Down Home is organizing the rural south and overcoming the legacy of racism

The Democratic Party made much of its inroads in 2018 by picking off low-hanging fruit, flipping some legislatures and half of Congress by winning districts with big demographics shifts, mainly in urban and large suburban areas. It was a huge first step, but any hope of a sustained majority and transformative progress is going to require success in more rural areas, which have become the bright-red homes to some of the most unhinged right-wing Republican lawmakers.

North Carolina is a perfect example. Democrats, powered by new voters in cities like Charlotte and Raleigh, won more votes in the state in 2018, and were able to break the GOP supermajority, but Republicans still won more seats in the state legislature and a whopping 10 out of 13 Congressional seats. Why? In a vile cycle of systemic evil that took decades to install, Republicans took control of rural areas, seized the state government in the 2010 wave election, and then gerrymandered the hell out of the state map. The NC GOP is a melange of unhinged reactionaries, and has been advancing blatantly anti-democratic, anti-human laws ever since, from voter ID to the ignominious anti-trans bathroom bills.

The 2018 election was a good first step for Democrats in the state, but the modest gains could prove short-lived if the 2020 election isn’t even better. “If it’s not divided at least between a majority in the two state houses,” explains Todd Zimmer, the co-founder of the activist group Down Home North Carolina, “the Republicans will be able to draw all the maps again right after the 2020 census and put us right back where we were 10 years ago.”

Democrats need to pick up five seats in the State Senate and six in the State House to take back the majority in each chamber, and now the road to restoring sanity and building equality in North Carolina runs through the still-red rural parts of the state. Down Home NC is helping to lead the charge. They’re working to build grassroots power 365 days a year, with an eye on winning elections at the local level up through the US Senate (North Carolina has a top-tier race in 2020), by organizing working people on a county-by-county level.

“We set out to start building permanent long-term infrastructure, including candidate pipelines,” Zimmer says. As a county-based organization with a state-wide umbrella leadership, Down Home North Carolina right now has three main chapters, two in Appalachian Mountain West and one in the central Piedmont of North Carolina. This will be a year of rapid expansion, with two more planned for 2019, one in the Appalachians and another Piedmont chapter closer to Charlotte. Unlike many groups, the local infrastructure is less a tool for disseminating top-down messages and priorities than rallying grassroots energy tailored to regional needs.

“When we enter a community, we do a several thousand door listening survey to find out what the top issues are for low-income people of all political stripes, and what their top solutions are,” Zimmer says. “We turn that into a platform and our members evaluate potential candidates based on that platform. We are really only trying to support candidates who are speaking to the top issues of rural communities.”

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Special elections down south could make a huge difference

You thought there would be time to rest after Election Day? C’mon. There are some big special elections coming down the pike already!

In Virginia, Democrats could take the State House of Delegates and win a state government trifecta if they can pull off an upset in the special election for HD-24. It’s a historically very red seat, but remember that Democrats flipped a ton of red seats in the Virginia legislature in 2017 and won big in congressional elections there this year, so the party is motivated and firing on all cylinders.

The Democratic nominee, chosen yesterday, is Christian Worth. The Republican nomination is a bit cloudy right now, as two candidates are separated by a single vote and there’s been no concession. Perhaps Democrats can take advantage of the division and grab the seat. The election is December 18th.

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Why Beto didn’t really lose: Texas Democrats made huge gains, ousting the worst Republicans

Democrats will likely end with 38 House pickups and new senators from Arizona and Nevada. On the state level, we flipped seven governorships (with Georgia and Florida still up in the air) and six state legislative chambers (including the State Senate here in New York!), with nearly 400 legislative seats flipped over the course of this election cycle. Democrats in Arizona narrowed Republican majorities, while Team Blue broke super-majorities in crucial states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina. A majority of voters actually voted Democrat in NC; an absurd GOP gerrymander was the only thing that kept that party in power.

There was also an immense amount of progress made in Texas. Really.

On paper, rockstar Rep. Beto O’Rourke came just short of unseating Sen. Ted Cruz, who beat him by less than three percentage points. It comes as little consolation to many of O’Rourke’s national supporters that it was the closest race in Texas in years — we all desperately wanted to unseat Cruz, a cynical snake wearing a suit of second-hand human skin with a face only an exterminator could love. But even though Beto came up short, his all-inclusive grassroots campaign helped lift other Democrats across Texas, assisting in major gains in a number of areas.

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Races for progressives to watch on Election Day

Here we are, two days out from the most important election of our lifetimes, which is a statement that is eminently dramatic but somehow undersells the gravity of what we are facing. I truly don’t know what American democracy will look like if Democrats don’t sweep up at the ballot box on Tuesday. And it’s not just because of the threat posed by Trump and his sycophantic posse. All across the country, there are pitched battles being fought over issues that directly touch the lives of tens of millions of people — and will, more broadly, impact us all.

Here is a guide to the biggest issues and races to watch on what will be a very nerve-wracking, exciting Tuesday evening.

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Early voting updates from key states show GOP voter suppression we must fight

A few weeks into early voting, we’re seeing both inspirational turnout and downright infuriating news. Let’s start with the good stuff.

From the 10,000 foot view, the early returns look great for Democrats. In many places where it has already started, there have been far more early votes cast in this election than in 2014, the last midterm election. The numbers, updated daily, can be found HERE, put together by the non-profit Elect Project. And according to New York Times polling, Democrats are far more enthusiastic this year, both compared to 2014 and in general.

In particular, we’re seeing big increases in battleground territories, like North CarolinaIndiana and Tennessee, the latter two home to crucial Senate races. Unfortunately, GOP-run states have not prepared for the crush of newly engaged voters (probably because they do whatever they can to make voting harder), and in Tennessee, registrations have been backed up to the point that some people won’t be able to vote early.

And wouldn’t you know it — the big backlog just so happens to be around Memphis, a majority African-American city.

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