Doesn’t it just warm your heart to see all these non-traditional Democratic candidates win primaries across the country? 2018 seems to represent a shift in the political spectrum. And while Democrats are definitely one step closer to justice and inclusion, there is something missing in the conversation: How can a candidate’s campaign strategy reflect Democratic values even before they get to office?
Candidates need to invest more in connecting with people from all walks of life. They need to prioritize spending on outreach in communities that are often ignored and engage with others according to the values in which Democrats believe. I’m not saying that they currently don’t, but there is still a long way to go. For instance, do campaigns pay their college interns so that they can afford to pay rent? Why would Democratic candidates fight for an increase in minimum wage when they get elected but refuse to pay college students when they are campaigning?
And when a district includes people who speak languages other than English, do candidates make a conscious effort to hire translators or volunteers who speak those languages to communicate on behalf on the candidate?
At least in Michigan, people of color make up almost 25% of the approximately 10,000,000 residents. And 9.3% or 926,495 Michiganders speak some language other than English at home. While many household members are at least bilingual, many family members may be more comfortable speaking their native language. If you’ve ever tried doing voter registration in Hamtramck, you’ll know that it’s hard to get across to some members of the Bangladeshi or the Yemeni community without understanding the language. Or try making volunteer recruitment calls to households whose members speak primarily Urdu or Hindi.
And how many candidates have American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters at their fundraising events or list whether a venue is wheelchair accessible? Approximately 14.6% of Michigan’s population is categorized as disabled. The disability community is extremely diverse, and each individual who belongs to this group is unique and has different needs. Does our party expect people to vote if they cannot access information in the way that best suits them?
Of course, these are just a couple of examples, but you get my point about Democratic campaigns not meeting the mark. And this is the part where people will ask: Well, how do you propose that campaigns fund all this? Democrats are not made up of the rich 1% and it’s hard enough finding money to afford campaign literature.
The answer is simple, really. Voters need to demand that their candidates start spending their campaign funds on these outreach initiatives. Haven’t we started pressuring candidates to run “clean campaigns” and refuse corporate money? Because voters started demanding grassroots campaigns, candidates had to update campaign strategy. They had to find creative ways to raise money vis-à-vis everyday donors instead of rich businesses. And now, we frown upon the candidates that take corporate donations. And when voters decide to donate, volunteer, and vote for candidates who want to run inclusive campaigns, candidates will have the capacity to change their campaign strategies for the better.
Could you imagine if we pushed candidates to reach out to people of color who don’t necessarily speak English? Or to the disability community? Or to any other community that does not turn out as much as we’d like them to in elections? We could significantly expand our voter base! Spending more on these endeavors should not be seen as a sacrifice: It’s a new component of campaigns that will bring huge benefits in the long run.
And let me be clear: This is not a criticism of current candidates, but a call for reform for our future elections. Campaign life is tough enough, but we have some promises to live up to. If we want to be the party that works for everybody, then we have to reach out to everybody, regardless of how inconvenient it may seem. What’s an inconvenience for one person may be a gateway to political representation for another. It’s definitely something we have to keep in mind for 2020.
[Photo/graphic by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]