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Turning a Political Jungle into a Diverse Rainforest

In my last blog, I wrote that political sanity can emerge from political insanity. The wide, diverse opposition to Donald Trump, evidence of political sanity, has only become more apparent since his inauguration. 

What we are seeing out there is a kind of wild political rainforest, containing a wealth of democratic organizations. While these include the big, endangered species such as the two parties, they also encompass smaller, more adaptable species, especially within the nonprofit sector, that focus on rescuing, preserving and strengthening democracy.

Some of these democratization organizations have been around for a long time, but have been revitalized by their opposition to Trump. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, received millions of dollars in online contributions during its successful legal opposition to Trump’s first Executive Order on immigration. Other well-established organizations that have benefited from the reaction to the election are the Brennan Center for Justice, which combats state-level assaults on voting rights and The League of Women Voters.  The National Popular Vote Compact was reactivated by Hillary Clinton’s popular vote margin.  There are also organizations, such as Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, that focus only on their own state.

Other organizations focused on democracy emerged during or after the 2016 elections. Senator Bernie Sanders campaign, in particular, seeded a wide variety of offshoots, including Ourrevolution.comSwingleft.orgjusticedemocrats.org, Indivisible indivisible.org and Brand New Congress. brandnewcongress.org

Some of these nonprofit organizations are openly partisan, and/or ideological. Our Revolution focuses on inspiring and recruiting progressive candidates to run for office at all political levels. Swing Left has a laser-like focus on the 52 congressional districts that will be in contention in 2018, and their online volunteers support Democratic challengers in their own or neighboring districts. Justice Democrats is focused on running progressive challengers in Democratic primaries where the incumbent got corporate donations. Emerge America trains Democratic women to run for office, and has many branches in the states. In New Mexico, for example, 10 women trained by Emerge were elected to the state legislature in 2016. Run For Something finds potential progressive candidates under 35, and links them to training provided by EmergeHigher Heights, Emily’s List, Latino Victory Project, and She Should Run. Students at the Kennedy School at Harvard have created an online Resistance School. A new organization on the Republican side, Stand Up Republic, founded by independent presidential candidate Evan McMullen, views Trump as a threat to American democracy and focuses their opposition on the founding American principles of “liberty, equality and truth. “

Indivisible and Brand New Congress may be the most innovative, post partisan species in the emerging political rainforest, despite the latter’s connections with the Sanders campaign. Indivisible, founded by a group of former congressional staffers, has published an instruction sheet for attending and participating in congressional district meetings. The Indivisible guide, widely shared, has led to the creation of over 5000 registered groups, at least 2 in every congressional district. Indivisible groups investigate policy issues and attend the district meetings held by their congressional representatives. The local members of Indivisible have gotten credit for the powerful public reaction against the Trumpcare proposal.

Brand New Congress, organized in May 2016, has received over 9000 online nominations for candidates to challenge congressional incumbents in both parties. (Full disclosure- I volunteer for BNC) The public is asked to nominate “extraordinary ordinary” people who have accomplished amazing things as leaders in their own communities. BNC’s goal is to ultimately come up with 400 candidates willing to run in either the Republican or Democratic primaries in 2018 for both the Senate and the House. In heavily Red districts, BNC looks for community leaders who will challenge extreme right incumbents. A good example is an evangelical pastor who has become a leader on local environmental issues. If successful, BNC will restore an endangered species to the political rainforest—the moderate Republican. 

Some Democratic incumbents will also face primary challenges. There are discussions about this within BNC, particularly after the collaboration with Justice Democrats was announced earlier this year. As an enthusiastic volunteer who has nominated 8 candidates in three states, I am in awe of BNC’s skills in online political organizing and the use of volunteers. I remain puzzled, however, by what may be mainly my own reactions to parts of their strategy. As a liberal Democrat, I find myself much more excited by the prospect of finding an endangered species in the jungle- the moderate Republican, than by the prospect of challenging a reasonably capable Democrat, who, for example, got 20% of her donations from five corporations. 

There is so much else going on, at all levels. Town Hall Project publicizes and encourages people to attend nearby political events. Among the many other groups recently described by Joshua Holland in the March 27 issue of The Nation are Pussycat ProjectKnock Every DoorAdopt a StateFlippableRun for Something (encourages and supports people wanting to run for local office) and Movement 2017, which offers financial support to local organizations in their own communities.

Other organizations relate directly, but more narrowly, to democracy. These include organizations focused on legal reforms such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. Then there is Fight for Reform,organized in response to Citizens United, and Media Matters, which works on freedom of the press. Democracy at Work is an advocate for cooperatives and a more democratic workplace. One of their recent projects focuses on providing state legislators with model legislation, thus employing a tactic already used by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council.  Operation 45 is a new, online organization focused on disclosure, transparency and freedom of information. Grab Your Wallet gained credibility by organizing the successful boycott against Nordstrom, followed by a website publicizing dozens of businesses with ties to the Trump family. 

There are also huge numbers of older and newer American nonprofits working on more specialized issues like climate change (350.org) or gun control (everytown.usa). With an estimated 1.4 million registered nonprofits in the United States, employing 10% of the workforce, I have only scratched the surface of what is going on, particularly since the election. 

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