Like most Americans, Crystal and I were hoping rationality, fairness, and compassion for our fellow humans would prevail in the 2016 elections. Whoops.
Since then, as our democratic way of life is under assault every day, many of you have asked, “What do we do now?” Early on, we didn’t have good answers to that question. So we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.
Together with our Chief of Staff, Clay Dumas, who joined us from the Obama White House, and countless advisers and researchers, Crystal and I dug into what went wrong.
In 2016, Democrats made some fatal errors. A lack of good data combined with old-school insider bias led to bad decisions about which races to invest in. Failure to adapt to an evolving media landscape meant Democrats were using weak and costly tactics in trying to reach voters. Even worse, the establishment’s intuition about which messages would persuade and inspire voters was dead wrong. All of this was compounded by too many local races without Democrats on the ballot. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.
Understanding what went wrong has honed our approach to 2018 and beyond. We found we need to:
Focus on the House.
We need to win back at least one chamber of Congress, and the expected likelihood of turning the tides in the House is higher than in the Senate. Don’t get us wrong, America would be in much better shape if we won the Senate, and we’ve personally contributed to multiple efforts on that front. But, the best bang for the buck is in the House races. As part of this, we also know that compelling down-ballot candidates can bring more voters out when it matters and position us for fairer redistricting in 2020.
Spend our money smarter.
As much money as Democratic candidates are raising from the grassroots, SuperPACs and dark orgs will ensure the other side has a lot more cash saturating traditional and digital media. Campaigns with better creative, research, testing, and mobilization tools will be much more effective and efficient.
Persuade more people to vote for Democrats.
In many districts, we won’t win just by turning out our base. We need to find support in the middle and across the aisle by using smart and well-informed messaging to help voters understand why it’s in their best interest to choose us, and we need to get those voters to show up.
A failure to recruit candidates for hundreds of local, state, and federal races in 2016 cost us seats in Congress and state houses across the country. Running for and winning these seats means we will have more power to shape legislation, we will be able to reverse the most egregious cases of gerrymandering, and in the long run we will have a bench full of candidates with integrity and a commitment to service.
With these principles as our guide, we spent the last year-and-a-half going deep with the entrepreneurs, organizers, and volunteers who are working to elect Democrats. Dozens of new startups and organizations have launched to help run better campaigns and turn out voters. We made it our mission to find the teams and services that will make the biggest difference in the 2018 midterms and beyond. Rather than only supporting individual candidates (which we’ve done a lot), we’ve been funding tools that will help literally every Democrat running for office.
In that light, we’ve been giving millions of dollars to organizations and democracy startups that are building a new generation of tools for engaging voters, creating and testing the messages that actually get people to vote, making certain that someone great is running in every damn race, and ensuring that the will of the majority of Americans is never again ignored.
Here’s what you can do to help
After meeting with a staggering number of teams, studying their product roadmaps, evaluating how they’ve performed in special elections, and cutting a bunch of our own checks we were able to draw some solid conclusions. What follows are our recommendations for how you can donate your time, talents, and dollars to help save this country we all love.
Take Back the House, District by District
Swing Left is a national grassroots organization of volunteers supporting Democratic candidates to flip the House in 2018. They channel people’s energy and dollars into the swing districts closest to where they live. They’ve done the hard work of figuring out which districts actually have a chance of flipping to blue. In each district, they’ve been hard at work 1) recruiting and training volunteers to walk door-to-door and make calls and 2) raising money into “District Funds” where it was held until the Democratic primaries wrapped up. This ensured that millions of dollars in grassroots donations didn’t fund Democrat-on-Democrat fighting.
It works: In Conor Lamb’s special election in Pennsylvania last Spring, Swing Left volunteers generated half the calls (200k), knocked on roughly 8,000 doors, and raised $124k for the campaign—directly resulting in hundreds of additional votes in a race whose margin was only 627. Swing Left is hustling to ensure upsets like Lamb’s play out across the country on November 6th. Overall, giving to Swing Left is the most efficient way to invest your time and money in politics in 2018.
Volunteer: No one makes it easier to change hearts and minds in key races when it matters most: thelastweekend.org. We promise nothing will make you feel more connected to democracy than talking one-on-one with your fellow Americans.
Donate: If knocking on doors isn’t your thing, Swing Left makes it easy to donate directly to the most competitive races where Democratic challengers are in need of resources: swingleft.org/impact. Crystal and I have helped fund Swing Left’s operations, so your donation goes further and directly into the field where it will be immediately effective.
Persuade Friends to Vote
If you’ve ever volunteered on a campaign, you know the roles and resources can be limited. Team, built by The Tuesday Company, gives us all a new way to volunteer. It draws on social media to help friends persuade friends to vote. Frankly, it’s the tool the Hillary campaign wish they had in 2016.
In campaign lingo this is called ‘relational organizing.’ All that means is drawing on existing relationships instead of talking to strangers. There are a few different startups working to bring it online, and we believe Team is the most effective. An early focus on Facebook and texting, together with their experience as field organizers, has resulted in one of the best new campaign tools to emerge this cycle. Team is being deployed in the most competitive Democratic campaigns in the country, with a special focus on House races.
Download the app: If you have a few minutes and you want to help connect your friends with your favorite campaigns, start using Team today by downloading the app here: go.jointeam.com.
Jobs: They have a number of full-time roles and internships in New York: tuesdaycompany.com/jobs. If you’re interested in applying, send your resume and a sample of your work to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connect Volunteers with Campaigns
MobilizeAmerica is the indispensable platform for campaigns and political organizations to recruit volunteers. Before Mobilize, the best way for Conor Lamb’s campaign in Western Pennsylvania to get people in the door was to list the office address on their website and hope people showed up. Mobilize made it easy for Swing Left and nearly 100 other grassroots organizations to recruit volunteers on behalf of the campaign. Between late February and the special election in March, campaigns and organizations on the MobilizeAmerica platform scheduled 4,041 volunteer shifts for the Lamb campaign, helping to turn out thousands of additional voters in a race that was ultimately decided by just 627 votes.
This Fall, MobilizeAmerica is directly supporting more than 300 of the most competitive congressional and statewide elections, and they’ve got deals in place with everyone from Swing Left and MoveOn to the DNC and DCCC. Together these partners have more than 20 million members that they’re pushing to volunteer on hundreds of campaigns. With MobilizeAmerica as the backbone of volunteer recruitment, there’s the potential to book more than one million volunteer shifts in competitive races across the country. We’ve never had a tool like this before, and it could prove to make all the difference.
Volunteer: Chances are the campaigns closest to you are already running on Mobilize. Find the highest impact opportunities to volunteer here: events.mobilizeamerica.io.
Jobs: They’re hiring for engineering, design, and partnerships roles: mobilizeamerica.io/jobs. To apply, interested candidates should email: email@example.com.
Makes Voting Easy
Democracy Works is a team of software developers and civic organizers working to upgrade the infrastructure of American democracy. Their best-known product is TurboVote, an online service that helps anyone in America vote in national, state, and local elections.
This year, they’ve quintupled their users from one to more than five million. That includes 486,966 on National Voter Registration Day (September 25th) alone, thanks to deep product integrations with Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Google. Working with these platforms along with companies like Starbucks and Salesforce with lots of employees and even more customers, they’ve set a challenge to increase voter participation to 80% by 2024.
Democracy Works is also the team behind the Voting Information Project, a data collaboration with Google and the states which makes it possible to search online for your polling place, and Ballot Scout, a digital tool that helps local election administrators keep track of millions of mail and absentee ballots so that they make it to voters in the first place and get counted in the final tallies.
Sign up for Turbovote: Make sure you’re registered and receiving updates about elections by signing up here: turbovote.org. Send that link to all of your friends and share it on social media.
Donate: You can donate here to support Democracy Works: democracy.works/#donate. This is a 501(c)(3) tax-deductible organization that spends every dollar it raises building technology that makes voting simpler and more seamless for all, so you can be proud of the impact your contribution will have.
Democracy via SMS
Resistbot started out with a simple premise: make it easier for people to contact their elected representatives. In the early days of the Trump regime, ResistBot built an SMS bot on Twilio that turned text messages into faxes, allowing constituents to register their opinion with Congress. As old school as it sounds, Congressional staffers all say that faxes go a long way in influencing representatives. Working with a volunteer force of engineers, Resistbot grew to more than 4.3 million users in year one — the biggest SMS list in politics.
The next test for this incredibly lean team comes this fall as they work to convert all that energy into votes. First, they built tools to check if you’re registered, remind you about keys dates, lookup your polling location. Now, they’ve launched the first ever SMS voter registration tool. It’s currently live in California, Colorado, Florida and Illinois.
Sign up: Text VOTE to 50409 and pledge to vote on November 6 and contact your representatives. Then tell your friends to sign up too.
Volunteer: Resistbot is churning out new features, and they could use some extra hands. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to move fast and fix civic engagement with them.
Donate: You can donate here: resist.bot/#donate. Confidently know that every $1 you give funds messages to over 100 people.
Get Inspiring, Meaningful, Authentic Candidates to Run
In 2016, 40% of down-ballot state legislative races went uncontested. Run for Something is fixing that by recruiting young and diverse candidates to run in each and every down-ballot race across the country, from school board to state senate. So far, 18,000 people have registered their interest to run for office with Run for Something, and this November they’ll have 406 candidates on the ballot, exactly half of whom are women and nearly 40% are people of color.
In addition to recruiting people to run, they help them win. They’re on the lookout for candidates who are progressive, rooted in their communities, and focused on making face-to-face contact with voters–the scientifically-proven most effective way to increase voter turnout.
In 2017, they endorsed 72 people across 14 states, and 50% of their first-time candidates won. The win rate for first-time candidates is usually closer to 10%. Of those winners, 51% identify as women, and 40% as people of color. In 2018, they’ve already endorsed over 630 candidates in 48 states, making them essential to taking back the state houses and local governments that can keep America on track. Run for Something will turn out voters for school board and state rep which has a documented reverse-coattails effect on candidates higher up on the ballot. So this is as important as anything else we support.
Donate: Knowing that every dollar raised helps bring down the barriers for more young and progressive candidates to run for office, make a donation here: runforsomething.net/donor.
Run: The surest way to make a difference? Run for something yourself: runforsomething.net/candidate.
YCombinator for Democracy
Higher Ground Labs incubates and accelerates companies that help progressives reach voters, organize volunteers, and manage campaigns. Think of them as a YCombinator for democracy. In just over a year, this lean team of Obama campaign staff-turned-entrepreneurs has established itself as an indispensable clearinghouse for Democratic campaigns and a center of gravity for political tech. Higher Ground Labs is both a magnet for the most talented startups and a trusted brand among the old-school party committees. That means the best new tech is coming out of Higher Ground Labs and immediately getting the biggest Democratic orgs signed on as customers. We have funded both the accelerator itself, as well as some of the companies that have graduated. These investments are already paying off for Democrats, but more innovation and scale depends on support from you.
Jobs: Their jobs page is full of opportunities across their portfolio: highergroundlabs.com/jobs.
Coaching the Next Generation of Leadership
The Arena coaches promising first-time candidates in storytelling, organizing, and campaign management to help them reach voters with their most compelling messages. They’re a diverse team of former Obama appointees, campaign managers, and technologists who recognized the need to invest in new blood. They work on both federal and state races, helping candidates like Lauren Underwood, who captured the Democratic nomination in Illinois’ 14th congressional district. In March, Lauren–who is 31, black, and a former appointee to the Department of Health and Human Services under Barack Obama–captured 57% of the vote in a 7-way primary where the six other candidates were white men. In addition to coaching candidates, they’re publishing toolkits and templates that help a broad set of young and first-time office-seekers get up and running.
Use Your Talents: If you’re a creative who can help candidates tell their stories through words, design, or video, your talents are needed. Please email Ravi Gupta: email@example.com.
Donate: Every dollar they raise helps the Arena add candidates to their roster and increases their chances of winning. Donate here.
Art with Purpose
The Creative Action Network is a community of artists and activists making art with purpose. They run crowdsourced campaigns around causes, inviting artists of all stripes to contribute their own meaningful work. After the election of Trump, they ran the What Makes America Great campaign to focus on the many things that truly make this country so special. Then they turn campaign designs into posters, apparel, and home goods that they sell online and in retailers across America. Proceeds from every purchase go to support causes, from national parks to civic engagement. The Creative Action Network grew out of a grassroots collective of artists and designers during the Obama campaigns who discovered the power of art to make change.
Use Your Talents: Calling all artists and designers to contribute work to one of their campaigns: creativeaction.network/pages/contribute-art.
Purchasing Power: Check out the many inspiring pieces of art and books that have been contributed by artists from across America. Buying and displaying art like this where you work and live will both support the underlying cause and remind all who see it of what matters most.
One special note, Crystal created this Everyone Welcome art which has gone on to be one of their most popular works and frequently can be seen in store windows or on classroom doors.
The vast majority of Americans agree–this childish fraud has been a disaster. His policies are cruel and ignorant. The damage he’s doing is traumatic and potentially irreversible, yet the GOP is complicit and fully embracing the trampling of American history, values, and norms.
To see him separating kids from their families at the border, stoking the flames of racial bigotry, prying healthcare away from hard-working Americans, shrinking public lands, legitimizing white supremacy, starting pointless trade wars, defiling the environment, bullying his opposition, appointing craven hacks to the Supreme Court, and denying the climate crisis are among the countless things that make us sick.
On top of that, he’s abusing his power, assailing civil servants, de-funding critical programs, undermining law enforcement, encouraging violence against the press, shattering our global alliances, embracing despots, and outright lying to the American people multiple times a day all while lining his own pockets with fraud and corruption right out in plain view. He is a dark stain on the fabric of this great nation.
If you are also furious, anxious, and just downright exhausted by this evil, feckless tyrant and his enablers, please take these actions right now to unseat his power and save the United States of America.