Beyond the Ballot Box: How to Impact National Politics When You’re a Progressive Voting in a Blue State
My vote for president is pretty insignificant. I am one progressive vote in a securely blue state. My vote isn’t going to make California bluer than it already is. There is no battleground here; we are as blue as our beautiful blue skies. So when I say my vote lacks significance, it’s because when I cast my ballot in national elections, it’s just one more blue yelp into the echo chamber that is California. Being disillusioned with national politics and convinced my ballot was not a substantial contribution, I set out this election cycle to explore how I could have more impact.
In my pursuit, I applied to and was selected to participate in the Jeremiah Fellowship, a social justice leadership program of Bend the Arc: a Jewish Partnership for Justice. Bend the Arc is a politically progressive Jewish non-profit organization with an affiliated 501(c)(4) Bend the Arc Jewish Action and a connected PAC.
[pullquote] Being disillusioned with national politics and convinced my ballot was not a substantial contribution, I set out this election cycle to explore how I could have more impact.
[/pullquote] Bend the Arc is unique as a national Jewish organization in that it is focused exclusively on domestic issues and has no official position on Israel, not because it’s not important, but because there is certainly not a lack of Jewish organizations that do that work, and we are not a single-issue people. In working with Bend the Arc this past year, I am amazed by how much we can accomplish when our efforts and energies are directed at driving progressive issues such as criminal justice reform, voting rights, freedom of religion, and raising the minimum wage, among others.
Bend the Arc had its first national conference in June and I had the opportunity to attend. Progressive Jews from across the country convened in Washington, DC for three days of panels, learning, action, and lobbying. This was my first real peek behind the curtain into the political process, and I learned that I could have a much bigger political footprint than just casting my little blue vote in my big blue state. I can impact national politics in several powerful ways. And so can you.
Here’s what I learned:
- We have to take action to win back Congress. Sure, the presidential election is flashy, but if we don’t want the gridlock to continue, we also need a blue majority in both chambers. What can we do? We can support progressive candidates running for seats outside of California. But how do we know which candidates to support? An excellent question and it brings me to another insight I gleaned from the conference…
- Our individual impact in electing progressive candidates is greater if our support is given through a PAC that represents what we value most. I know, I know: “PAC” is a bad word. And I agree that money in politics can feel akin to corruption and abuse and that Citizens United has only exacerbated the situation. But at their best, PACs are basically the democratic version of collective bargaining and we lay citizens can buy in. I became a member of the Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC because I trust that this organization has been strategic in selecting candidates to endorse and that the vetting process includes an assessment of each candidate’s position on progressive issues that I value such as racial and economic justice, immigration reform, gender equity, and LGBTQ equality. Once a member of the PAC, I can give to the PAC itself or I can give to PAC-endorsed candidates of my choosing through the PAC. By giving as a PAC member, whether I give $10 or $2,700 to a given candidate, I am communicating that my support is directly connected to their advocacy for a progressive domestic agenda in Washington.
- My final big takeaway is a total paradigm shift. Ready? Politicians are people. Whoa. I know, right? But stay with me. Their agendas are determined by what they are most passionate about, the issues they think most impact their constituents, and what is currently pressing and on the floor. Politicians are people with the same amount of hours in the day that the rest of us have and they too have to prioritize the issues they are working on. If you want to know a politician’s priorities, visit their website. It should be quite clear. You’ll probably find them under a tab called “Issues.” When we were lobbying in DC, we spoke to one of our senator’s staffers about one of the three main issues on our agenda and the staffer said it wasn’t even on the senator’s radar yet. The issue had yet to rise in priority. It is our job as constituents to communicate to politicians in power what issues need to be prioritized. Politicians are often disconnected from reality not (entirely or exclusively) through any fault of their own but because of the very nature of the job. They are on the hill while we are on the ground. We know how their political decisions impact people because we are the people. We have proximity and it is our job to communicate the wisdom that comes with that proximity to our politicians. Yes we communicate with our votes, but our responsibility does not start and end at the ballot box. If we want change, we have to opt in. Sign the petition, pick up the phone, send the email, phone bank, demonstrate, educate, make a campaign contribution, join the movement. .[pullquote]
If you’re not sure where to start, I suggest you first find your people. Identify that group of likeminded, value-driven, committed citizens for yourself. If you’re with me this far, these are probably your people. Welcome. Jump right in.
It’s easy to become disillusioned with politics, to feel your vote is insignificant, and to find flaws in our systems and in our politicians. But we (Jews, progressives) cannot abstain. If you’re not sure where to start, I suggest you first find your people. Identify that group of likeminded, value-driven, committed citizens for yourself. If you’re with me this far, these are probably your people. Welcome. Jump right in. In addition to the above, you can join Bend the Arc Jewish Action in getting progressive voters in swing states to turn out at the polls. Check out the game plan and action opportunities for the 2016 election cycle here. You can also join Bend the Arc’s non-profit, year-round regional actions. There is plenty of important work to be done building a more just and equal society between elections. I hope you’ll join me and opt in. The time is now.