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Perriello Candidacy Creates Chance for Democrats to Try a New Approach: Cooperative Volunteering

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by Antonia Scatton, Co-founder of UpRise.org, a new organization dedicated to reforming our political process through radically increased volunteer engagement

When I read the news this morning about Tom Perriello entering the Virginia governor’s race, I had two immediate thoughts: 1) “Yay, Tom Perriello is awesome;” and 2) “Oh no, Ralph Northam is also awesome. This is going to f*** everything up”.

After some thought, I realized that Perriello’s candidacy could provide a unique opportunity to try a new kind of campaign model. The candidates inevitably have to compete. But there’s no reason that the volunteers have to.

Traditionally, this primary would mean that volunteer efforts would be focused on a brutal fight over base voters, most of whom like both candidates, thus alienating the very people we will need to be motivated in November. This would also usually mean that volunteer efforts to communicate with non-base voters wouldn’t kick in until well into the summer.

Since the presidential election, we have been experiencing a far-higher-than-usual level of interest in volunteering. What better way to lose these good people than either give them nothing to do or ask them to pick sides in an internal battle?

First of all, there is a mountain of evidence that negative campaigning not only does not work, but actually hurts you. You can read more about that here. It would be to the benefit of both Perriello and Northam to campaign on their ideas and strengths, not each others’ weaknesses.

More importantly, we could seize this opportunity to do something we never do: organize volunteer efforts across the state to promote both candidates and engage all voters – base, swing and conservative – in a conversation about what Democrats believe and why we are the people who care the most about them.

Let’s use this campaign as an opportunity to organize town hall meetings everywhere, to listen to voters across the spectrum and to let voters choose between two good people whose approaches, personal characteristics and histories may differ, but whose overall values — as well as the overwhelming majority of their policy positions — are the same.

Some may say that it is a bad idea to air our internal policy debates in public. I once had the unique opportunity to listen in on many of the debates over details of the Obamacare policy, over things like which taxes should be raised and how big the benefits should be. The impression I got from that debate was that Democrats of all stripes cared very deeply for the American people. They faced tough choices and worked very, very hard to find solutions that would benefit the most people while doing the least harm. If only the American public got to see what I saw.

Snark and sniping about each other’s flaws over social media would be a horrible way for this primary to be carried out. Here’s another option: I can’t think of a better way to promote both candidates and our party than to get out there and let people see how hard we are working to find ways to solve their problems.

Let’s bring new volunteers into the fold and energize the ones we already have, by engaging them in an unprecedented effort to communicate in person to their friends and neighbors, who we are and what we believe in.

So – anybody up for volunteering for both Tom Perriello and Ralph Northam during the primary season? I’d like to hear what you all think.

Antonia Scatton is the Co-founder of UpRise.org, a new organization dedicated to reforming our political process through radically increased volunteer engagement.