Why November 7, 2018, and every day after is a day on and NOT a day off
On Tuesday, November 6, 2018, Stacey Abrams will win a historic election, come closer than any other Georgia Democratic nominee for Governor in decades, or force a runoff, only to make a passionate and persuasive plea for all of us to rise up and work a little harder, give a little more; and why, because this is the “most important election of our lifetime.” I don’t say this sarcastically nor am I mocking our opportunity to elect a qualified woman who is running against someone who’s service as Secretary of State has been tainted by accusations of voter suppression, and whose rhetoric as a gubernatorial candidate has done irreparable damage to the integrity of our state. Quite frankly, electing Stacey’s opponent may be nothing more than an extension of Trump’s presidency.
So Win, Lose, or Runoff, what do we do on November 7, 2018, and every day after through the much anticipated United States presidential election of 2020? Well for starters, November 7th is NOT our day off, nor do we have the luxury of taking a break. November 7, 2018, should be the first day we begin to build out a Democratic bench in Georgia and to build progressive political strength from the ground up, this means creating a comprehensive county-by-county strategy which eliminates the idea of an “Atlanta and the rest of Georgia.” Stacey’s campaign has done a heck of a job inspiring, motivating, and recruiting new and existing voters. Problem is, so did Jon Ossoff as our Democratic nominee for Congress in 2017 and Jason Carter as our Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia in the 2014 election. I won’t criticize their campaigns, because they did what they believed was necessary and critical to win. What I will say is that we, all of us who consider ourselves leaders within the Democratic Party of Georgia, failed to embrace the new ideas and harness the new energy from the individuals and organizations that were inspired and motivated by their candidacy. For example, through Jon’s campaign, we saw a historic increase in campaign volunteers and the impact of progressive organizations like Indivisible Georgia, 159 Georgia Together, and Pave it Blue. However, I do not believe we adequately replicated the models or strategies these organizations gave us, in a way that could be repackaged and presented in counties or districts where Democratic strategies were nonexistent. Same with Jason. In 2014, I ran for the Public Service Commission, sharing the ticket with him and had a front row seat to his uncanny ability to recruit young people in a way that bridged the generational gap that existed between his grandfather’s generation and millennials. We recruited, but I would argue that we failed to retain the new found energy and excitement that phone banked, knocked on doors, and taught us how to weaponize social media.
Between the two campaigns (Carter and Ossoff), was the crushing blow of the 2016 Democratic primary where Bernie supporters and Clinton loyalists became more divided against each other, than united against Trump. How’s that working out for us? So here is the plan.
Writer and philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” To avoid losing the newfound momentum, inspiration, and motivation brought on by Stacey Abrams’ historic gubernatorial campaign, we must begin to build out a Democratic bench in Georgia while building progressive political strength from the ground up. As stated earlier, this means creating a comprehensive county-by-county strategy which eliminates the idea of an “Atlanta and the rest of Georgia.” This means we must listen intently to the voices of our Democratic leaders in each of the 159 counties, and we must listen to understand, rather than listening to respond. Building a strong Democratic bench here in Georgia is more than recruiting young people, women, and people of color to run or make a difference in 2020. Building an effective Democratic bench consists seeing beyond 2020 that is prepared for and committed to voter registration, education, and mobilization, before, during, and after each of our election cycles.
One example I will share has been our inability to articulate the importance of electing Stacey Abrams as Governor, as it relates to her ability to roll back gerrymandering. Assuming everyone isn’t familiar with that term, gerrymandering is the strategic manipulation of the boundaries of an electoral constituency to favor a political party; and for the record, I am in favor of a bipartisan redistricting commission. However, Georgia has not been considered a swing state on the presidential level for several years. President Obama lost here by 8 points in 2012, four years later, Hillary Clinton lost it by around 5 points. As we are all too familiar, our state legislature is majority Republican, each of our Statewide Constitutional offices are Republican, and our state’s congressional delegation is a Republican stronghold. In other words, if Stacey Abrams were to win the governorship, an Abrams Administration would likely use veto powers to help more equitably balance the map for Democrats.
This is why it is critical for us to build a bench immediately following the November 6, 2018 election that consists of recruiting and supporting new ideas and a diverse pool of progressives to run for down-ballot races in each of our 159 counties—building a bench for the future means more talent—this includes effective candidates, campaign staffers, and a more informed electorate that increases our chances to elect candidates to statewide office, members to the House, Senate, and the possibility of playing a major role in Presidential elections.
Good news is, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to training and development. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) is a grassroots organization that has a model for building power at the local, state, and federal levels, and the progressive organization Run For Something, which is an inspiration for this op-ed, was founded by Amanda Litman in 2017, and has created a winning strategy for recruiting and supporting young progressive candidates.
I would be remiss to not mention how poorly we Democrats have done in our ability to try and understand the needs of or relate to young white men. While we have been called out for being uninspiring to millennials as a whole, the party has either intentionally or unintentionally alienated young, white men. The reality is we live in an era of identity politics, where we have made all white men responsible for our trials and tribulations. In states like Georgia, like it or not, white voters are NOT electorally irrelevant. We have an obligation to disenfranchised white communities as much as we should be obligated to the betterment of disenfranchised black and brown communities. There are almost two-million Georgians living at or below the poverty line, and that should simply be unacceptable to all of us.
Fifty years ago both Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy understood the importance of organizing the working poor and more importantly using their platforms to tell the stories of the poorest and most underserved communities—King with his Poor People’s Campaign and Kennedy with his tour to investigate reports of extreme poverty and starvation. So my last appeal to Democrats is to truly embrace compassion and lead in the effort towards the restoration of civility throughout our nation.
*Daniel Blackman is the Chair of Georgia’s 7th Congressional District and author of the forthcoming book The 8th Social Sin: Nationalism without Compassion online at http://www.t8ss.org