Democracy & Government

Why ‘Democracy Spring’ Must Be About More Than the Presidential Race

For one group of Democrats, creating change means backing candidates in local races.

Progressives Must Think Beyond the Presidential Race

Zephyr Teachout, running for an open congressional seat in New York's Hudson Valley, is one of the candidates backed by the PCCC. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Following the April Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening demonstrations in Washington for campaign finance and voting rights reform, has invited activists — some of whom participated in the protests and some who did not — to describe what they are doing to continue work on these issues. This essay from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is part of that series.

Now we ask ourselves, “How do we elect hundreds more Elizabeth Warrens?”

One month after thousands converged in Washington for a movement called Democracy Spring and more than 1,200 were arrested on the steps of the US Capitol to protest our corrupt campaign finance system and rigged voting laws, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is working to ensure the seeds of that spring grow.

The anger and energy that led my co-founder, Adam Green, and other members of our Progressive Change Campaign Committee team, to join those arrested for engaging in peaceful civil disobedience at the Capitol is also reflected in the Bernie Sanders campaign. His message of “taking on a rigged system” resonated — and as a result, he became a serious candidate for the Democratic nomination, raised millions online, spurred thousands of volunteers to action and changed the national debate. Clearly people were looking for a place to be heard and inspired. And now many are asking, “What’s next?”

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has an idea: We’re thinking big by thinking small.

Yes, this year’s presidential campaign is important. But we need a movement of progressive activists taking power at every level — local, state and federal. At the PCCC, we ran the successful “Draft Elizabeth Warren for Senate” campaign in Massachusetts in 2011. Now we ask ourselves, “How do we elect hundreds more Elizabeth Warrens?” To do that, we need activists to choose to take power. We need people in power who are intuitively, in their guts, on the side of people and not corporations. People who understand the devastating effect of money in politics and want to cleanse corruption from our democracy.

In order to empower this revolution, we’re supporting progressive candidates up and down the ballot — from school board to US Senate — with training, technology, hands-on support and online mobilization. Potential and existing progressive candidates may visit our website to learn more about our resources and begin the endorsement process.

We’re also working with our million members nationally to move the center of the gravity within the Democratic Party itself. To build on the success of Democracy Spring, activists must show up at town hall meetings to ask about reform — plus volunteer and donate to good candidates. Thousands of PCCC members have donated to congressional candidates like Zephyr Teachout in New York, Pramila Jayapal in Washington and Lucy Flores in Nevada, who are running on bold anti-corruption agendas and taking on the “rigged system” through their campaigns.

Just recently, there was a clear example of why grassroots activism is so integral to the electoral process. Jamie Raskin, a progressive state senator in Maryland and a champion for campaign finance reform and voting rights, faced off in a crowded Democratic primary against David Trone, a wealthy wine retailer. Trone spent more than $12 million of his own money on his campaign, making this primary the most expensive in history by far. Raskin was outspent about 10 to 1, but he ran a grassroots, volunteer-driven campaign.

David Trone lost. Jamie Raskin won, and is strongly favored to become the next congressman for this deeply blue congressional district in November. This was a rare victory against big money in politics. But we need more. And activism across the nation can get us there.

Stephanie Taylor

Stephanie Taylor, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and the Progressive Change Institute (PCI), has spent nearly 20 years working on labor, electoral and advocacy campaigns throughout the country. A former union organizer, she serves on the advisory boards of the State Innovation Exchange (SIX) and X-Lab and is a founding member of the influential Women in Politics and Technology (WIPT) community. She has a B.A. from the University of Virginia and an MFA from Columbia. Follow her on Twitter: @StephanieTaylor.