Empowering a new generation of progressive leaders
Run for Something launched the same day as Donald Trump’s presidency — January 20th, 2017. My co-founder, Ross Morales Rocketto, and I thought this would be our side-project – we expected that we’d have to hustle the first year to find 100 progressive millennials who wanted to run for local office for the first time.
Instead, in the first nine months, more than 11,000 young people across the United States have raised their hands and said “I’m in, I want to run, let’s do it.” We’ve got hundreds of folks already on the ballot and have already endorsed more than 80 candidates across 19 states as they mount strong campaigns focused on voter-contact.
Our programme has two components: recruitment and support. Recruitment means talking about running for office as loudly and as plainly as possible. We run online ads, share stories, do aggressive social media campaigns, and try to provide as many examples as possible of young people running and winning so other young people can see they won’t be alone.
Once someone has decided to run, they have a conversation with one of our trained volunteers who screen for four key attributes: Is this person progressive, whatever that means for wherever they live? Is this person authentically rooted in their community? Is this person willing to personally work hard for their race? And is this person compelling and interesting to talk to?
If the answer is yes to all four criteria, the potential candidate gets access to a wealth of resources and relationships that we leverage to benefit our candidates. We’ve built partnerships with other organisations across the United States who provide training and resources to our candidates – but more often than not, our candidates don’t even know to ask for the help. We also have a network of mentors who are experts in everything from policy to communications to organising work to the local politics of a particular state. Candidates admitted into our program can set up appointments with our mentors, all for free. Most importantly, they have access to each other, building a community of future leaders while sharing best practices and commiserating over the hard parts of campaigns.
Candidates in our community are eligible to apply for our endorsement, which includes deeper engagement with partner organisations, access to more one-on-one support, and as much earned media as we can possibly provide. We also do volunteer recruitment and support for our campaigns wherever possible. In some states, we’re able to contribute financially as permitted by campaign finance law in the states. We don’t judge based on viability or fundraising prowess. Instead, we endorse based on the strength of the campaign and the character of the candidate. We believe if we invest in good talent, good things will follow.
Our theory of change is simple: More progressives running for office at every level is a good thing. Our candidates facilitate more entry-points for volunteers to get involved, create more advocates for progressive values, and ultimately will encourage higher voter turn-out by generating more interest in competitive elections and more civic engagement.
And in the process, we’re solving other problems, too. Our candidates are affecting local policy and nudging municipal government in the right direction. We’re building a bench of good progressive leaders at the local level who can one day lead at a national level. In 5 or 10 years, we hope to be able to point to members of Congress, governors, and maybe in 20 years, a presidential candidate who got his or her start through our program.
At the Global Progress conference in Montreal, hosted by the Canada 2020, Policy Network, and the Center for American Progress, I got a chance to talk about Run for Something with progressive leaders from around the world. What I heard over and over again was that this mission – engaging millennials as the future leaders of our countries by getting them into the pipeline today – is needed in nearly every country. I was inspired by the progressive movement’s commitment to the next generation, even when it is counter to the current leaders’ own personal success.
While I can’t guarantee Run for Something will go international anytime soon, I hope our work pushes young leaders around the world to unabashedly declare that we deserve to be heard.
If you’re interested in learning more about what we’re up to, visit us at runforsomething.net – and for folks in London, you can join us on November 1st at www.runforsomething.net/london. (Non-American citizens are welcome to contribute and help out.)
Image credit: Shutterstock.com / stock_photo_world