By: Leah Hunt-Hendrix
Sponsored by Solidaire Action Fund, a 501c4 Entity
In the Senate race between Doug Jones and Roy Moore everyone knew the outcome depended on Black voter turnout. Some funders took the route of funding the Doug Jones campaign, which is understandable, or funded the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. These are the pieces of infrastructure that we should be able to trust, but unfortunately, because of the hamster wheel of consultants who get paid win or lose, and the tendency to overinvest in TV ads rather than in community outreach, our infrastructure is failing us. The good news is that new infrastructure is being built. In states around the country, every day people are taking it upon themselves to build organizations that represent the will of constituencies, that work to get progressives elected, and are then going to hold them accountable. They are knocking on the doors of their neighbors, calling their friends, organizing buses to the polls.
In Alabama, Think Rubix strategist and Birmingham native DeJuana Thompson had a plan. As a veteran campaign strategist, she was ready as soon as Roy Moore became the nominee to flex the moral and electoral muscle of the black Southern vote, if resources could somehow make it to the ground. This plan activated a coalition of black women, faith leaders, formerly incarcerated people, and historically black colleges and universities around her ambitious strategy. With national and local partners like The Ordinary People’s Society, which was registering incarcerated folks, Pastor Michael McBride and the newly formed Black Church PAC which engaged churches across the state, Black Campus VOTE, Render, Faith in Action Alabama and too many other partners to name, they prepared a massive outreach program in churches, the Black Belt and on campuses. On the Saturday before the election, McBride said that churches and college students knocked on 12,000 doors alone!
It’s easy for national donors to give directly to campaigns, but in this moment, we can see how investing straight into communities on the ground has significant impact. In August, numerous donor networks, including the Solidaire Action Fund, members of the Women Donors Network, Democracy in Color, Movement Voter Project, Solutions Project, and individual donors, set out on a new strategy in partnership with folks on the ground in the South. We’ve been calling our coalition Way to Win, with an emphasis on a new way. We knew that traditional forms of electoral work are often last minute, heavy on the TV ads, and seldom truly empower communities that are the ones electeds should in fact be serving. So instead, we partnered with people who had deep ties in the black community.
We have developed three principles, and we believe that if we want to see more wins like the one this week in Alabama, we need to do the following:
Invest in the South
Democrats have long neglected the South. We’ve seen it as unwinnable, and because of transactional habits, only investing where a near-term win is on the horizon, we gave up a whole region of the country. But we have a base in this region, and demographics are getting younger and more diverse. We need to start shifting investments now, so that we can create a realignment over the next several years, especially as we look ahead to redistricting and the role that Democratic governors and legislators can play.
Invest in Black Women
Enough with consultants and TV ads. There are people in each state who know their communities and know how to turn out votes – in particular, there are black women who have a plan. Too often, we rely on black women as the strongest part of the base of the Democratic Party, and yet we don’t invest in them to lead. They are expected to turnout, and if they don’t, the loss is attributed to them. It’s time to end this practice and actually start investing in the people we call “our base” – not just to turnout to vote but to lead the country.
We can’t do this two months before an election. This kind of work needs year-round investment. We need a new generation of donors who are smart, savvy, and understand the need for long term plans. Sure, you don’t know how close something is going to be a year out, but excepting in cases like Alabama – which was unique given the special election and the personality of Roy Moore – you won’t make a real impact coming in at the end. Join up with folks who have a strategy and make a multi-year commitment.
The win on December 12th in Alabama was absolutely historic. A Democrat took Jeff Sessions’ seat in a depressing national environment tainted by white supremacy. During a time when things could hardly seem worse, organizers in Alabama worked day in and day out to deliver a win that will be a beacon of hope for us all. We all owe Alabama now, especially the communities of color who made this win possible. Let us not forget this night.