My Conversion to Political Activism
I have always followed politics, with a passion similar to how I pull for my beloved UVA Wahoos, especially when they are playing basketball against the overrated Tarheels or Blue Devils. Every election season I study up and go out to vote, watching the poll results on election night. Cheering the wins for my team (the Dems) and cursing the inevitable losses to the Republicans, typically with a beer in hand and popcorn in my lap. You get the idea, it was entertainment for me, just like watching the big game.
Even though I am a loyal Democrat, I have had no antipathy for Republicans. During college I even worked summers for The Honorable Paul Trible, who served as a Republican Representative (1976–82) and then Senator (1983–89) for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Most of what I learned working on Capitol Hill those summers was the all-consuming nature of the pursuit of money to fuel the election machine. But, in my time there, I never doubted that the people who served in the House and Senate were working in our collective common interests. They seemed to pursue policy goals based on the intersection of competing interests — the moderate middle — rather than policies that pit one group of citizens against another.
Something has fundamentally changed.
A combination of gerrymandering, social fragmentation and unrestrained flow of money into campaigns have created a Congress that is entirely dysfunctional. Congress now thrives on polarized battles that discourage compromise and lead to extremist legislation. In any functioning system, wouldn’t the country’s legislature have passed some restrictions on access to military-grade weapons by now? Wouldn’t the legislature have protected children of undocumented immigrants, where those children have known no home other than our country? Instead, every important issue facing our nation is being used as a battleground for dominance between the current Republican majority in Congress and the Democratic resistance.
The toxic climate started before 2016, but I remained oblivious and complacent in the face of the increasing threat to our democratic system. The election of Trump convinced me to set aside my popcorn and beer, and to take action. I have come to believe the root cause of this toxic political climate is the decreasing number of competitive districts where candidates have to appeal to the entire electorate to get elected. There are fewer and fewer congressional districts where the reasonable opinions of moderates matter. In safely gerrymandered Republican or Democratic districts, the most appealing candidates often are those with more extreme views — right or left. This is a recipe for passage of extreme laws whenever one party controls both houses of Congress. The Republicans in particular have mastered the art of gerrymandering districts to all but ensure a disproportionate number of safe Republican congressional districts.
In the short term, the federal and state courts might force changes in some of the most egregious cases of unconstitutional gerrymandering, but those solutions will be nothing more than band-aids. The long-term solution to these structural problems will require Congress and/or state legislatures to pass legislation to reform the way voters are grouped and our votes counted. If you want to really dig in on this topic, check out this list of resources maintained by Reclaim the American Dream: Reclaim on Gerrymandering.
I’m not giving up on long-term reform, but I am impatient and scared. Our polarized system resulted in the election of a dangerous president who is destroying some of our country’s greatest resources in the service of, at best, short-sighted interests, and he is being abetted by an extremist Republican-controlled Congress. I choose to throw my energy into electing enough Democrats in Congressional swing districts to flip the House from Republican to Democratic control. The goal is to end the unified Republican control of Congress, so both sides have to reach compromise, before further damage is done to our country. If we can just stop the current madness, maybe long-term reform will have a chance.
Many organized groups (Indivisible, Swing Left, etc.) share this goal and are working on different pieces of puzzle to flip the House from red to blue in 2018. In my home community of Raleigh-Durham, I found an extraordinary base of digital marketing talent, and a core team that is passionate about the cause. We are addressing a huge shortfall in the Democratic Party’s use of digital media. Our research shows that the Republicans outspent the Democrats 20:1 in digital media during the lead-up to the 2016 elections, and that’s not even counting the help the Republicans got from illegitimate foreign troll armies. We know that digital advertising is critical to success and we know how to use it.
With a partner, I co-founded the Act to Matter PAC to help Democrats win the House in 2018. We will be endorsing candidates and spending smart money on digital advertising for candidates we believe can win in the various swing districts across the country. So far we have endorsed three candidates in swing districts in North Carolina and have been spending money on highly cost-effective digital ads to support them. We also endorsed and advertised for Conor Lamb in the special election just held for the Pennsylvania 18th District.
We are spending money now (if you donate we can spend even more) and we can experiment and rapidly iterate on our ideas to support these candidates. We are also looking for advocates to take leadership roles in helping us expand our efforts to other states with potentially flippable districts.
I never intended to become politically active, but now I see I have no choice. None of who really care about the health of our democracy have a choice any more. If you believe in what we are doing you can:
Or get in touch if you feel you can help in another way. You can reach me by DM at @jchrislynch on twitter or email (firstname.lastname@example.org)