Home 2017 Races Winning in Virginia, with a Three-Legged Stool

Winning in Virginia, with a Three-Legged Stool

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Last night was a glorious reward for a year of hard work! My inboxes, messages, and walls are filled with elation and accolades. And while I appreciate the outpouring of love and gratitude, I mostly want to share a few thoughts about how I think yesterday’s amazing results came about, and where I think we go from here. 

It’s my belief, or at least my realization in hindsight, that we came to these wins by way of a three-legged stool, so to speak. The three legs are: great candidates, our party structure and leaders, and the grassroots groups and activists.

We obviously couldn’t win races we didn’t compete in, so the candidates are certainly a critical leg of the stool. All over the state, from the farthest edges of the Southwest, to the Northern Neck, all the way to the Beltway, people stepped up to run, or to run again, for office here. In many of these cases, they were told countless times that they didn’t have a chance of winning, but they never let that phase them. And even though some of them didn’t in fact win, we could not have done as well last night as we did (especially the top of the ticket) without them. And, further, they’ve dug progressive inroads in that will only get deeper in the coming years. We all owe a huge thank you to these people who put their lives, jobs, and families through the rigors of a campaign.

The second leg of the stool is our party structure and leaders. I have probably doubted and questioned this leg nearly every step of the way, and fully confess to being a backseat driver when it comes to the House Caucus and the DPVA (and the DNC). I’ve wondered why they didn’t have more ways to support the numerous candidates, why they didn’t have more tools and advice to offer, why they focused on who they did, why they pushed the strategies they did, why they didn’t work better to utilize and corral the grassroots enthusiasm. But the truth is that they were faced with a political environment they’d never seen before–an unprecedented number of candidates; an unanticipated and phenomenal grassroots interest that they had no way to measure (nor to know how long they could count on), and that they had no blueprint for organizing; and a technology infrastructure that has changed in countless ways since even the 2016 elections. And yet, looking at the wins today, there’s no way we’d have as many as we do without the powerful machinery of our party.

The third leg is made of the grassroots groups and activists in Virginia and all over the country. Groups like LWCC, Code Blue, Sister District, Red2Blue, Indivisible, TWW, and countless others found ways to organize and activate their members. They raised money, knocked doors, sent out texts and made phone calls all year long. If ever a candidate needed some small thing, like road signs stood back up, housing for their staff, infographics made, forums organized, or social media shared, it was these amazing groups that stepped up and did the work. And, many groups chose to work in complement to the party, by adopting races they knew the party wouldn’t be able to fund. I know that we wouldn’t be looking at 16 wins (at least) had these groups not exercised our muscles in tougher races. I’m so incredibly proud to be part of many of these groups and to have worked all year with these amazing women and men. (Tom Perriello and the whole WIN Virginia team goes into this leg too!)

It’s been at times a wobbly stool, but it’s a stool that stood up well this year. Which brings us to the question of where we go from here, what’s next? Personally, my plans include making all three legs even more sturdy and strong. I hope you’ll join me in any or all of these endeavors.

Shoring up the candidates includes supporting those who won, by remaining actively involved in their work as delegates, bringing attention to the good work they do in the General Assembly this year, and holding them accountable for the principles they were elected on. To this end, I’m working on a project with other grassroots leaders to make it easier to track legislation and make sure that public opinion is heard on important bills before committees have hearings on them. (I’ll give an update on that in the coming weeks.) It’s equally important that we hold those we elected accountable too. Many of the winners yesterday signed a pledge never to take donations from Dominion and Appalachian Power companies–and I hope those of us who valued that commitment keep watching campaign finance reports to make sure they stick to it. I heard many times this year that we couldn’t “unilaterally disarm” from big, corporate donations–so now that there’s a tie in the House and we’re only two votes down in the Senate, I fully expect to see campaign finance reform legislation a priority, and you can be sure I will be lobbying hard for it. There’s no excuse now. Whatever issue is your passion, let’s all commit to staying as actively involved in our delegates’ actions as we’ve been this year.

For those who didn’t win last night, it’s equally important that we keep supporting them too. Whenever and if ever they decide to run again, they should know that we are 100% behind them. Whether they run again or not, they have learned invaluable lessons about campaigning in general, and their districts in particular, and we should make sure we listen to what they can share with us, and keep this information for the future. I hope they always feel that their sacrifices were not for naught.

To the extent we all had ideas and suggestions for what the party could do and how it could do things better, there will definitely be time over the next several months to talk through a lot of that. Now is a great time to build strong coalitions between grassroots groups and the party, so that going forward both sides know how to work together in whatever ways we can. Are you a member of your local Democratic committee? I’ve never been one in my life. It’s time, guys. We can’t do this without them, and they’re clearly better with us.

Lastly, I think there are a lot of ways to make the grassroots community sturdier and stronger and more permanent. Now is the time for each and every group to have a post-election debriefing, to talk about what went well, what did not go well, what roles were needed but not met, how well or poorly we interacted with each other, with other grassroots groups, and with the party. It’s really critical that we don’t look at the election yesterday as the culmination of our work, but just as the first progress report on the Resistance.

Savor the feeling of these wins today. We earned them, all of us. Get some rest, and then get back to work, because we need to take back the US Congress next year, and then take back the VA Senate the year after that!