What We Can Do

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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

In 2018 I posted a guide to candidates and organizations worth supporting for the midterm elections. I’ll be doing the same for the 2020 elections once the primaries are over and we know who the Democratic Presidential and Senatorial candidates will be, but for now, I want to recommend the following organizations worth supporting outside of any specific election cycle.

I support them all with monthly donations. If you aren’t currently supporting any political organizations on a regular basis, please consider doing so with one or more of these groups. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Maybe just what you spend on video streaming, or coffee, each month. As I’ve written before, it’s like voting: not so much about what any one vote can do, as what can happen if enough of us do it.

You can also contribute your time and energy to most of these groups, and again: it doesn’t have to be a lot. It’s more important that everybody does something.

Here are my recommended organizations. (Please add your own suggestions to the comments!)

Two good resources for supporting all the major contests at the federal level for a given election year, focusing on the states that look to be battlegrounds for the Presidential and Senate elections, as well as (in the case of Swing Left) the fight over gerrymandering. Each group takes a slightly different approach. Indivisible serves as a loose umbrella over ongoing local activist groups, providing support and guidance but not dictating what the groups do. Swing Left lets you enter you zip code to be shown a list of nearby electoral activities you can participate in.

Swing Left has also just launched Blueprint, a fascinating platform for dividing your giving in the most efficient way in line with the issues you care most about. Based on your preferences (candidates vs. organizations, most important issues, etc.) they create a customizable “portfolio” of targets for you to support, and then you just set up a single quarterly donation that gets divided among them.

Congress and the Oval Office are obvious targets for electoral action, but don’t forget the state legislatures. Decisions made at the state level can have profound effects on national politics (for example, through Congressional redistricting) and state legislatures can be the training ground for future candidates for Congress or above (*cough* Barack *cough*). The problem is that there are thousands of state legislative seats in America, so it’s not easy to find the critical, competitive ones. This is where Flippable comes in. They do the legwork so you can give your support to the most important legislative contests in any given year.

Polls show that the young are vastly more progressive than older people. Unfortunately, they also vote in smaller numbers than any other age group. NextGen America, an organization founded by Tom Steyer (his best and most important work for this country, in my opinion) is reaching out to young people in battleground states in order to get them to the polls.

African Americans are another demographic that leans way to the left in its voting. BlackPAC trains community leaders and organizers and works to register, inform, and activate black voters. 

This group arose from the March for Science, and is recruiting, training, and supporting scientists and STEM professionals to run for public office at all levels. Wouldn’t it be great to have more officeholders who have been trained to distinguish fact from fiction?

On the subject of STEM, this group recruits, organizes, and equips high tech professionals to help campaigns with technology. This can range from simply setting up a website and social networking feeds to creating digital ad campaigns to doing sophisticated data analysis of the voter rolls to more accurately target registration and get-out-vote efforts. One of their long term goals is to create software that can be reused by future campaigns. I’m excited not just about the good they’ll do, but over all the high tech professionals they’re going to activate politically (over 11,000 so far!) and all the work those individuals will go on to do in their lives, whether under the auspices of Tech For Campaigns or not.

After Stacey Abrams lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election to the Republican Secretary of State, who used his office to suppress the minority and low-income vote to squeak out a narrow victory, she formed this organization to fight voter suppression not only in Georgia, but throughout the country. They can potentially play a huge role in 2020, when BOTH Georgia Senate seats will be contested.

One of the most dangerous voter suppression tactics is the imposition of a “voter ID” requirement, which adds an extra, unnecessary, and often onerous step to the voting process. Often, this is combined with steps to make getting an ID more difficult for minorities or the poor. One way to fight this is at the policy level, exposing voter ID laws for what they are, or at the electoral level, voting out the politicians who support them, but it’s equally important to simply help those voters who currently find themselves subject to such laws. That’s what this group does: help voters get their IDs, not just for voting but for the many other aspects of modern life that require them.

Postcards To Voters and Vote Forward take a different approach: they allow you to personally send postal mail to potential Democratic voters in key campaigns urging them to get out and vote. They both claim that followup analysis shows this can be highly effective. Interestingly, Postcards To Voters deliberately sends their postcards well before an election, while Vote Forward sends their letters within a week of an election. Each group believes its approach — postcards early vs. letters late — is the best, and you can read their arguments and decide for yourself. (Or participate in both efforts without any danger of overlap!) Note: some of the groups above also organize letter writing campaigns.


And that’s my list, so far. Again, if you have any suggestions of your own, please send them to me or share them in the comments. And please: consider supporting one or more of these groups, either as a volunteer or with a monthly donation.