by Lynlee Thorne, Rural GroundGame
After any election, we can expect the typical scoreboard-style coverage from pundits, Twitter “experts,” and organizations. While this has its place, it’s also important to recognize and examine the investment of resources and effort of the past cycle, and to assess what went well and what can be better.
It is very tempting to see the topline victory and immediately act as if everything went wonderfully, even here at Rural GroundGame. Days after this year’s election, we sent out a chipper “We did it, y’all!” email to supporters. This isn’t us attempting to be blasé—the gratitude and happiness expressed there is very real. We are ecstatic that Virginians now have two Democratic majorities protecting them from the dangers of a fragile Governor with finger-in-the-wind policy preferences. This is truly worthy of celebration!
At the same time, we must also be able to be self-critical and decide what we will focus on improving in the months before another all-hands-on-deck election. This includes us here at RGG. Being able to directly contact well over 2 million voters and offer some level of support to over 100 campaigns is no small feat for a small, scrappy organization reaching volunteers and voters far off the radar of other progressive organizations making investments only in the cities and suburbs.
It’s simply not possible for us to hold this thing together without the support we receive from a distinctly unusual group of individuals and organizations who brazenly defy the accepted (and too often unquestioned) “wisdom” of investing exclusively in the competitive districts. Gratitude isn’t a big enough word to hold the depth of our appreciation for the support of those who have stood with us.
As Democrats, we should absolutely tout our 2023 victories—and we can do so much more to make it true that our electoral ecosystem is inclusive before claiming that it is. Running “everywhere” or “statewide” is not real when we write off vast swaths of the Commonwealth and the country for the sin of not being in the “right” zip code. None of us would find it acceptable to actively exclude BIPOC, LGBTQ+, working class, poor, disabled, and other marginalized communities. But when we exclude rural communities in our electoral outreach, we are also excluding many people in those exact groups. Making incremental gains is incredibly important— that’s our bread and butter at RGG—but allowing short term wins to continue to come at the cost of longer term harm is not sustainable. The recent trend of signaling with words that rural Virginia should matter to Democrats has still not resulted in concrete, actionable inclusion in all places that nurtures our infrastructure and endeavors to build it up.
Being a rural Democrat can sometimes feel like being ripped in half. While we share in the collective celebration and relief that majorities were secured in the General Assembly and important seats won at the local level, we also saw white Christian nationalists gain ground on rural school boards that will make critical decisions impacting the lives of our most vulnerable children. As we slowly make the rounds to debrief with candidates, staff, and volunteers, there is a mix of hope, gratitude, and determination but also grief, anger, and real concern that there is very little in the way of a collective intent to expand our ranks and our reach. During a recent lunch, someone commented, “Welp, it wouldn’t be a gathering of rural Democrats if someone weren’t crying in their grits.” There’s nothing like laughter through tears with courageous, generous candidates and community leaders to summon the determination to honor grief with fight.
We’ve struggled to find words to share what we hope can be heard as a collective call to action as we enter 2024. We’ve returned to some favorite books and to our Party Platform.
“America is an idea—one that has endured and evolved through war and depression, prevailed over fascism and communism, and radiated hope to far distant corners of the earth. Americans believe that diversity is our greatest strength. That protest is among the highest forms of patriotism. That our fates and fortunes are bound to rise and fall together. That even when we fall short of our highest ideals, we never stop trying to build a more perfect union.” —excerpt from the preamble of the Democratic Party Platform
“America is an idea,” and so is our Party. Both ideas are shaped by Americans and by Democrats, and we can push both our country and our Party to pursue their stated values to make them true. If we have regrets about our own work in 2023, it is that we didn’t do enough to make more people aware of and invest in the rich brain (and heart) trust within our Party. We are committed to doing more to earn their continued participation.
A “winner takes all” mindset can blind us to the value of opening ourselves up to the insight of those who came up short on Election Day. For a Party that is often trying to seek effective means of messaging, it might not be the worst idea to start by asking those that are on the front lines of making a tough sell, communicating our shared values in ways accessible to a much broader electorate than in the districts where Democrats won. We are truly grateful to all candidates who ran to represent us, and any list will inherently be incomplete. We want to share with you just a few of the candidates that are deserving not only of our gratitude, but also our ears. They can offer so much for us to learn—on issues, on policy, and, yes, on campaigning.
- Reverends Stephanie Clark and Josh Blakely, who bring their faith into their message as they advocate for the dignity of their neighbors.
- Jade Harris and Mary Person, who with vigilant eyes and ready hands experienced from their time as Vice Mayor and Mayor work to make their communities’ water safe to drink again and to ensure that every student has a safe place to learn and grow.
- Rachel Levy, Dustin Keith, and Kathy Beery, all strong, fierce advocates for our public schools, students, teachers, and staff.
- Jennifer Woofter, Jolicia Ward, Stephen MillerPitts, and Sara Ratcliffe, who bring their professional experiences into developing real community-based solutions for access to equitable healthcare, improved infrastructure, and nutritious food, making our communities better for all of us.
The voices, work, and presence of these leaders and so many more in every last country mile of Virginia deserve meaningful support. Support that is beyond words, a pat on the back, a “bless your heart.” Our elected officials and leaders would be well-served to seek out the wisdom, the ideas, and the input of these essential members of what can be a stronger, more inclusive Democratic coalition.
The innovative ideas needed now to shape our country and our Party in order to meet this defining moment in our democracy must be made of clay, not glass, informed by many, not just a few.
This means you, me, all of us.
So what now? Every local Democratic Committee in Virginia is reorganizing between December 5 of this year and January 15, 2024. If you want to be a part of the process of shaping our Party, if you want to be a part of the work from the inside, now is your chance. If you are interested, fill out this short form, and we will make sure that you receive information about your local committee’s reorganization.
The brilliant Heather McGhee in her essential book The Sum of Us beautifully communicates what we hope to convey and work to make true:
“Since this country’s founding, we have not allowed our diversity to be our superpower, and the result is that the United States is not more than the sum of its disparate parts. But it could be. And if it were, all of us would prosper. In short, we must emerge from this crisis in our republic with a new birth of freedom, rooted in the knowledge that we are so much more when the “we” in “We the People” is not some of us, but all of us. We are greater than, and greater for, the sum of us.”
It’s time to get to work. Everywhere for everyone. No exceptions.
Learn more about our work here (and please bear with us as we make updates to our website for 2024).