America is divided, and our democracy is sick. The climate is mean, and getting meaner.
If you are a woman or a working class person, if you are a person of color or a young person, if you are LGBT or even if you are middle class, you are almost certainly under-represented at the national, state, and local level.
The U.S. House of Representatives is supposed to represent the will of everyday people, but the average Congressman is a millionaire.
The good news is, you have the power to change that. Here’s a few pointers for anyone ready to run for office.
Look for a win-win-win-win-win.
If you have decided that you want to run, the next thing to decide is your office. Your ideal office is one that will allow you to answer “yes” to all of the following questions:
- Is this a race you can afford, financially?
- Is your family able to support you in this race?
- Is this a race you could win?
- Is this a race where, if you win, you will have the power to do at least two real things that will change lives in your district, make your family proud, and help change the way politics is done?
- Is this a race where you have a powerful story to tell about who we are, and who we can be? (Policies matter. But politics is about more than just policies.)
Schedule at least 10 face-to-face meetings.
The biggest mistake that candidates make is that they try to do everything by themselves.
You are going to avoid that mistake. Hurry up and go schedule 10 face-to-face meetings with people who you want to be on your team.
These can be personal friends, co-workers, allies – anyone who could help you carry the burden of running for office.
In these meetings, you can ask them for advice about issues, you can ask them about what office you would be good for, etc… but the one thing you have to ask each person is to help you out in some big, concrete way.
Could they give you $1,000 dollars? Could they be your campaign manager, or volunteer coordinator, or social media director? Could they be your campaign treasurer or chief fundraiser? Could they host a house meeting with other voters?
These 10-15 people are your campaign team, and you are going to invite them all to your campaign launch—where you start to put your plan together and formally decide that you are going to run.
(Note: if you can’t bear to ask 10 of your close friends to help you out, you probably aren’t ready to run. Running for office is all about asking people to take action for their communities.)
Commit to two races, not one.
Abraham Lincoln lost six campaigns before he won the Presidency.
The vast majority of people lose their first race, because the person they are running against usually has a lot more name recognition, money and relationships than they do.
So, instead of committing to run for office, commit to running for office twice. Know that it will likely take two runs anyway, and you don’t need to compromise your values the first time out.
Ask for help.
As the two major parties have become narrower and narrower, there are more and more groups who have popped up to help support candidates—especially those outside of the mainstream. Here are a few:
- Wellstone (Wellstone.org) – A national candidate and campaign training organization, named after Paul Wellstone, which has a focus on bringing under-represented people into the political process.
- There are 14 more explicit candidate training operations that tend to lean left listed here: www.thecampaignworkshop.com/political-candidate-trainings. Some focus on training candidates from particular communities (Annie’s List, New American Leaders Project), and some focus on training candidates from particular regions of the country.
- Your local grassroots community organization or party organization. Many community organizations and local parties are trying harder to recruit and support candidates. Center for Popular Democracy, PICO, IAF, Center for Community Change, and People’s Action are all large networks of local community organizations that are interested in leadership development, and in many cases, candidate training.
Running for office is an act of courage, and we need courage now more than ever. You are what our country, and our communities, need. As a voter and a parent, I want to thank you for considering a run.