The 2010 midterm election cycle is in full swing, with right-wing pundits predicting a Congressional turnover just as sweeping as the Gingrich revolution of 1994, while the left is mostly hoping a loss of seats won’t damage Obama’s presidency as badly as the GOP’s triumph did Bill Clinton’s. So what should grassroots activists and candidates do? Consultants have made campaigns seem like rocket science, but they aren’t. The basic formula is “50 percent + 1 = power,” but there are a lot of ways to reach that goal. Malia Lazu, Mel King Community Fellow at MIT, has come up with ten things progressives can do to build a campaign for candidates who deserve to win.
1 Raise money. Until we reform our campaign finance laws with the Fair Elections Now Act, money matters. In a majority of the races, the winner outspends his opponent. If you don’t have access to wealth, familiarize yourself with public financing options. Go to commoncause.org to see if your state provides public financing. Learn about grassroots fundraising from groups like grassrootsfundraising.org.
2 Poll smartly. Polling allows you to quantify your position in contrast to other candidates, decide where resources need to be spent and hone your campaign message. To save expenses, find another candidate in your state who is polling, and buy a few questions on his or her survey. Don’t poll to find out what to say; learn the best way to say it. For more counsel, go to pinedaconsulting.com.
3 Buy media time. We all hate that campaigns are reduced to thirty-second ads, but they do get a message out to a lot of voters when you need to reach them. Find smart consultants to show you creative and ethical ways to communicate (start with devinemulvey.com), and check out nontraditional venues, like agitprop.org, that produce not only commercials for radio and TV but also ads for the web that can allow your supporters to create and distribute media content.
4 Don’t blame the voters. Politics is the only industry that blames the consumer for not buying its product. Elections are a one-day sale; it’s your campaign’s job to get people excited enough to vote. The best way to do this is by studying candidates who understand how to build not just campaigns but movements. Check out how Keith Ellison does it in Minnesota and how Chellie Pingree does it in Maine.
5 Find your margin of victory. With Obama in 2008, the huge number of “nontraditional voters” who were inspired by his campaign helped put him over the top. But don’t just attach yourself to Obama; channel the ideals and values that excited and engaged people in 2008. Look at what Joe Sestak did in Pennsylvania.
6 Engage young people. Ask them about the issues that are important to them. Don’t sideline their potential—if they are genuinely included in your campaign, they can give you the energy needed to win. For more, see yda.org/tools/18/youth-voting-research and campusprogress.org/features/295/so-you-want-to-run-for-office) .
7 Make precinct captains sexy again. The key to victory is still the power of personal contact. Hire people from the community, train them and give them the tools they need. You can learn a lot at wellstone.org.
8 Energize the grassroots, and nourish the grass shoots. Encourage your base to self-organize using the web, SMS, Twitter and meet-ups. Go to theurbanlabs;.com to find out the most efficient way to use these tools to win.
9 Use culture. While it’s great to feature a celebrity at your campaign events, local cultural leaders like barbers, disc jockeys and bloggers can also lead you to your voters. Injecting your campaign into citizens’ everyday life will foster a deeper connection with voters. Take a look at how Rock the Vote and Common Cause are using DJs and rock bands (blog.rockthevote.com).
10 Make election day fun. Puerto Ricans do election day right; they celebrate it. Use your get-out-the-vote plan to create energy and excitement. Encourage your voters to go to the polls en masse, and help them by organizing vans and buses to get there. See how groups like Virginia New Majority do this by hiring taxis. Have music and poetry, and celebrate democracy!
CONCEIVED BY Walter Mosley with research by Rae Gomes
“Ten Things” is a monthly feature. Readers who wish to propose ideas for it should e-mail [email protected].