What We Can Do, 2018

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So what can you do in a case like that?
What can you do except sit on your hat
Or your toothbrush, or your grandmother
Or anything else that’s helpless?

— from “The Whale” by Burl Ives

I’ve been seeing  a lot of rage expressed by liberal and progressive friends over not only what Donald Trump has done to this country, but the immunity his followers seem to have to all reason and information. In this post, I’d like to make some suggestions about where we can channel it. There might be nothing we can do to change the person he is, or to change the minds of his followers, but what we can do is work to limit his power in November, and eventually put him out of power in 2020.

Here are some ways to join the endless electoral struggle to push this country in the direction of sanity and decency. (Please add your own suggestions to the comments!)

Retaking the Senate

There are six close Senate races this year. (NV, ND, MO, FL, IN, and TN.) Democrats need to win five of them to retake the Senate. You can donate to all of these campaigns through this page set up by the Princeton Election Consortium (PEC). I’ve also linked each state above to the website for the Democratic candidate if you want to donate directly or volunteer to help.

Note on the House: I didn’t add a section about retaking the House of Representatives because Sam Wang of the PEC estimates that we already have a 90% chance of doing so, and feels that spending too much money on this would therefore be a waste of resources. (However, FiveThirtyEight.com has our odds at only 75%.) If you’d still like to contribute to this goal, you can look over this list of close House races and click the links to go to their fundraising pages.

Retaking the States

We tend to focus on the national races, but the GOP currently controls 34 governorships and 32 state legislatures, and these are important not only because of the power they have to set their states’ policies, but because of the control they’ll have in 2021 over redistricting and therefore potential gerrymandering, which the GOP is far more prone to engage in. It’s also at the state level that the big battles over voter suppression will be taking place.

Here, according to the Cook Political Report and Real Clear Politics, are all the competitive gubernatorial races: AZCO, CT, FL, GA, IAKS, ME, MINV, OH, TN, WI. (All the races considered a tossup by either site, but not including AK, which Cook calls a tossup but which is an odd three-way race that could easily end up not close at all.) I’ve linked each state to the campaign website for the Democratic candidate, so you can donate or volunteer.

It’s much harder to figure out where to concentrate our resources in the fight to regain control of state legislatures, because there are so many races all over the country, but fortunately, an organization called Flippable has done that legwork, identifying 100 key races in the battle for the states.

Growing Candidates, Causes, and Infrastructure

In addition supporting specific candidates, we can also contribute to the recruitment, training, and support of Democratic candidates in general. Please read my blog post about Five Political “Startups” that I think are worth supporting not just for a single election, but all year round.

Hitting the Streets

The biggest effect you can have on an election is to go door to door getting out the vote for a specific candidate. If you don’t happen to live in a competitive district or state, you can use this PEC tool to find the nearest district where your help could make a difference. Swing Left has a similar tool. Even if your own district is not competitive, you might find one within driving distance that is.

A common misunderstanding about precinct walking or phone banking is that they involve trying to persuade hostile voters to switch their allegiances, but this is actually the last thing a campaign will want you to be doing. In fact, their instructions to you about what to do when you encounter a Republican will almost certainly be to record their affiliation, wish them a good day, and the move right on to the next house or call. The main goal of electoral canvassing is to get out the voters that are already on your side. So the conversations are almost always pleasant. And they can make a big difference. When first time voters are asked why they finally decided to vote, many of them report that it was because another person asked them to.

One of the most satisfying political actions I ever took was when I spent one summer canvassing a neighboring Congressional district. My own Bay Area district was solidly blue, but this one seemed firmly in the grip of the GOP incumbent who had won reelection six straight times already. However, there was a new, huge housing project that many Bay Area families were flocking to, and our hope was that the influx of Bay Area Democrats would tip the balance. We spent months just helping new residents of the housing project get registered — something they might have neglected to do in all the hubbub of moving — and letting them know where their polling places were, and emphasizing to them that their district was truly in play, and on Election Day 2006, Democrat Jerry McNerney won the office that he’s held to this day.


This is a lot of information, and I hope I haven’t overwhelmed anybody. What I’m asking you to do is not that scary at all:

  1. Figure out how much you can afford to contribute to the fight. It doesn’t have to be much: maybe just what you pay for Netflix every month, or for your morning coffee.
  2. Find a single organization or candidate from the ones I’ve listed that you aren’t already giving to, in an area that you find compelling, and give them your contribution.
  3. Share what you just did with your friends.

And that’s it. The thing about political giving or volunteering is that, like voting, the efforts of a single individual won’t make much of a difference, but the collective effort of many people can. Each of us doesn’t have to do much, as long as we all do a little.