Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What Now?

As much as it pains me to say it, we appear to have come to the end of the Bernie Sanders campaign.  While the DC primary is next week, and the convention still weeks off, only a major spoiler will remove Hillary Clinton from the position of 'presumptive nominee'.

I have a lot of thoughts about this primary campaign and how it was run, but that's not the topic for the day.  What I'd like to do today, from a position of relative political awareness, is talk to the Bernie Sanders supporters about what to do next.

This campaign has generated incredible energy, immense enthusiasm.  Don't let that energy die.  You can still change the world with it.

I won't ask you to 'get in line' behind Clinton, because there are any number of people doing that, both well and badly.  What I'm asking you to do is find a new star to back, a new focus for that energy and motivation.  There has to be at least one candidate running for something that supports what you believe.

Your local races are important, possibly more important on a practical level than the Presidential race.  In 2016, there are 34 Senate seats in contest, 10 currently held by Democrats and 24 by Republicans.  If the Democrats gain 5 seats, control of the Senate will flip.  Worried about who Trump will appoint to the Supreme Court if he wins, or about Clinton's nominees being blocked if she does?  Put a Senate into place that will support progressive judicial appointments.  Worried about a legislative agenda that further disenfranchises women, minorities, and the poor, or attacks the environment?  Find candidates who'll set a better one, and give them your time and energy and money.

If your Senator's not up for reelection, you can still affect the legislative agenda in the House.  Bigger gains are needed (currently Republicans outnumber Democrats 247 to 188), but the volatility of this race has put a lot of seats in play that might otherwise have been secure.  If either the House or the Senate (or both!) is controlled by the Democrats, that'll go a long way towards blocking harmful choices in the event Trump wins.  If we regain control of the Legislative Branch *and* keep the White House, then we might be able to exert pressure to accomplish some things currently dismissed as unreasonable goals.

Fed up with national politics?  Fair enough.  Twelve states are choosing a governor this election. Unhappy with how state politics are developing?  Looking for better leadership close to home?  Governors have a tremendous amount of power in most states, especially when it comes to whether federal programs and money will be applied.

And last (but so very much not least) there are literally HUNDREDS of state representatives and senators up for reelection, and thousands of local officials.  While you can't really feel that your vote, in your state of millions of people, could possibly really matter in a national election, in a state legislative district that has a few thousand people living in it, every vote matters.  Your city council, your school board, your judges, they all make decisions that affect your real, everyday life.  Putting progressive candidates into local elections means direct policy changes on real issues, and it increases the talent pool for 'upstream' elections later.

How can you help?  Don't just show up to vote.  Pick a candidate to back.  Give them time, give them money, give them attention.  Work for them when you have time, talk to your friends about them, get informed about their plans and policies.  It's a good chance to make a real difference.

If you send $100 to a Presidential campaign, you cover a fraction of a second of a media buy in a swing market probably hundreds of miles away.  If you give them five hours of your time, you're phone-banking to states they think they can win.  The donors who affect the outcome are the ones who can afford to put more zeroes on the check; you're just a statistic.

If you give the same money to a local campaign, you just paid for hundreds of yard signs or mail flyers.  Five hours of your time means five hours of knocking on your neighbors' doors or calling them, talking to them about local issues that affect you all.  That coverage can mean the difference between election and failure for a local candidate.

Many of us chose to back Sanders because he brought the personal to the political, because he spoke to issues we care about, real ideas that have a chance to change the structure of the world.  He spoke of political change as a real, practical tool for making other people's lives better on a very basic level.

We can still do that, and we should.

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