Hitting Home: a new politics of the everyday
As the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, I see on a daily basis the impact of politics and policy on my family, neighbors, friends, and residents. Earlier this year, I ran for chair of the Democratic National Committee because of a sense, in communities like mine, that national politicians were talking too little about us and too much about each other, and themselves.
The upcoming elections in 2017 and 2018 offer an opportunity for the Democratic Party to change that, rebuild, and once again be rightfully known as the party that cares about people and works to make their lives better. Yet success — in the short and long term — is far from guaranteed.
Certainly, progressive organizations and Democratic constituencies are extremely energized and more ready for action than ever. But the party is still struggling to unify around a single message, and remains at a structural disadvantage in most states. Even if Democrats had won the White House in 2016, the party would be facing serious issues in states across America: today we are at our lowest level of influence in office since the 1920s.
The strength of our party has always been its determination to protect ordinary people. As Democrats and progressives look to the future, we should remember our most essential values. A lasting majority will be possible only when we are consistently offering answers to fundamental concerns that touch the lived experience of Americans in our everyday lives.
The national mood reflects the challenges that hang over our country. Political polarization is at its worst in modern times. Working and middle-class families feel ignored and left behind by a political system that treats them like data points in a focus group, rather than as real people whose lives are affected by the policy choices our elected officials make. Wall-to-wall coverage of the political intrigue in Washington focuses on which Capitol Hill players won the daily news cycle, with barely any reference to the communities and lives where politicians’ decisions actually hit home.
Like anyone who follows politics, I am sometimes mesmerized by the twisted and relentless drama playing out in Washington. But I also know about the price of distraction — the consequences of our attention being diverted from how politics affects daily life.
In 2016, I saw friends, neighbors, and constituents tune out politics completely because they rightly felt like nobody was talking to them. They saw Donald Trump consumed with himself, Democrats consumed with Trump, and no one talking about them. Others, even though they had no illusions about Trump, sensed that he was the only one at least gesturing in their direction, and voted for his brand of maximum disruption.
As we approach the second half of 2017 and prepare for 2018, I remain concerned that The Show in Washington is disconnected from our everyday lives. It is so absorbing that it crowds out attention to what happens in our homes, families and communities as a result of policy decisions. This is a recipe for political frustration and policy failure.
That’s why I’ve decided to establish Hitting Home, a political action committee that is dedicated to elevating the voices, concerns, and aspirations of Americans who no longer feel like they have a seat at the table in our political discourse.
Hitting Home will mobilize resources to elect Democrats, at every level and in communities both red and blue, who will put the lived experiences of Americans front and center. We will support candidates who focus on showing voters what we are for — not just what we are against — and understand how to do so in terms of our everyday lives.
As a Midwestern mayor from the Millennial generation, I view politics not as theoretical but personal. I’ve spent time with families impacted by weather events related to climate change. I know people whose health concerns, from lead poisoning to opioid addiction, are addressed through Medicaid-funded services. I live in a community with auto industry workers who benefit — and suffer — from the consequences of economic decisions made in Washington. In neighborhoods including the one where I lived as a child, I’ve managed the removal or restoration of vacant homes using federal funds now on the chopping block. People I love depend on the ACA for lifesaving medical treatment, and people I served with in Afghanistan continue to stake their very lives on the wisdom of elected leaders.
Hitting Home will work to show, rather than tell, how we can re-ground our politics in a renewed focus on the lives of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones. We will work to impact critical races for office around America by elevating the stories of those who have the most at stake in politics: American people.
Through various forms of media — paid, earned, and social — we will use American voices to illustrate why politics really matters. We will take as our foundation the belief that every policy and every candidacy should be justified mainly on the basis of what it represents for people who live with the effects of political decisions at every level.
Both our politics and our policies need a reset. By re-centering our work at the kitchen tables, workplaces, and schools where it matters most, we will reconnect with the moral center of our party. We will also, I am convinced, be practicing a more meaningful and effective political strategy.
As we mount this effort, I will turn to those who share our values for help. I will look to allies throughout the progressive movement for energy, amplification, resources, and above all — stories. With your help, we hope to get involved in races throughout America that need more real voices to help cut through the noise. Basing our approach on a renewed politics of the everyday, we will win again, and deserve it.