Your 2018 Midterm Elections action plan

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Postcards designed by Sister District co-founder Lyzz Schwegler, perfect for voter registration drives. Photo: Sister District

The 2018 midterm elections are coming. If you’ve never voted outside of a presidential election — something the majority of voters between 18 and 44 haven’t done in the past 30 years — this is the year to exercise your right and help change the course of this country by setting off a big, blue wave.

While the path to a Senate majority for Democrats seems steep, we have a real shot of swinging the House from red to blue; out of the 24 seats Democrats need to win, 23 are in districts that voted for Hillary.

Here in New York state, where a coalition of Democrats known as the IDC align themselves with Republicans, effectively giving the GOP control of the State Senate, an upcoming special election and candidates running against IDC members in November could right the local balance of power.

We are very close, in other words, to delivering a walloping loss for our criminally unqualified president, and preventing his accomplices from carrying out any more heinous acts. A blue wave would also place Democrats in power just in time for the 2020 Census, and the redistricting and rebalancing of power that will follow. Last year’s Democratic sweep of Virginia’s House of Delegates and the trouncing of Republican county executives in nearby Nassau and Westchester counties proved that it’s possible to turn the tide when the Left mobilizes.

To keep the momentum going—whether you’re experiencing Trump fatigue, or have been re-energized by the courageous Parkland teens — we recommend joining an activist group that can amplify your efforts. (Or become involved in their efforts in any way you can.)

Here are three well-organized grassroots organizations who are actively pressuring our elected officials to support progressive policies and will be helping to elect Democrats at the federal, state, and county level in 2018. Our resources section at the end includes links to additional groups, upcoming events and election-year guides to keep you informed and galvanized.

Photo: New Kings Democrats

New Kings Democrats

History: Based in Brooklyn, New Kings Democrats is a hyper-local political organization founded in 2008 by a group that campaigned for Barack Obama. They are tirelessly working to reform the Brooklyn Democratic Party by bringing transparency to its practices and by assisting qualified candidates who want to run for county committee.

Mission: NKD’s primary mission is to get average people more involved with local Brooklyn politics, primarily on the county committee and district leader level. County committee wields significant power; it chooses the candidates for special elections, for instance, which impacts the outcome of roughly one-third of all state legislature races, and also chooses district leaders for each State Assembly district. About half of the seats in this 3,000-member body remain empty.

NKD works with people who want to run for county committee and help explain the system to them so that they can become informed about how to campaign in the borough. “This is all about political engagement and getting a seat at the table, and making [the county committee] a place that we can build future leaders from,” said New Kings Democrats President Brandon West at the club’s recent general meeting.

Goals: One of NKD’s main goals in 2018 is to support and recruit candidates that will best serve Brooklyn communities locally. Their Rep Your Block campaign is a major project they’re continuing this year to help everyday Brookynites run for county committee; so far they’ve helped over 200 people run. They also hope to complete their Vision of the Brooklyn Democratic Party project this year, by polling a thousand Brooklynites from the borough’s Assembly districts about their vision for the borough and for their leaders in the local Democratic party.

They expect to get involved in some congressional races and State Senate and Assembly races, as well, and will be endorsing candidates for select races.

Membership: According to West, there are now around 400 dues-paying members and over 4,000 people on their email list. About 200 to 300 attend general meetings, and 40 arrive for subcommittee meetings.

West has also noticed that the new members were making the organization a bit more reflective of what Brooklyn looks like racially and economically. “Our club has been diversifying intentionally, we’re doing intentional outreach to communities that get a lot of attention,” West said. “We had a strong relationship with Nydia Velazquez when we started…now the majority of our board is POC and women.”

What to Expect: Members can attend monthly meetings and events, though they aren’t obligated to attend every single one. Volunteers can help with organizing events, knocking on doors and canvassing for candidates, or attending demonstrations and protests.

How to join: To join New Kings Democrats, you can attend an event or read the minutes of their most recent meeting to see all the ways to get involved this year.

State Senator Jesse Hamilton paid Indivisible Brooklyn a surprise visit in February. Members asked whether he would leave the IDC but he refused to commit to doing so. Photo: Indivisible Brooklyn.

Indivisible

History: Indivisible is a progressive political organization that was formed by former congressional staffers in response to the 2016 election. Unlike New Kings Democrats, it’s a national organization that has teams throughout the country focused on city, state, and federal politics. There are more than 100 groups in New York State including Indivisible NYC16 in Yonkers, Indivisible Upper East Side, Indivisible Brooklyn and Indivisible Nation BK, an offshoot of #GetOrganizedBK.

Mission: One of the organization’s main goals is to help the public understand how to hold local, state, and federal politicians accountable. They aim to show average citizens how to become involved in local political processes, in as many ways as possible such as protesting, signing petitions, registering voters and organizing events to support specific candidates and policies. Even if you do not formally join an Invisible group, signing up for both the national and your local Indivisible emails is a great way to stay abreast of upcoming actions and key legislation that Congress is voting on that week.

Goals: Like many other New York political organizations, local chapters of Indivisible are primarily concerned with getting out the vote for New York’s legislative races, particularly those involving current members of the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, in the New York State Senate. 

Though the State Senate is comprised of 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans, eight of those Democrats belong to the IDC, which aligns itself with Republicans, effectively giving the GOP the majority. This has made it harder to tackle issues that progressive groups want to solve like affordable housing in Brooklyn. According to a report in Sanctuary State New York, the IDC blocked 25 bills passed by the State Assembly protecting reproductive rights, equal rights, and environmental protections.

“There’s a huge focus on them because we want New York to have a blue Senate,” said Emma Balter, an Indivisible Brooklyn elections coordinator. “We thought we lived in a progressive state but because of them, we realized we’re not this progressive shield to the Trump administration.”

Two well-known IDC members are up for re-election this year. Jesse Hamilton of NY Senate District 20 in Brooklyn, who joined the IDC in 2016, is being challenged this year by Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn lawyer and community activist.

Meanwhile, the leader of the IDC, Jeff Klein of NY Senate District 34 in the Bronx, is being opposed this year by Alessandra Biaggi, who used to be the deputy operations director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and is a native of the 34th district.

Balter said that getting Klein out of office is a huge goal for 2018. “He’s been accused of harassment and it’s sad that he’s still in office considering the conversation around harassment in the country today,” she said.

She predicts that Indivisible Brooklyn will ally with more candidates opposing IDC members as they announce themselves. She believes that 2018 will bring about similar results as the 2017 elections, where more women, people of color, and progressives will hold public office across the country.

Membership: Indivisible Brooklyn, one of many chapters in the borough, currently has 500 members and people that come on a rotating basis to meetings in Downtown Brooklyn, Crown Heights, and Park Slope. Indivisible Nation BK has about 750 on its email list, and meets most often in Park Slope. It grew out of, and still considers itself a part of a larger coalition of activist groups called #GetOrganizedBK, which has over 7,000 on its email list.

There are several subcommittees in each Indivisible who meet monthly to go over long-term goals at the state and federal level and local acts of resistance.

What to expect: Like the New Kings Democrats, volunteers can be hands-off and just do occasional actions like postcard writing and phone banking for candidates, or they can attend meetings regularly, organize or spearhead events.

How to Join: To find an Indivisible nearest you, this link lets you view chapters by zip code.

Sister District

History: Sister District was founded a few weeks after the 2016 election by a small group of women, many of whom were successful lawyers. The name refers to its aim of partnering with “sister” districts in other states that it has a chance of swinging from red or purple to blue.

Mission: From the beginning, Sister District aimed to look for strategic campaigns in swing states and swing districts in hopes of supporting progressive candidates that could help turn a “purple” state solidly blue. They also focus on badly gerrymandered districts that have taken away a sense of power from progressive voters when it comes to local and state elections. In doing so, they aim to break Republican power in the House and in state legislatures across the country so that districts can’t continue to be redrawn in a way that benefits Republican nominees.

Lala Wu, one of the original co-founders of Sister District, quit her job as a lawyer and is now a full-time organizer. She says that it’s worth her time to work with a group that is proactive and has seen a significant amount of results in its’ first year.

“We were actively involved in 15 [state legislative] campaigns in 2017, 14 of which were successful,” said Wu.

One of Sister District’s most notable victories of 2017 was that of Danica Roem, the first openly transgender lawmaker in Virginia. She unseated one of the state’s longest-serving and one of the most socially conservative lawmakers, Bob Marshall.

In Brooklyn, the chapter known as “Sister District 7, 8, 9” — a reference to all the congressional districts its volunteers come from — helped campaign for Virginia’s progressive candidates through postcard-writing, phone banking and trips to Virginia for door-to-door campaigning. 

Goals: Sister District’s goal for 2018 will be to double the number of campaigns they supported in 2017. Currently they are working with the Voter Participation Center to help register people to vote in battleground states such as Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Sister District did not work on any campaigns in New York state last year, but will be doing so this year. They’re currently compiling information on candidates and specific races that they feel will be the most successful and the most receptive to their efforts.

Like many other local political groups, they are also working on getting as many IDC members out of office as possible.

“It was rewarding to work in places like Virginia,” said Jennifer Tattenbaum, a district captain and organizer in Brooklyn. “But we’re so excited to work in our neighborhoods, especially here in Brooklyn.”

Sister District is also eager to continue teaching the public what they themselves learned in 2016 and during the 2017 elections, that grassroots organizing, when done strategically, can have a huge impact and ensures that everyone’s votes matter.

Membership: Wu says that there are approximately 25,000 members across the country, and around 800 members on both the Manhattan and Brooklyn mailing lists.

What to expect: Not every member shows up to every monthly meeting or every event, but people come whenever they can, even if it means phone banking for two hours or helping set things up for an event.

Anyone who wants to become more involved can work closely with group leaders, called district captains, and strategize phone banking, fundraising for campaigns and candidates that they plan on supporting, and even going to other states to canvas for candidates. However, no one is required to take on tasks and can contribute whenever they’re able to.

How to join: Anyone who wants to join Sister District can look up a group closest to them at this link and reach out. To join the Brooklyn group go to Sister District 7,8,9 Facebook page; the Manhattan group’s Facebook page is here.

A mail drop after a #GOBK by day postcard writing session. Photo: Bonnie Boyd Schwerin

Other Election-Year Resources and Activist Groups

This is a solid guide to understanding the pivotal states and races in the 2018 midterms.

Ballotpedia has compiled a list of state legislative races to watch and has endless more election data.

This is a link to the maps of New York’s congressional, State Senate and Assembly districts.

No IDC NY holds weekly phone banking actions to defeat the IDC.

The Atlantic published a compelling case (in case you needed any more convincing) for boycotting Republicans in every election until the party rights itself.

This New York Times op-ed explains the importance of Democrat voter turnout this year.

#GetOrganizedBK is an umbrella organization for many activist groups in Brooklyn, including #GOBK by Day, which hosts a weekly postcard writing and/or phone banking session on Thursday mornings in Park Slope on behalf of groups such as Moms Demand Action, the ACLU, Indivisible, as well as women’s health, voting and immigration rights initiatives.

Changing the Conversation Together, another offshoot of GOBK, uses an evidence-based technique called “Deep Canvassing” to persuade Republicans and disaffected Democrats to vote Democrat in the 2018 election.

While Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action do not meet as regularly as the organizations above, you can help their mission to enact sensible gun control legislation through donations,  and by participating in upcoming events like this March 10 phone-banking against the NRA.

The March 24 March for Our Lives gun-control rally in D.C., spearheaded by Cameron Kasky, a teenage survivor of the Parkland, FL massacre, is one of 400+ marches planned for that day. Follow their Facebook page, RVSP for the NYC March, and help fund their efforts or buy some merch.

Have more suggestions? Let us know in the comments.

2 Responses

  1. Betsy -

    Please don’t forget about SwingLeft.org. With an exciting primary of 6 Democratic candidates, Swing Left’s NY11 group could definitely use people to come out to Staten Island to register voters, collect voter pledges and canvas. While NY11 consists of Staten Island and Southern Brooklyn, Brooklyn is covered with volunteers at the ready – Staten Island needs the help. Please consider joining.

    Reply
  2. Charles Held -

    What’s all this “we”? I wouldn’t trust NY Democrats further than I can throw them. And the appropriate place to throw them is in prison, starting with Shelly Silver and Andy “ethics commission? what ethics commission?” Cuomo.

    Ideally we’d elect Libertarians, but the worst thing we – WE – can do is continue enabling the Cuomo Kleptocracy.

    Reply

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