Elections Matter: How to Bring Blue State Energy to Winnable Red State Elections
Rita Bosworth was heartbroken on November 9, and the presidential election was only the beginning. While she was relieved that California had elected a Democratic senator, she couldn't shake the feeling that it was politically and financially wasteful for the candidates, both Democrats, to have spent $20 million on a single race.
"It occurred to me," she explained to AlterNet in a phone interview, "that the $20 million race could have been spent in another state, where a Democrat was battling a Republican."
Armed with this epiphany and the conviction that state and local races are key to rebuilding the Democratic Party, she started the Sister District Project, an organization that pairs groups of activists in blue states with political campaigns in red and swing states. Blue state residents in the group were worried they couldn't make an impact. As Bosworth put it, "when I call my congresswoman, she is generally in agreement. She doesn't need extra volunteer resources, but I know that other people in my community would happily spend money or volunteer in other areas."
Not content to let this urgency and energy go to waste, Bosworth, a public defender, first raised the idea and recruited members on the Facebook group Lawyers of the Left, where three other like-minded women joined her to build a website, reach out to campaigns and help train activists. Visitors to the site can find and register with a local group in their area, or get assistance starting one if none are available. To start, Bosworth says, "they're organizing on the ground to have meetings, get to know each other and the issues."
To date, Sister District has registered more than 18,000 members and 200 groups across the country. Since 2017 is an off-election year, with only a few special elections and congressional races, the pairings will not be one to one, but instead will have multiple groups focused on just a few races.
For the first trial run, all 200 or so existing groups were focused on the same one, Stephanie Hansen's now successful run for Delaware state senate. Sister District, in collaboration with Flippable, another organization focusing on electoral victory for Democrats at the state level, chose this race because they saw it as competitive but winnable; the candidate was very much connected to and representative of the district, and had a progressive platform.
As they plan to do for all races going forward, Sister District reached out to the Hansen campaign to find out exactly what they needed and how the resources of groups could best direct their energy. That meant—despite extensive interest in this race—no to phone banking from outside of Delaware, and yes to fundraising parties and donations from all over the country and teams of volunteers from multiple states canvassing in the two weeks before the elections and on election day. Along with Flippable, Sister District raised $150,000, which Bosworth said was half of their campaign budget.
After Hansen, Sister District plans to use 2017 to focus on races in New Jersey, Virginia and Washington State. Since the filing date hasn't approached yet for candidates, Bosworth can't say who they're supporting, but once a candidate is chosen, they'll reach out to the campaign to find out what they need, and direct each of the groups in how best to support them.
Once the 2018 races ramp up, Bosworth hopes to be involved in 100. They're working on registering as a non-profit so they can start accepting donations.
The hardest part, Bosworth noted, in addition to convincing blue state residents that they can make a difference, "is the waiting. Elections only happen when they happen."
In the meantime, Sister District encourages groups to use non-election time to follow groups like Indivisible for advice on meeting with their members of Congress, or focus on fighting for or against specific legislation or specific issues when there is not a campaign toward which they can direct their energy. The best part, she said, is that "I haven't seen people let up with the growth and establishment of resistance groups... it's not coming from the Democratic Party, but it is coming from groups like mine."
While geography may not be blue states' strength, Bosworth emphasized, "we need to use what we have in our favor, which is our people."