A message to my fellow Politicos
I didn’t know what to say when they called. I’ve been a professional working in politics for more than a decade. I’ve had the honor of working for amazing elected officials like President Obama, Senator Claire McCaskill and from 2013–2016 running digital for Senator Cory Booker. But even I didn’t have answers for for my non-political friends who were blowing up my phone asking me what they could do to fight back after the election. I do now — it’s joining an organization called Tech for Campaigns. It’s organizations like Tech for Campaigns that are enabling an army of new activists — that have time to give but can’t (or don’t want to) quit their jobs. I firmly believe that if the political pros (like me) can team up with this infusion of new energy, volunteers, and resources, the Democratic Party can turn this ship around.
I have always understood why few of my peers wanted to devote their lives to public service — after all, I don’t think anyone would say that the political process looks great from the perspective of an observer. That’s part of what’s led us to the moment we face right now. For years, elected officials and political operatives in both parties have faced a growing mistrust — a doubt that we sincerely have the interests of the public at heart.
After watching Donald Trump trounce the best candidates that the traditional GOP has to offer, and then defeat the most prepared candidate that the Democrats have ever nominated, we professionals face a second and much more fundamental problem. If we aren’t advocating for our constituents, and if we don’t have what it takes to win, then why would our activist bases believe in us and why does America need us at all?
In today’s Democratic Party, what use are the professionals?
None of the political operatives I know have had to answer such a fundamental question before. I certainly haven’t. But now I have to ask myself: “why am I needed?” It’s an alarmingly difficult question to answer. After all, in the wake of our 2016 loss, our activists are organizing themselves, they are raising money for themselves, and they are winning victories all by themselves. The best answer I have come up with when I ask that hard question is:
“I can help by teaching.”
There is so much supply of new found activists that paid professionals are basically having to turn away people who want to devote more of their time to activism. This kind of outpouring of requests for time-consuming leadership work is unprecedented, and none of our established political organizations are well-equipped to incorporate it into their operations. That’s why it’s time to immerse ourselves in these new organizations and bring our talents and teaching to where the energy and momentum is.
Why I’m Working with Tech for Campaigns
I’m currently volunteering on a project through Tech for Campaigns with the Shelly Simonds for Delegate campaign in VA’s District 94 — working closely with Shelly and her amazing team, as well as with a host of allied organizations doing fantastic work across Virginia and elsewhere.
Since their founding just a few short months ago, Tech for Campaigns has built an infrastructure to manage their community of 3,500 skilled volunteers from the tech industry that I’m impressed with. Their organizing model is based on forming teams stacked with talented professionals wielding skills ranging from web development to data analysis, digital marketing, press relations, graphic design and more. Tech for Campaigns connects these teams to campaigns that particularly need all-hands-on-deck assistance (ex: the Rob Quist MT-AL and James Thompson KS-4 special election campaigns) and also to campaigns that wouldn’t traditionally have access to world-class digital professionals (ex: the 2017 state legislative races in Virginia and New Jersey). They’ve already developed templates and toolkits that make our teams run smoother and pass on learnings and best practices.
I have been incredibly impressed with my volunteer teammates, who were matched up with me and with the Simonds campaign by the central Tech for Campaigns organization. Tech For Campaigns volunteers are extremely accomplished professionals (employed at companies you would have heard of like Google, Amazon, and Netflix) and their skills and experience are a great fit for the needs of a campaign. What they need to learn about politics, they are able to pick up quickly through dedicated study and weekly group strategy discussions. I was lucky enough to be matched with some volunteers who are doing their second tour of duty, meaning they are working on their second TFC project.
I’ve learned through working with Tech for Campaigns that political professionals can best help by offering the benefit of our experience to assist this new group of activist leaders with:
Strategy and tactics
Political troubleshooting on message and execution
Connections to professional resources
The 5+ Activist Revolution and the New Progressive Infrastructure
The chief difference between this period of political history and the one that came before is that now, there are many activists who are willing to give more of themselves: more time, more brainpower, more effort. In the last 12 months, while attending organizing meetings and traveling to conferences, I have personally witnessed thousands of activists commit to spending 5+ hours per week pursuing their cause…and then actually follow through on that commitment! As a veteran of the 2008 Obama campaign, I remember the lofty goals we had for fostering a new generation of citizen leaders. Well, it’s finally happening.
To harness this glut of new leadership potential, our challenge is to put aside our egos — the voices inside our heads telling ourselves that we should be the bosses running political empires from the top down. Instead, our new role is to help the activists build the tools they need, and provide whatever mentorship we can along the way.
Join me and bring your political expertise to Tech for Campaigns.
You can join as a volunteer, as I have. My volunteer work has taken between five and ten hours of my time per week, which is a minuscule investment considering the reward of making such an unprecedentedly huge impact on the political world through working with 5+ activists.
You can also donate to the current crowdfunding campaign, where backers gain access to fireside chats with leaders in technology and politics.
What’s needed most is for Democratic Party-aligned political professionals to rethink the way they work and shift from an attitude of ownership to an attitude of teaching. We must serve as the mentors within organizations like Tech for Campaigns harnessing the most powerful generation of activists that our nation has ever seen and keep this momentum going.
The future of our party — and our country — depends on it.