it:
1) Learn about your voting district(s) and the ones immediately around you. Who has recently run for office, what was the voter turn out, how long has it been voting a certain way. What are some of the demographic and psychographic characteristics of the typical registered voter. What are the laws around voting itself, where and when did they originate, and are any future changes being pitched. You’re getting an overview of how the political landscape is shaped and hopefully in that you can identify aspects of downballot that can swing the balance of power.
2) Seek out and support downticket candidates. When you’re considering donations make these political donations near the top of your priority list. When you’re considering volunteering time make these types of opportunities a priority. If you’re going to promote your personal political beliefs in a more organic way be sure to include mentions of these candidates and races to help expose others to them.
3) VOTE. It’s not always just about if your candidate gets into office or not in that particular election cycle. There’s value in your vote beyond attaining office, for example, those votes even in a loss influence the perception of how that district is behaving and if it’s worth regional and national dollars both from both larger donors and the political party in the next election. Too few and they stop supporting candidates in the district, get enough that it looks like a swing now they will be more likely to target it for the next election.
4) Become a politician yourself! If not you, encourage someone you know who has the time and interest in doing it. Far too often downballot elections happen uncontested. This should NEVER be the case. One of the contributors to low turnout is the perception of voters that there’s no choice on the ballot. No choice leads to the perception of lack of diversity which just reenforces homogenization in a district. Provide that alternative voice if no one else is already. I’d suggest, if someone else is running on a similar platform you work together with them and not against them. The goal is to maximize representation at the moment. But if no one is running, by all means, get in the ring!
5) Once a politician you support is in office STAY IN TOUCH with them! When they vote in a way you approve of SAY THANK YOU. Typically, voters remain silent after casting their ballot and that void is taken up by special interests even at the local level. Too often voters only contact their representative to complain and at that point they’re complaining as a faceless voter. Not that complaining is bad but you’ll earn more of their respect if they see you as part of the community and not part of an angry mob. It also shows you’re a part of the community as a multi issue voter. Single issue voters are annoyances and although most politicians won’t say it they put less real value in single issue opinions especially when they only hear from you to complain about that one issue.
6) Outside of direct politics focus on supporting local and regional community organizations that support causes that are important to you. Your active participation in them will help amplify your political reach, in part because the stronger those orgs are the more then can influence the social fabric of the district. It’s not about the org being or becoming a special interest that leans on the politician, although that’s helpful to, it’s about the org helping change the expectations in the community about what’s important.
7) When you engage the upper levels of the Party emphasis your down ballot support. There’s a couple of reasons for this including it helps build the downballot awareness at the upper levels of the part – it’s creating branding for those downballot politicians; it can also demonstrate that you’re an educated voter who supports the party and not just a single branch or a party-line voter who tends to be of lower value because they support the party in a very unidimentional/single minded way.
8) Wear your politicians on your sleeve the same way you wear causes. These are the people fighting for those causes, give them their props by exposing others to their names when you’re talking about the causes most important to you. This is what helps them build greater awareness in the community because their exposure in the community becomes attached to your enthusiasm for the cause. It’s a special kind of validation they receive from potential supporters to see and hear you attach them to something you’re that passionate about.