The Perfect Storm: How the 14th and 6th Congressional Districts in Illinois Elected Democratic Representatives.
by Kane County Coalition and The Bridge Brigade Group
Several people in our area have been trained for community organization. Obama for America, MoveOn, Indivisible, We Can Lead Change, the Industrial Area Foundation, and Move to Amend were the major training groups in our area. They were trained and mobilized by a progressive agenda. Many were single issue organizations, but some bridged concerns for the middle class. We turned to our elected officials one at a time to get assistance or support for that issue.
Many in their groups have been outraged by the laws passed or ignored by our elected officials, i.e., the environment, Healthcare, Money in Politics, Poor wages, Unequal treatment under the law, Police Brutality, etc. The 2016 election brought to our communities’ disbelief that we elected such an official compounded by a feeling our government was not working for us. In the past, we had gone to our representatives and had difficulty getting into see them and being heard. The new administration elected in 2016 attacked all the single issues that our community organizers had been working on.
FORMATION OF GROUPS
The Women’s March in early January produced “fear and awe” in elected officials who were not working for the people. Many of us met each other on the train with our signs and our issues. We marched together for 2-3 hours. We exchanged numbers and emails (those of us who had been trained to do that always carry a clip board).
A couple of phone calls taught us about a new group called Indivisible, and we asked for help from those known to have experience in organizing. Some of the people had connections to other groups and asked those members to attend. The first group we had knowledge of was a group with District 6 and District 14 members. We began to connect groups, finding common members, forming a broader, multi-issue network.
There were many meetings at coffee houses, telephoning, emailing then asking each member to make an appointment with his/her representatives. Some of the constituents needed coaching for one-on-one meetings. Our first group meeting spoke to our targeted representative’s staff about healthcare. We had about 20 crowded into a small room. Second meeting, 60 showed up and scared the staff. After that meeting, we were no longer allowed into the office to meet with staff or the representative. They locked the door so we could not get in.
We began picketing every Tuesday (from 4-5 pm) outside our representative’s local office about the issues of the week. (The 6th and 14th districts began to coalesce around their own representative. Our area has a good mix of both districts.) We did this EVERY TUESDAY. We educated the people who drove by in their cars. Sometimes on Saturday’s we would all gather on busy crossroads or walk the shopping areas with issue-based signs; always collecting names and emails. We were persistently visible, in significant numbers, in public areas. The actions were of short duration and we socialized afterwards, increasing solidarity.
Communication to this ever-growing group of outrage was done through Facebook to the Indivisible, MoveOn, and other prominent groups. Because everyone is not on Facebook, we began to email members about the next rally and the topics we needed to share. We emailed members, press, and radio stations. We amassed 350 emails for district 14. MoveOn and Indivisible organizations had media tools that we also used to notify and educate constituents.
Our communication network involved activists from Joliet to the Wisconsin border, spanning a distance of 80 miles, requiring an hour and a half travel time. The outrage over what was going on in our government made people show up. We shared information up and down the 14th district while keeping up with the 6th as well.
Texting, emailing, phoning, posting on social networks gathered a huge group of ready, devoted citizens asking what can we do? We told new people to become Precinct Committee Persons and to continue coming to meetings. The way to get change in government is to find people to represent what we feel is fair. It was amazing how well-informed all who mobilized were.
COALITION OF GROUPS
By the end of the summer of 2017 there were about 15 different groups trying to communicate with each other. Members from each all came to the rallies which continued every Tuesday as well as other days in other communities. We supported each other but needed to coalesce our purpose, have some division of duties, and organize a strategy.
Several of the groups had natural co-leaders. They formed an administrative committee – a coalition of the groups. Each group sent 2-3 members to assist. Some of the groups like Indivisible and MoveOn were not “specifically supporting candidates” but were rather primarily issue oriented. We decided that we needed both. So, we dropped the Indivisible or other monikers and became a community group named the Kane County Coalition to coordinate the information produced by and activities of the smaller groups. This group had a charter to educate the community about the issues, to host forums for candidates to meet future constituents, and to support its members and satellite groups. This led to more efficient mobilization. Kane County Coalition collected over 1500 email addresses of individuals who showed up and were interested in the movement.
DIVISION OF LABOR
- Education: This group had a two/fold focus. A couple of people were assigned to HAWK the voting records and speech records, and position statements of our Members of Congress (MOCs) so that we could educate the community. The other part began to hold public seminars on topics that we wished to promote (environment, healthcare, etc.) These two components were well attended, and we continued to grow.
- Rally/protest group: Using the MOCs voting record showed the community that Hultgren and Roskum needed to be fired. We did this well before there were new candidates. We made the case that we needed change. It was not a Red or Blue issue at this point; it was a community issue defining the kind of community in which we wished to live. We started helping each other with rallies from Woodstock to south of Naperville. We continued the pressure on our congressmen and educated the citizenry. We attended all parades with our signs.
- County Democratic Party: by this time, we had sent many of our members to the Kane County Dems to become Precinct Committee persons. The Democratic party provided training for PCs. This was an especially important move that blended the strengths of both groups and became a communication channel. Many people who were ‘woke’ by the 2016 election had little knowledge how government worked, let alone what “parties” are for. It was eye opening.
- Liaison people: We needed to help our sister districts equally. Several people began to work only for the 6th and only for the 14th. But we knew that to do well, we had to blend some actions. Indivisible helped to fund Billboards up and down the districts to target the miserable lack of work that our representatives were doing for the people and the horrendous amount of work they were doing for their corporate funders.
- Communication to communities: We had collected a good list of local newspaper and radio reporters as well as occasional television coverage. Every event we had was sent out to the press. The press even began to call us to ask what was going on. LOCAL press is the best to get the attention of MOCs. The voters read those papers and the articles spread on Social Media. There were 15 groups on Facebook that we posted to as well as sending out emails for individuals not on active on social media. Another aspect of communication was a group of people who send letters to the editor and who watched and commented when the opposition wrote letters.
- Computer Skills: We were fortunate to have 2 or 3 members who used their skills on websites and social media. They helped other members continually. They helped to maintain several of our webpages. They were a very necessary component of our success.
- Networking: You need places for events. You also need to show the community that you are not dangerous to their way of life and/or businesses. We found several people who were able to consistently find visible venues for our events. We also frequented the local establishments after an event. Many restaurants welcomed our groups coming for food and drinks after the rallies. Many of these establishments had common beliefs.
- Opportunity: We used a multi-faceted approach allowing people to choose their activism at their own comfort level. These opportunities included but were not limited to: attending meetings, writing postcards or letters, becoming a temporary PC and own a precinct for one election, becoming an appointed or elected PC, and all the way up to running for office themselves. Many of our volunteers have subsequently run and won local offices.
As time went on, our purpose turned from awakening the community to educating the community, to helping the community get to know what good governance is. We asked for town halls, we asked to see our MOCs. Each time they refused or did a poor job, we let the community know. Our MOCs were given notice that their services were no longer wanted. It was time to find people who would serve us well.
The group began to have candidate and issue forums. We invited the MOC to these events as well as all the candidates running for MOC. As a group, we had no preference for a particular candidate, we were merely a megaphone for each of them to get their ideas to the public. We worked with other groups such as the League of Women voters to get a much-needed townhall. We packed it. We pledged that we would use good behaviors as an audience. Our MOC did the rest by his poor performance that was duly reported by the local press.
- Candidate Volunteers. As the political process continued and the people picked their candidate to run against the incumbent MOC, members began to staff the candidates’ offices with volunteers. We had hundreds of people ready to work. Members who had never done anything more than vote in an election became key door knocker, phone bankers, sign deliverers, candidate coffee givers, voter registrars, poll workers, election judges, AND many, for the first time considered running for office.
- Democratic Party Involvement: The county Democratic meetings became so large that we needed a larger room. Nearly all the leaders and most involved activists became Precinct Committee Persons greatly strengthening the numbers and skill set of the county Democratic party. Our County Democratic Party is now more active than ever before with more members of the community involved.
- The rally group continued to rally, now with political signs for our incredible cast of candidates. They became known as THE BRIDGE BRIGADE. The BRIDGE BRIGADE remains on call. We can get 60-100 people out with signs out on the corners, bridges, and shopping areas when there is a need within a day!
We had become a family with a similar desire to live in a community that was informed and governed well. Our groups have continued to serve the communities that we live in. They are fundraising for foodbanks and shelters.
- Every community is unique, what works for one might not work for another. Without “OUTRAGE” the question is, can this be done in other communities? Here are a few recommendations to help build a local movement. It is important that the Local Democratic Party is in touch with community groups working on issues that require legislation. Party members need to visit with these groups and individually help them with their issues. This action builds trust. The Party is not chartered to do the things that local organizations can do, but if party members integrate into these organizations, they have an opportunity to feed the Party with new members AND exceptionally good future candidates.
- Who is the target representative? (Could be State, local, or national) If you have a good one, look at the communities around you.
- Get their complete voting record looking especially for things that negatively affect the community (ours was healthcare and the clean water act). Publish the voting record by getting people to write letters to the editor.
- Go out and visit with community organizations: Indivisible, MoveOn, Sierra Club, We Can Lead Change, church social justice groups, environmental groups. Find out what issues and solutions they are working on. Invite speakers from Common Cause, ACLU and others to speak to your community of activists. These creates interest and energy.
- Indivisible has an awesome playbook that can help people who have not been active in the past.
- Join in with groups and support their events.
- Keep and maintain an email list (we used google groups). This list was for announcements ONLY. It was not for discussion. If you have too many emails from your group, people will ignore them or ask to opt-out. We only announced events and sent pertinent information about our target. Emails were kept at once a week for the most part. When our group gets an email from this google group they know they need to look at it.
- Help regular citizens make appointments with their MOC to talk about the issue they care about. Report that contact and results.
- Gather emails and phone numbers of concerned people everywhere.
- Join Facebook groups so that you will be able to post events and needed actions.
- Gather the most egregious actions of your MOC and choose a day to gather in front of your MOC office with signs that educate the community. It is about accountability and spreading the word.
- Find out who the local news people are. You are not going to get network news unless you have found something incredibly egregious. Local news is your friend, they are always looking for new stories. You can find them by going to city and county meetings. Invite them to everything (We have ours on my email list, so they know everything we are going to do).
- Post your event on Facebook sites that you have joined. Send emails out to those that you have collected.
- MoveOn and Indivisible have excellent event engines that will invite people in your area who you have not personally met.
- In the beginning, you may only get 10 people. Be sure to get contact information for everyone.
- After event, go to a local bar or restaurant to celebrate and get to know one another. Talk about how it went, how it could be better, and set up another event asking everyone to bring a friend. This social event after the political event is as important as the event itself. It bonds the participants.
- Find places to strut your educational signs where there is a lot of traffic. At first cars do not know what is going on, after a few weeks, they begin to understand and honk for support.
- Keep this up on a regular basis. You may add events but keep the base event at the same time and same place week after week. People will come as they can and will look forward to being with like-minded people. It is amazing how our folks did not know that there were any other Dems in the area.
- his group becomes the base. As they learn more about their MOC, they build internal outrage and ask what more can be done. Direct them to the County Democratic Party. Most people have never been involved with this sort of thing, so meet them before the meeting and sit with them. Find out how many P.C.’s the Party needs. Help them meet their PC. This kind of relationship is what built our party. As time gets closer to primary time, begin a campaign to educate people on the issues. Forums have been extraordinarily successful.
- As you amass a group, you can hand out literature in the business sections of towns, go door to door with literature, and even get a spot on a local radio station if your issues are interesting.
- Most citizens do not know what the local political party is for. They do not realize that the party doesn’t “support” particular candidates before the primary is over.
- We invited primary candidates to stand with us in front of our MOC’s office so they could tell the crowd what their platform included. It was good practice for them, and the press was more apt to come if we had a candidate.
- Make the work last only 1 to 1-1/2 hours, then go out and socialize.
- When the candidate has been chosen, continue the rallies and suggest that participants help the candidate. Continue supporting candidate until s/he has been elected.
- After the General Election or Mid Term Election turn toward your local communities. It is important to continue the work by finding local candidates for subsequent elections to continue the work from local jurisdictions up. These efforts support the MOC as well. The best part is the relationships that are formed into a new community of friends/family who support each other in multiple ways but specifically to encourage activism and action in your district. Thus, the saying, “all politics is local!”
- After the candidates have been elected, rest for a week have a party, and then start the work again to support and maintain the good work that you have accomplished.
Primary and Corresponding authors for the network: J.C. Scown (firstname.lastname@example.org) M. Powell (email@example.com) and 1000’s of others (it takes a village).