Project Wonderful

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How planning a wedding is like running a campaign

You guys, I am getting in a cab to get on a plane to fly to New York to go to my wedding. How bananas is that? People keep asking me if I'm nervous and I'm really not. As a friend observed recently, "people who get nervous about weddings have never been through an election day." Other than the surreal quality, I'm pretty pumped and I wanted to take a moment to share with you fives ways in which planning a wedding is a lot like running a campaign.

1) People will surprise you both good and bad. The same way that a candidate's wealthy friend might never re-up his 50 dollar donation, but the parents of the kid who babysat your candidate in high school might randomly max out. People will come through for you (and disappoint you) in unexpected ways for your wedding. Shout out to my friend from the Edwards campaign and his awesome wife who are flying out from Wisconsin to join us! (And un-shout out to the person who texted me last "when is it again?")

2) Unsolicited opinions. Need I even take you through this one? Oh you volunteered for McGovern? Please tell me how we need yard signs. Oh you got married in 1972? Please tell me about people will be upset there's no cake cutting.

3) Its starts impossibly early. There are people hiring field staff for exploratory work in Iowa for 2020 presidential campaigns! Hello! We haven't even had midterm PRIMARIES yet. Meanwhile when Future Mr. CampaignSick and I started looking at venues NINE MONTHS AGO (no I'm not pregnant) people were like "oh you're too late. We're already booked into 2018." Calm down everybody.

4) The closer you get, the less is in your control. One of the reasons I'm not nervous is because I planned. Just like you work backwards from election so by the time you get there the wheels are turning on their own, I made a list of everything we needed for the wedding a few months ago and have been slowly checking items off. I know I did everything I could to put together a great event so barring a disappearing act on the part of my future husband (which, is not going to happen but if it did I hope you'd all come visit me in prison) the worst that can happen really isn't that bad.

5) There's a little bit of imposter syndrome. I keep texting my Maid of Honor "are you sure I'm getting married this weekend?" and she for her part has been answering "I don't know, that seems kind of weird." Similar feeling as to when you are 23 and managing 200 volunteers or managing a race that's getting national attention. Don't get me wrong, I know I am going to be awesome at both, but they are such grown up seeming activities that I need to pinch myself to make sure this is really happening.

Thank you for being a part of my life this week and every week! (PS. Read this adorable article I found while looking for a picture to use with this post.)

Campaign Love and Mine!


Sunday, October 15, 2017

To California On the Eve of My Wedding

Three and a half years ago I wrote one of the more personal blog posts I've ever shared with you. "To Washington on my 29th Birthday" was about the anxiety, wistfulness and almost resignation I felt at the precipice of my new adventure, my move to D.C. Finding myself at another career crossroads this summer, I revisited the post hoping rereading it would give me some sort of clarity.

I was struck by a couple of things, but in particular, how inextricably tied my relationship status seemed to be tied to my perception of own my career. I mention my being single five times in the blog post, which was ostensibly about a career decision. Even the metaphor I used to describe my predicament is a Mike Birbiglia joke about marriage. When I think about it, my career path and my relationship status have always been intertwined--in part because I tend to date people who do what I do, but also I think because of how I've been socialized to view success. My decision to finally take a break from campaigns to go to graduate school--a decision that indirectly led to the creation of this blog-- was preceded by the end of my first serious relationship. Even when I wasn't in a relationship, the fear that a peripatetic campaign lifestyle would preclude my ability to find lasting love loomed large over the decisions I made.

Depending on how you count it, I'd been thinking about going back on the campaign trail on and off since 2012. If you had asked me why I hesitated I would have thought it was because I'd always have the option to go manage a campaign but finding a healthy, sustainable romantic relationship felt completely out of my control. But as it turns out it was never about losing any particular relationship but about giving my all to something and having that not be enough. What if I tried and failed? What if I'm not as good as I think I am? What if no one wants me? The same fears that were holding me back in relationships were holding back my career.

Then this summer I found myself in a situation I had never anticipated: engaged, unemployed, and out of excuses. After three and a half years in our nation's capital, I left DC with my fiance to do what I have always wanted but been too scared to do: manage a congressional race.

Look, I know how this makes me sound. As Feminist its a trite, uneasy, Sex-and-the-City thing to write about oneself. It's why I've written, rewritten and been sitting on this post since June. I finally decided to publish it because of all people, my personal trainer. We've been spending a lot of time together lately and I absolutely adore this girl. She is 24 years old, moved to LA after a traumatic end to her first serious relationship and is trying to make a career in her chosen field happen. Her pain and fear are palpable. It hurts me to know in my heart from experience that she will be okay and also know there is absolutely no way to communicate that certainty to her. After our second session, I texted my Maid of Honor, "Thank God we will never be 24 again."

I get that I am very, very lucky. I have an amazing partner who understands what I do and is committed to making our relationship work even when it keeps us apart for small periods of time. I found an amazing candidate and consulting team who remind me why I chose this career in the first place--and I found them within 40 minutes of my future husband. Even that boyfriend, the one with the break up that spurred me to go to grad school is now one of my best friends and a guest at my wedding. #Blessed.

But it's not just luck; It's patience and experience and confidence. In the time between moving to DC and moving to California I became a person who sought out a partner I could trust to support me professionally and to be my equal in maintaining our relationship. I became a person who was okay with others seeing my imperfections both personal and professional and was therefore more willing to take risks. I got better at asking for what I need. This is by no means a declaration that I have it all figured out, far, far, far from it, but it is a declaration that I know better than I did before.

This post is embarrassing to write and more so to publish. But it's what I would have needed to hear when I was younger and earlier, which is what I strive to do with this blog. The biggest difference between me when I wrote that initial post and me today is the knowledge that even if things do not turn out okay, I will be okay.

I want to end this with a quote said by one of my favorite woman role models (Michelle Obama) to another of my favorite woman role models (Oprah Winfrey) at the 2016 United State of Women.

"I don’t want young women out there to have the expectation that if they’re not having it all that somehow they’re failing. Life is hard. But life is long if you maintain your health, which is one of the reasons why we talk about taking care of yourself. Because you want to get to the next phases in life where you can do more of what you want to do at any given time."

Be strong lady friends in your 20's. Life is coming.

Campaign Love and Mine,


Friday, September 29, 2017

Please Join Me: Support Danica Roem's Historic Candidacy for Delegate!!!

CampaignSick Nation,

It's end of quarter and I should be asking you to donate to the federal candidate whose campaign I'm running. Instead I am asking you to donate to a delegate candidate in Virginia who you have probably never heard of. Danica Roem is a former journalist, activist, and step-mother running in my fiance's home district in Prince William County and if elected she would be the first and ONLY out transgender state legislator in the country.

By contrast, Republican incumbent Delegate Bob Marshall is a rabidly anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-LGBT political dumpster fire who authored Virginia's version of the anti-trans bathroom bill. It should take one aback but come as no surprise then that he has repeatedly misgendered Danica, refused to debate with her, and called her a bully when she pointed out his bigotry.

I should take a moment to point out that Danica's candidacy is not predicated on her gender but instead rooted in a deep understanding of the issues that impact her district honed from years as a local reporter. Mike (future Mr. CampaignSick) knows her from his time working on races in the area and has told me that he was always nervous to put his candidates in a room with Danica because she knows her stuff and the district so well and she doesn't pull any punches. Doesn't that sound like exactly who you'd want as your state legislator?

Danica can win this race. In a political environment where it seems like words don't mean things and actions don't have consequences, here is a race where we can stand up for kindness and common sense with small donations and really make a difference.

In case you remain unconvinced, allow me to share a couple of choice (no pun intended) pieces of media:

About Delegate Marshall (I could have found 30 of these):
In 1989, Marshall told the Boston Globe that he opposed birth control pills, calling them “abortion.” He also objected to long-acting contraception, telling the Globe: “It’s a real tribute to women’s intelligence. They feel so irresponsible they can’t do something once a day?” In the same interview, Marshall railed against abortion in the case of rape. “Your origins should not be held against you,” he explained, in reference to the victim’s fetus. “The woman becomes a sin-bearer of the crime, because the right of a child predominates over the embarrassment of the woman.

Video from Danica about Marshall's transphobic attacks:

And finally, from Mr. CampaignSick. I mean come on, you guys.

I have never asked you to donate to a candidate before, not even one I worked for, but I hope you see why I am asking now. Please, if you are able, join me by donating to Danica's campaign.

Campaign Love and Mine,


Sunday, August 13, 2017

It Should Go Without Saying...

One of the joys of having a campaign-themed blog is that people feel encouraged to share ridiculous/inappropriate stories (keep 'em coming) about things that happen in their office. We spend plenty of time making fun of candidates and things they should know better about but there is plenty to say about campaign staff. All of the following are REAL EXAMPLES I have either witnessed or had relayed to me of things that should go without saying, but apparently don't.

It should go without saying...

Don't smoke pot in the office. Even if it's legal in your district. Even after hours. ESPECIALLY if you have a shared office space, but definitely at all.

Don't smoke cigarettes inside the office. Are you kidding me? Ew.

Don't drink alcohol in the office in front of volunteers, donors, or anyone who it might make uncomfortable. A little bottle of wine during some late night data entry is a different story.

Don't drink alcohol at formal or informal campaign events if you are under 21.

Don't serve alcohol to staff or interns who are under 21.

Don't get drunk at an official campaign event no matter how old you are. And if you are drunk (at a campaign event or not) do not drive home under any circumstances.

Do not engage in romantic relationships with staff whom you supervise. Sorry but this is non-negotiable.

You are collectively responsible for the cleanliness of the common areas in your office. If you have to be asked to do your part you are already being irresponsible. Check yourself proactively, especially if you are a man working in an office with women. (Don't @ me; It's how we're socialized.)

Do not put any campaign expense on your personal credit card that you cannot afford to float for an indefinite period of time. Similarly, do not ask staff to shell out for expenses for which they will not be reimbursed immediately.

Do not agree to any meeting, interview, expenditure, or hire on behalf of the campaign unless you are authorized to do so.

Don't promise anything you can't deliver, even to get out of an uncomfortable conversation.

Don't post anything negative--even if satirical--on social media about the campaign, your opponent or people involved with either. (This includes submissions to CampaignSick Tumblr).

Don't talk to the press without explicit permission from the Comms Director or Campaign Manager.

Don't talk about campaign secrets or make disparaging or inappropriate comments in front of volunteers. (There are spies everywhere.)

Do not put anything in electronic communication that would be embarrassing to you or the campaign if it were to find its way into a newspaper.

Don't run a paid and volunteer canvass from the same staging location.

Always provide healthcare or a healthcare stipend for long-term employees. (Practice what we preach you guys!)

Don't try to pay employees who are really employees as contractors.

Always follow up with people who have helped you find talent, connected you to a potential employer etc. Nothing annoys me more than sending someone a resume or recommending someone for a job and then never hearing what happened.

On the flip side anyone who got to a second round interview with you deserves a heads up that the position has been filled.

Let your references know that you are using them as references. It's considerate plus it allows them to prepare and give more thoughtful recommendations.

More than one person should have an office key. You don't want everyone locked out because one person is stuck in traffic.

Don't steal your opponents' lit or yard signs. Especially don't do this and throw them out behind your office. People I know have been arrested for this.

Buy the .org, .net and every version of your candidate's name and website. You don't want to turn out to be a landing page for the opposition.

Make sure your opponent and his/her spouse are removed from your contact universe. Awkward and embarrassing.

Don't re-solicit someone before thanking them. Duh.

You/your candidate don't need to interview 8 consultants for the same service. Don't waste everyone's times. Stick with 2-3 max. Committees and other consultants can help make recs if you don't know where to start.

Don't have your candidate show up at another candidate's event (in candidate capacity) without permission. It's rude and tacky. The exception is if your candidate is really attending as a supporter OR if your candidate is for example a state senator attending a large annual event like the (no longer existent) Harkin Steak Fry.

What am I missing? Happy to do a round two!

Campaign Love and Mine,


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Ten More Votes! A Firm Of One's Own with Eric Hogensen

One of the things I love the most about our community is that you have people wherever you go. To wit, I am in Los Angeles looking for my next adventure and the consultants and operatives of the West Coast (and yes, the GC culture is a huge thing here, another post on that later) have been nothing but generous with their time. I sat down with Eric Hogensen of HSG campaigns to learn more about his business AND his exciting new project, Ten More Votes!

Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself and your career trajectory.

I was born in Chicago and raised around Madison, Wisconsin. My mother is Mexican and father is Jewish. I was raised in a fairly political household by left-wing radical artists and got a Poli Sci degree but I didn’t work on my first campaign until after college. I started as a Field Organizer in WA-03 (Olympia) in the summer of 2000, literally fell in love with campaigns on that race and I've been doing it ever since. I came up through field, did a Kentucky Governor’s race, a Presidential cycle for Clark in South Carolina and a Congressional race in Vegas. Along the way I did a little bit of everything from press to finance to managing.

What do you love about campaigns?

I think of campaigns like a mosquito zapper. One pops up and all these people from all over suddenly flock to it. I’m definitely a people person so I love that feeling of camaraderie and teamwork. There’s nothing like that pace and that energy. I especially love managing because you are in the middle of everything, you move things forward, you influence the candidate, there’s no part of the race you don’t touch. But it takes so much out of you.

When did you start your own firm and why?

I believe you only have two or three races in you to manage and really do it well. I won my congressional race in ‘06 started my firm in ’07. I got some good staff that I trusted and rented a couple rooms above a soccer bar in Milwaukee, focused on mail and digital. Once it got going, I moved things out to CA because I love it here. The weather is great and my wife is from SC and so she missed warm weather. 

What surprised you about starting your own firm?

The thing I was least prepared for is that once you're a consultant all your relationships with other consultants change. As a manager, they’re helping you get jobs and you are helping them by staffing their races. As a fellow it’s just different. Even if you’re not in direct competition maybe they’re on a race with someone with whom you are. Also the reality of constantly selling/finding clients. The impact and the beast of that is intense.

Tell us about Ten More Votes.

Ten More Votes is a mobile voter contact campaign app for Democratic campaigns that volunteers and supporters can use to easily call, text and canvass for the campaign. No other platform allows you to do all three and its ease of use, in my opinion, is second to none. 

How did this come about?

My friend Kelly (who is a tech person) and I were talking. He was building apps and doing some freelance projects and we decided to do a project together.  It did come out of what I perceive to be a gap in campaign technology. There are solutions out there but I don't think they are as simple as they can be and for me this filled that gap.

How have you seen this kind of technology change over the course of your career?

I've by seen it go from nothing in 2000 -basically we were just chatting with each other on AIM-- to now where smart campaigns spend a significant part of their budget and devote staff to digital. So literally from 0 to like 50% when you consider how much tech is a part of everything. The key becomes how do you integrate everything; how do you curate what’s out there? You don't want to get distracted by shiny objects. At the same time there are fundamentals that don't have anything to do with digital: management, messaging, good candidates that won't ever change. 

If people want to learn more about how 10 more votes works how can they find out?

You can use this link to sign up for a demo. CampaignSick readers get 10% off their first two months of using the app!

What else do you want people to know about Ten More Votes?

We used to talk about this like a FUBU product, for us by us. Lot's of people come from the tech world and want to tell us how to improve things, knowing nothing about the process. I built this with us in mind. I'm a campaign person; I'm not an angel investor or a tech bro. Basically I love your readers and and I want their feedback because that's who we build this for.

What do you wish you had known earlier in your career?

Be more mindful of how you treat people. When you are young and passionate you get caught up in the moment and you lose sight of how the things you say affect people. I never lacked confidence, I can tell you that, but there's a way to be confident without being cocky. People will remember how you treat them long after you've forgotten what you said.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Firm of One's Own: Madalene Mielke

Editor's Note: Especially in today's political climate, where jobs are difficult to come by it seems like every Regional Field Director dreams of starting their own firm. I've always suspected this is a lot harder than it sounds but I get questions about doing so frequently. Since I've never done it I decided to ask some people I know who have! And so I bring you the first installment of "A Firm of One's Own." Thanks very much to Madalene Mielke, our first participant.

1)Who are you? Tell us a little about your professional background.
I help people get elected to public office.

2)When and why did you decide to start your own firm?
I started my firm in 2002. I didn’t want one boss. What I wanted was the flexibility to work with a variety of people and organizations. After I finished working on the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) in 1997, I made the decision that I wouldn’t go into the Clinton Administration, although I had worked at the DNC and on the coordinated campaign for the general election chair and on VP Gore’s team. I knew that policy wasn’t my speed and that politics would be the way that I would make a career. That decision was the basis for the other decisions that I made for professional advancement. The culmination of those decisions resulted in me going out on my own.

3)Tell us a little bit about your firm and what you do.
My original focus is based on the tenants of political fundraising and training. In its 15 years of existence, my firm’s focus as well as my individual focus has evolved to include more political strategy and leadership development. Technically, people see me as a fundraiser because that’s what I do as a job. What I find more interesting is my ability to help individuals who are inclined to run for elected office, counsel them on the strategy to succeed as well as what leadership skills they need to develop to get them to a place where they’re seen as political leaders.

4)What the biggest challenges to owning your own firm?
It’s easier to do the work vs spend the time to hustle for new business. Time management is an absolute must!

5)What are you most proud of?
Being able to work with people who are making a difference in the world.

6)What do you wish you had done differently?
Nothing because I wouldn’t be where I am now as a person, as an operative, as an entrepreneur without making the choices I made. No regrets and no looking backwards other than to reflect on lessons learned.

7)What should someone know before starting their own firm?
In my line of work, finding business is a cyclical nature and having people who will advocate for you whether it’s for a job or as a potential client is important to have in any kind of business. Being a small business owner also means doing things out of your wheelhouse that may not involve any of the skills you may have acquired along the way. Need a business license? Opening a business account? Filing property taxes? Hiring an accountant, payroll specialist? Office space? Hiring staff? Now scale it all!!! All the details that can come back and be a real PITA need to happen before you can really focus on getting clients and producing quality work.

8)What is there left in your career that you are still looking forward to accomplishing?
I like to learn! I’m a student and at the same time experienced from years of practice. All industries evolve and how quickly we learn how to incorporate or retire methods is vital to staying relevant. I’m excited to engage in more leadership development and to get more women and communities of color elected to office as well as help them progress in their careers.

9)What is one thing you think everyone should know (can be professional or non-professional)?
Your success is built on your brand and your brand is built through your actions. People need to see you as solving a challenge for them. Bring solutions and a “let’s get it done” attitude.

Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke is the Founder and Principal of Arum Group, LLC. She has nearly 20 years of experience working in political campaigns and specializes in political/non-profit fundraising and political training focused on the advancement of people of color.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Run For Something!

Run for Something is a new political organization dedicated to recruiting, training and supporting millennials to run for office. If you haven't heard about it yet you're going to starting here. Please enjoy my interview with Run for Something co-Founder, Ross Morales Rocketto. I'm so excited about Run for Something's work and to see where it goes from here! Thank you, Ross, for your time and everyone else see below how you can get involved!

1)Tell us about yourself and your professional background.
I’ve been in politics for about 15 years. I started the Houston area ended up working for a number of campaigns over the years. Three or four cycles in I realized I had got into politics because I thought getting good people elected was a way to make communities better place, but at some point I had started just working for candidates who would pay me. So I stopped doing politics for a little bit and decided when I got back in I would do so on my own terms.

About a year or so later, I got the itch again and jumped back in. I realized that part of the thing that had made me feel disillusioned was that I didn’t think the candidates I was working for were there for the right reasons or the right fit for their communities. I decided I wanted to focus on candidate recruitment even if I couldn’t do it full-time. I started working with my friends who were interested in running, and joined a political consulting firm that was founded by two top Obama campaign strategists. Eventually I started feeling restless wanted to go back in the field in January.

I wound up managing a congressional campaign for Wendy Carrillo. She is an incredible person, and is the embodiment of the American Dream. As a formerly undocumented immigrant whose family fled civil war in the 80’s, she and her family persisted and are now thriving! She just ran for Congress!

Meanwhile, Amanda and I launched Run for Something to recruit more young people to run for office on inauguration day. So when the campaign ended, I went back to Run for Something full-time.

2)Tell us about launching Run for Something.
We knew there was energy and interest from millennials who want to run for office but the response has been really fascinating and incredible. We thought maybe we’d be able to recruit 100 or 200 candidates. We launched on inauguration day and had over 1,000 candidates who signed up before the end of the weekend. Now we have almost 10,000 people interested in running!

3)What makes a good candidate? How do you decide which candidates you want to support?
The first question is “WHY are you running?” The why needs to be rooted in making their community a better place first and foremost. We’re looking for candidates who are deeply rooted in their communities-- that can mean a lot of different things. We ask questions like what does their network look like in the community? Are people asking them to run? What relationships do they have? Do others see them as a leader?

The second criterion is being willing and able to stand up and actually do it. Running for office is really hard. You need a willingness to learn, to adjust, to listen to constituents and to the people you bring on to give you advice. So much of running for office isn’t necessarily intuitive. There’s a lot about it-- like calling and asking people for money—that can be downright uncomfortable. So it’s important to understand and embrace the learning curve.

Then as a bonus, I look for someone with the ability to tell a story. Great candidates have empathy and a drive to connect with people. That isn’t to say different personalities shouldn’t run for office, but we want someone who can make the political personal.

In terms of concrete criteria run for something only supports candidates who are 35 or younger, progressive and intend to caucus (if applicable) as Democrats.

4)Why young people?
Let’s face it: most elected officials are old, white and male. Our goal is to recruit and support the next generation of governors, senators, members of congress and statewide officeholders and that often starts by running for local office. Notoriously that pipeline hasn’t existed for Democrats or we do a bad job of is getting young people into it. We need to start younger. Millennials are quickly becoming the largest voting block, or at least the largest potential voting block but in order for people to come out and vote they need to see themselves in candidates. We need to see ourselves.

5)What exactly does Run for Something do?
Our initial goal is ”to plant 1000 seeds.” We’re trying to inspire and get people engaged in the act of running for office, as many young people as we possibly can. Clearly we want to win, but the truth is for many local offices across the country no one is on the ballot or they are uncontested. There are so many offices every year that nobody runs for!

We want to provide our candidates with support in the broadest terms so creating community to share experiences and best practices, connecting them to campaign operatives and to other organizations that can train and support them-we’re not here to reinvent the wheel. And of course we want to provide many of them with financial resources. Right now we’re working on a matching program where if a candidate is able to raise 15% of what it takes to run for that office we will match that with up to 15%.

6)How can we get involved?
Go to to learn more about running or sign up to be a volunteer or a mentor. Because of the incredible influx of candidates we’ve seen one thing we need help with is candidate screening. It’s just a 30 minute phone call where the volunteer helps get information on potential candidates and fills out a form to relay it back to us. It’s a fun job because it’s the first personal touch with a lot of these candidates

7)What else do you want people to know about Run for Something?
For most, nobody is going to tap them on the shoulder to run. For people interested in engaging especially at the local and state level, you don’t have to wait for a gatekeeper to tell you it’s time to run. At the same time, you should also know what is involved which is part of why we’re here. The more local the race, the easier it is to run and win as a first time candidate. In most places isn’t that difficult to run for school board. It’s one of the most fundamental ways to get involved and those races are where everything starts. Right now progressives haven’t done as good a job at building that pipeline. School board today, council tomorrow, mayor after that. That’s where the bench is and we are here to demystify that for folks.

8)What do you wish someone had told you earlier in your career?
I wish I had had someone reminding me why it was I had gotten into this work in the first place. It’s easy to be fired up in the Trump era but, thankfully, this moment won’t last forever. If you’re not doing it for reasons that really drive you, you are going to be tired and cynical before you know it.

Ross Morales Rocketto is a progressive political operative with more than a decade of experience in campaign management, grassroots organizing, and data/analytics. Former campaign manager at Wendy Carillo for Congress, principal at Smoot Tewes Group, and management consultant at Deloitte Consulting’s innovation center. Worked in Iowa in 2007 for Bill Richardson, and in 2005 for Julian Castro. Got started in Texas during the 2002 cycle. Married, one dog, two cats.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Isn't That Special (Elections taking place beyond Georgia)

In case you have been living under a rock, or just have a very different social media cadre than I do there is a special election coming up in Georgia. Actually, one just happened and now there is a runoff. (Even though it was not the runaway we were hoping for BIG congratulations to everyone on the ground for Jon Ossoff! I am hopeful for June 20!) That same evening Jackie Smith won the race for Prince William County, Virginia's Clerk of Court and it got me wondering what other state and local special elections are taking place that are worth our notice. With the help of my amazing Facebook friends and wider social media network here is a by-no-means-exhaustive list of special elections taking place across the country! Please feel free to message me to add your own!


Alabama- Alabama's new Governor, Kay Ivey has set the date for a special election to replace a one Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions (now US Attorney General, God help us) in the US Senate. The seat is currently being held by Republican Luther Strange. The primary will be August 15th and the general December 12th. Alabama is R+14.

Georgia- See above. The district is R+8.

Montana- To replace former Congressman Ryan Zinke for Montana's At-Large congressional seat. Zinke is now Secretary of the Interior. Rob Quist is the Democratic nominee. The special election is on May 25th. The district is R+11.

South Carolina- To replace Congressman Mick Mulvaney, now the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. The primary is May 2nd and the special election June 20th. The district is R+9.

State and Local

Florida- Special election to replace Frank Artiles, SD 41. You can read about why he resigned this week here. The resignation is so recent that a date has yet to be set, but here is a list of potential candidates.

New Hampshire- After the death of an incumbent State Senator a primary will be held for New Hampshire State Senate District 16 on June 6th followed by a general election on July 25.

New York- There will be a May 23rd special election for New York State Assembly District 9, which is on Long Island. Democrat Christine Pellegrino has an uphill battle.

Rhode Island- Special election to replace resigning Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed of the 13th district. There will be a July 18th primary and an August 22nd general election.

Tennessee- Special election to replace Mark Lovell, HD 95. A primary will take place this Thursday, April 27th and the general election will be on June 15th.

Trump's pick for Army Secretary Mark Green, who says stuff like this about transgender people and represents SD 22 is expected to resign this week which would will trigger an "August-ish" special election.

Washington State- Democrat Manka Dhingra is running in the Senate District 45 special election, being held to replace a legislator who died last year. This race is especially important because it is likely to determine the balance of power in the Washington State Senate. The election will take place in November.

Please note these are not all the special elections going on in the US, just those you thought were noteworthy. You tell me, who else should we be talking about? You can find an addition list, although still not a complete one, of state legislative special elections here.

Shout outs of course to Lincoln and Omaha Nebraska (both in May!), New York City, Atlanta, LA, New Jersey and Virginia all of which have elections this year, although not "specials."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Resources for Resistance

Since the inauguration a lot of friends and family have reached out to me with questions about how to stay involved. So many organizations are doing great work to keep the resistance strong, I wanted to share these resources with you so that you can take advantage or share them with others. In no particular order they are...

Indivisible Guide
- Practical advice for effectively communicating with and influencing your Members of Congress. Indivisible chapters are popping up all over the US (at least two per Congressional district!) so make sure to look yours up! Required reading.
Call the Halls- In depth practical advice on calling your Members of Congress
Call Them In Their homepage puts it best, "Timely email reminders with tailored call scripts at your fingertips, so you can oppose Donald Trump's agenda and back progressive legislation in a meaningful way."
Mobilize App- This is actually an app developed by a friend of a friend that differs from some of the other tools in that you proactively login when you feel the need to take action and it gives you a variety of targeted call scripts from which to choose.
Daily Action- Texts you with a suggestion of one phone call to make every day to resist extremism.
Movement Vote- Helps you find local groups participating in the resistance to join or donate to.
Call My Congress-Gives you contact info for your representatives based on address
5 Calls-Another calling tool that lets you narrow scripts by issue
Resistance Calendar- A semi-comprehensive calendar of resistance events across the United States
Resist Bot-Turns your texts into letters to Congress. A good option if you are unable to make phone calls or participate in person.

And of course there are amazing organizations like NARAL, Color of Change, and United We Dream to name just a very few who contact their members with opportunities to get involved all the time!

You tell me! What should I add to the list? Email me at!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How To Lobby Like a BAMF: Ten Lobbying Commandments

(Editor's Note: This a guest post and part of a three part series from the amazing Carly Pildis, an OFA alumna who will explain her current position in her post below. It is part of my continued effort to share tools and information to help our community feel empowered in the Trump era. Thank you so much to Carly for sharing your wisdom!)

I present to you the Ten Lobbying Commandments. Please sing to yourself to the tune of the Notorious B.I.G.’s ten crack commandments, or Hamilton’s ten duel commandments, whatever is your pleasure. This is your guide to acing that meeting you scheduled and turning action into change!

1. Treat MOCs and their aides well.
I know you want to speak truth to power. I know a lot of you are really angry. Use those desires in a constructive way. Aides shift through a lot of virulent anger that translates into very actionable requests on legislation. Knowledgeable, passionate constituents get listened to, furious diatribes do not. Most people go into government because they really believe they can make the world a better place. They work inordinately long hours and could have superior lifestyles if they left government.Treat them with respect.

2.Never ever lie.
You are not Kellyanne Conway. If they ask you a question and you do not know the answer that is okay. Just say,"I am not sure. I can find out for you, and I will follow up." This gives you a great excuse to check in and see if what they are thinking later!

3.Do not come in without a clear yes or no ask.
A friend who worked as an aide for a prominent Southern Senator told me she would get calls everyday asking her to protect the 2nd amendment. Two years into the job she still had no idea what these people actually wanted her Member to vote for and against, or if there was even a relevant bill. Don’t be those people. People work in government because they want to do good and make change - don’t bring them a sad story that they can’t do anything about. It wastes their time and makes them want to reach for the emergency bourbon under their desk. Your meeting must end with a YES or NO question that translates to action their part.

4.Show them who you are.
Who are you in the community? Are you a teacher, a doctor, a small business owner? Are you a person from a demographic that is important to this Member? Think about all of the ways that you are a community leader, someone whose opinion they should care about, and then make sure you communicate that to them. Do you have other members of that block of voters who would come with you or would write letters to deliver to the Member? You’d be surprised how big a difference ten or twenty letters make.

5.Speak their language and sell your ask.
I could talk all day about how the transatlantic slave trade and colonization decimated African countries and how foreign aid is a moral obligation. This is not compelling language to most Americans. Instead, I talk about how fighting epidemics worldwide makes a safer, healthier world for everyone. I talk about the linkages between lack of access to free primary school and violent extremism. I talk about how investing in child nutrition grows economies and builds trading partners. I look at what Members of Congress care about and value and create links. When talking to Members about abstinence only earmarks on AIDS funding, I talked about how it was an enormous waste of money that didn’t yield any results. I called it pork. That helped contextualize why it mattered to people. Look at their websites, look at what they care about and then package your ask and your issues to fit those values whenever possible.

6.Don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Let’s be clear, lobbying should involve a yes or no question and if you get a yes you win. Yahtzee! Bingo! Tag! But there is always going to be a next ask, a next thing you want. So don’t burn bridges. I had one staffer I met with tell me about a lobbyist who convinced her member to vote as lobbyist wanted, but was so unprofessional she never took a meeting with her again. She meant it. They could have advocated more respectfully and built, not burned a relationship.

7.DO snatch victory from the jaws of "No."
You didn’t win. They won’t do what you want. That’s okay! You had a great meeting, started building a relationship and educated your Member or their aide about the issue. Hopefully you moved the needle a little by showing that their constituents care. These relationships are gold - and this is a good beginning. Sometimes it can take a while to get what you want, but this was still an important step. Sometimes winning is your MOC abstaining from a vote. Sometimes it takes a few rounds of budget appropriations to win support. But building that relationship is ALWAYS worth your time.

8.Share your personal story.
Members of Congress care about how policy affects their constituents. Tell them why you care, how it affects you, and what you want them to do. A good personal story has some key hallmarks. It’s short (about 3 minutes). It draws a straight line between people who vote and a policy ask. It has one memorable visual image. It is honest. I have seen aides cry at constituent stories. I have seen stories from constituents change Members forever. Speak your truth and tell them why this matters. This is your moment to shine.

9.Structure your time.
If you are 5 minutes late you may miss the meeting. This is not an exaggeration. Lobby meetings are 5 to 15 minutes max. Structure your time to share your story, make a few key points with statistics, and make a hard ask. Leave a few minutes for small talk. Be prepared to talk longer in case you get lucky, but it’s rare. So make sure you have a plan in place and use your time wisely.

10.Don’t show up empty handed.
You wouldn’t go to a party without a bottle of wine, don’t go to a lobby meeting without a leave behind packet. This is a great place to put reports on the issue, additional relevant information, and hard facts to back you up. Also come with letters. This is really important. Bring ten or twenty handwritten letters (NOT a petition) from constituents saying that they care and why. These letters get MOCs attention and can make a huge difference. The more letters the better.

Carly Pildis serves as Senior Associate, Advocacy and Organizing for RESULTS. She manages the REAL Change Organizing and Advocacy Fellowship to Fight Poverty. She also managed candidate engagement around the 2016 POTUS primary, and works closely with both the legislative team and grassroots team on RESULTS campaigns. Prior to her time at RESULTS, she served as Operation Vote Director for the DC office of Obama for America, working to organize people of color and other constituency groups in support of the 2012 reelection campaign. Additionally she has served as a Fellow for Jubilee USA Network, and as a Advocacy Consultant/Field Organizer for American Jewish World Services on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. Want to join her in the fight to protect foreign aid and stop budget cuts that would threaten the futures of millions of people living in poverty? Email her or follow her on twitter @carlypildis

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Design the NYC I Voted Sticker!

Two things I love more than almost anything else in this world: New York City and Voting. If I had one iota of artistic ability I would be all over this contest like cream cheese on a bagel. Since I don't I am sharing it with you! Please enter and share widely!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How to Lobby like a BAMF: Get that Meeting.

(Editor's Note: This a guest post and part of a three part series from the amazing Carly Pildis, an OFA alumna who will explain her current position in her post below. It is part of my continued effort to share tools and information to help our community feel empowered in the Trump era. Thank you so much to Carly for sharing your wisdom!)

Many people have this idea that Members of Congress are too important spend time talking to ordinary people. I have found many Members ENJOY talking to well informed, passionate constituents and building relationships in the communities they serve. Meetings have been shown over and over to be the most effective way to create relationships and make change, but how do you get one?

1.You don’t have to go to Washington!
Members of Congress come home regularly. Many are home several times a month and most are home for at least part of recess periods. It’s a misnomer that Members are on vacation when they are out of session, they are actually often home with you!

2.Start in Writing.
First submit a written request via email to your Member’s scheduler. You can look them up here and use the standard house or senate email format to write to them. A simple polite letter letting them know that you would like a meeting during the next recess, who you and others coming to the meeting are, and what you’d like to discuss is all you need. Send it off to the scheduler and buy yourself a cup of coffee to say good job!

3.Pick up the Phone
Every other day, give that scheduler a call until you get a meeting! Do it on your lunch break, or while you are on the bus. If after two weeks they haven’t responded try a few emails. Keep it up! Don’t take it personally - Members and their schedulers can be super busy, but they will eventually get back to you! If it takes more than 2 weeks, try calling the local in district office and tell them you are having a hard time. Worse comes to worse a (FRIENDLY! NICE) Tweet can come in handy.

4.Legislative Aides Are Awesome!
Members care what you think, but there are a lot of you! With votes, budget negotiations, the constant grind of campaign fundraising, etc. schedules fill up fast! Members hire smart young people to help them figure out what to prioritize and what to support. It is incredibly useful to make friends with people in your local office. If you are offered a meeting with them TAKE IT! They are like you, passionate, idealistic and driven. If you make a good impression they can have a lot of influence and can push your cause hard. Ask local staff to conference in relevant policy staff from DC and you can get to know the whole clique!

Now you know how to get a meeting go out and get it! Make your voice heard! Next installment will cover what to do in the meeting!

Carly Pildis serves as Senior Associate, Advocacy and Organizing for RESULTS. She manages the REAL Change Organizing and Advocacy Fellowship to Fight Poverty. She also managed candidate engagement around the 2016 POTUS primary, and works closely with both the legislative team and grassroots team on RESULTS campaigns. Prior to her time at RESULTS, she served as Operation Vote Director for the DC office of Obama for America, working to organize people of color and other constituency groups in support of the 2012 reelection campaign. Additionally she has served as a Fellow for Jubilee USA Network, and as a Advocacy Consultant/Field Organizer for American Jewish World Services on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. Want to join her in the fight to protect foreign aid and stop budget cuts that would threaten the futures of millions of people living in poverty? Email her or follow her on twitter @carlypildis

Monday, March 20, 2017

How to Lobby like a BAMF Part One: What is Lobbying?

(Editor's Note: This a guest post and part of a three part series from the amazing Carly Pildis, an OFA alumna whose bio is below. It is part of my continued effort to share tools and information to help our community feel empowered in the Trump era. Thank you so much to Carly for sharing your wisdom!)

Since Election night, my phone has been exploding with questions. I am being asked everyday how to be heard, and the voices asking are filled with fear. What makes me qualified to answer? I serve as Senior Associate, Advocacy and Organizing for RESULTS, a movement of passionate grassroots who have been fighting for an end of poverty at home and around the world for over 35 years. I spend most of my time with RESULTS training grassroots on how to make change, particularly geared towards influencing Congress. I run the REAL Change Organizing and Advocacy Fellowship to Fight Poverty, with Fellows having approximately 300 lobby meetings a year. Since so many people are interested in lobbying these days, I am doing a three part series on Lobbying. I am so excited to be writing for Campaignsick!

While I write this I am watching my 3 month old daughter sleep. Like many of you I am concerned about the country she is going to grow up in. Will it be a place where my values of inclusivity, empowerment, and shared prosperity reign? Or will it become a place I don’t recognize?. Lobbying is a great way to affect the issues you care about in a real tangible way.

Members of Congress and their staff WANT to meet with constituents. You are the people who hire and fire. You are the people who volunteer and donate to campaigns. You matter INFINITELY more than a paid lobbyist. A recent study from the Congressional Management Foundation confirms what we’ve known for decades: Members care first and foremost what you think!

Like organizing, lobbying requires you to build muscle memory of best practices that you use religiously, and pair those best practices with dogged persistence. Future blogs will cover step by step instructions, but first let’s define what lobbying is and isn’t

Lobbying is:
-A chance to influence policy and public funding.
-A chance to educate your MOC about an issue they may not know much about.
-Most important of all, a lobby meeting is a chance to build relationships with people who have the power to affect policy and funding. Even if you don’t get what you want now, building that relationship is critical to influencing members and their aides on issues you care about in the future. Show them that you are an engaged member of the community whose opinion they should court and you’ll be shocked how much influence you can garner.

Lobbying is not:
-A venting session. Save that for Happy Hour. Friends on the Hill tell me of constituents who call everyday to SCREAM at them. These people get ignored. Wouldn’t you ignore them?
-A place to protest. This a time for persuasion and dialogue. You're already in the room - protesting is for when you are struggling to get inside it.
-A place for long academic debate or philosophy lecture. It would be awesome to give your MOC a 20 slide presentation on the history of systemic racism. Unfortunately, this will not happen for you. Your meeting will last 10 minutes, 15 max. I have had ones as short as 5 minutes. Expect to introduce the issue, talk about your personal connection to it, a make one or two key points backed up by statistics and then make a hard ask. Have some small talk at the beginning to keep it friendly.

Now that you have a clear understanding of lobbying as a tool and a strategy, you're ready to get started! Thanks for reading and for raising your voice!

Carly Pildis serves as Senior Associate, Advocacy and Organizing for RESULTS. She manages the REAL Change Organizing and Advocacy Fellowship to Fight Poverty. She also managed candidate engagement around the 2016 POTUS primary, and works closely with both the legislative team and grassroots team on RESULTS campaigns. Prior to her time at RESULTS, she served as Operation Vote Director for the DC office of Obama for America, working to organize people of color and other constituency groups in support of the 2012 reelection campaign. Additionally she has served as a Fellow for Jubilee USA Network, and as a Advocacy Consultant/Field Organizer for American Jewish World Services on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. Want to join her in the fight to protect foreign aid and stop budget cuts that would threaten the futures of millions of people living in poverty? Email her or follow her on twitter @carlypildis

Saturday, February 4, 2017

But What About The Children?: Second Graders, And Their Teacher, Sound Off On Trump.

(Stock photo, not Lauren's kids)

Some of you may remember that I had the privilege of speaking to my friend Lauren's second grade class about elections last September. My favorite part of that experience was hearing what was filtering down from media to parents to kids.

A couple of examples:
Little Girl: Hillary will be the best President even though she was in jail.
Me: I don't think she was in jail...
Little Girl: Yahuh! I saw it on the news!

Little Boy: Donald Trump is bad because he only likes white people and he had TWO fake schools!
Of course, had I known how things would go I would have prepared these kids with a somewhat different conversation. Not to get all soapbox-y but at a time when both facts and compassion seem optional for adults in our country, public school teachers have never been more important. And thank God for them. After spending 2 hours with elementary schoolers, I left genuinely confused as to why we don't pay elementary school teachers six figure salaries. So when I saw Lauren's Facebook post below my heart melted, not just for the kids but also for her.
2nd graders' takes on the state of our nation...
Student 1: "We are now governed by a potato!"
Student 2: "Trump sees women as objects."
Student 3: "I'm scared and sad...
How do you teach fairness and kindness in a world that is so obviously unfair and unkind? How do you explain what happened to seven year olds when most adults can't make sense of it? I decided to ask the source. Thank you Lauren for answering my questions as well as helping raise an informed and compassionate next generation.

1) Who are you? (Your professional background etc)

I'm a 2nd grade teacher at a public school in Manhattan. I am a general educator in an ICT classroom, meaning that we have some students with special needs and my co-teacher is a special educator. This is my 5th year at this school, where we serve mostly middle and upper middle class families. While we are not particularly racially or socioeconomically diverse, we have quite a bit of ethnic and linguistic diversity and a number of immigrants in our student body. Our school's emphasis is on social action.

2) How did you prepare your students for the election?

We added an election unit to our curriculum this year. We focused mostly on election vocabulary and how elections work. We also read a brief biography of both Clinton and Trump, and held a pretend election in which the students voted for who they predicted would win. In addition, we welcomed Nancy into our class as a guest speaker to discuss how campaigns and elections work! I was pleasantly surprised by how interested the students were in the election and how much they were discussing at home. Indirectly related to the election, we teach a unit every fall called "Fighting for a Cause" (from the Core Knowledge curriculum). Though we didn't plan it this way at the time, I've noticed since the election that the ideas (such as peaceful protests) and the activists (such as Martin Luther King, Jr.) that we studied during this unit have given my students a basis for discussing current events surrounding the election and new administration.

3) What was it like in school the day after the election?

The day after the election was emotional. Being around so many progressive teachers and families, there was definitely sadness and anger in the air at school. Some of my students came to school upset. We tried to remain somewhat unbiased (though I've felt conflicted about how unbiased we should be), but also gave the students space to talk about how they felt. We've been trying to let them lead the conversation as much as possible, starting that day. We've also been trying to help them feel safe. The day after the election, many students were talking about Trump building the wall. At this age, kids tend to focus on the concrete, and the wall was something they could understand. One girl was absent that day, and her family is Hispanic, so some of her friends were worried that she had been deported. Our main goal that day was to reassure them that they were safe with us.

4) What have the kids been saying about Trump since the inauguration?

My students haven't said too much about Trump himself, but when his name is mentioned, the anger on their faces says it all. Some memorable comments include one student repeatedly saying that Trump is a potato, and another student saying that Trump sees women as objects.

5) Has anything about their reaction surprised you? (How concerned about it do they seem to be? Do they know more/less than you expected etc?)

I've been surprised by how aware some of my students are and how much their families seem to discuss politics at home. They don't understand a lot of the specifics about policies, but they do sense the fear and outrage around them. However, I do think that kids are extremely resilient and able to compartmentalize more than adults, so while they are aware and concerned, they are able to, at least outwardly, show less concern than many adults. My students, for the most part, are fortunate in that they come from places of privilege, but they are still more knowledgeable than I would have expected. I have also been pleasantly surprised by the connections they make between the activism happening now and the historic activists we've studied. In addition, we wrote thank you letters to Obama on Inauguration Day and they impressed me with what they knew about his presidency, mentioning specifics such as Obamacare.

6) What challenges has a Trump presidency posed for you as a teacher?

The biggest challenge I have experienced has been trying to remain (at least somewhat) unbiased. I've been trying to let the students lead the conversation as much as possible, but that is not always easy. It can also be difficult to find language to use that is honest but still accessible for 2nd graders. Another challenge has been dealing with my own feelings surrounding Betsy DeVos, since I know those decisions will affect me and the rest of my school community. Teachers and parents at my school held a protest, which helped us feel like we were actively doing something and leading our students by example.

7) What, if anything, have you been talking to your kids about regarding a Trump presidency? Are there ways to make this teachable?

As I said, we've been trying to let the students lead the conversation as much as possible, answering their questions, trying to alleviate their fears, and highlighting examples of activism. There are definitely ways to make this teachable! In addition to teaching the ins and outs of how government works, I think the most important way to make this teachable is leading by example and focusing on what we can do as citizens to fight for what we believe is right. I think it's easy for both children and adults to feel overwhelmed and helpless, so actively searching for ways to fight can only help.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

#Resistance is making a difference

I usually hate the "copy and paste" viral Facebook stuff but after a rough week and bunch of protesting this was nice to read so I wanted to share this with you. Feel free to paste and share on your own social media.

Hey activist friends: despite the headlines, you are making a difference. In the words of Banksy: "If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit."
For everyone who DID something, small or big, your efforts have been successful. Because of you:
1. Federal hiring freeze is reversed for VA (Veteran Affairs).
2. Court ordered partial stay of the immigration ban for those with valid visas.
3. Green card holders can get back in country.
4. Uber pledges $3M and immigration lawyers for its drivers after #DeleteUber trends on Twitter.
5. Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) enrollment ads are still going to air.
6. The ACLU raised 24M over the weekend (normally 3-4Mil/year).
7. HHS, EPA, USDA gag order lifted.
8. EPA climate data no longer scrubbed from website.
9. More people of different career/religious/economic/race backgrounds are considering running for political office than ever before.
10.CEO of Uber left Trump's business advisory council
11. MOST importantly, since we live in a participatory democracy, the people are engaged.

While more is needed, sometimes you have to celebrate your wins. Stay vigilant, but also take self care seriously. Activist burnout is a thing, as is protest fatigue. Marathon, don't sprint. #RESIST
(Feel free to copy and paste to share. (*Copy/pasted from a friend*)

Byron LaMasters Calls Trump

A colleague posted the following on Facebook and in my on-going quest to post anything that makes me feel better as well as opportunities for activism I thought I'd share.

Today I tried an experiment. In light of the White House switchboard (202) 456-1111 closing their comment line and with some inspiration from I decided to try a dozen or so Trump Organization phone numbers and politely request to leave a message for Mr. Trump. Here's what I got:

Trump International Hotel - Washington D.C. (202) 695-1100 - rang about 25 times then disconnected.

Trump Park Avenue (212) 223-3775 - The person said that I should call the main Trump Organization office at (212) 832-2000. I hadn't called them yet, so I tried them next.

Trump Organization (212) 832-2000 - First three attempts did not get through. Fourth attempt got through to someone that connected me to a voice mail where I expressed my opposition to a 20% tariff with Mexico.

Trump International Realty (212) 247-7100 - Rang four times and disconnected.

Trump International Hotel & Tower (212) 362-4715 - Person transferred me to the voice mail of a hotel manager where I left a message about opposing the executive order relating to the Mexico City policy.

Trump Place 200 Riverside Blvd (212) 362-4715 - Rang 20-ish times and disconnected.

Trump Events (212) 715-7290 - Was actually the restaurant. They connected me to the front desk, which connected me to another voice mail where I expressed my opposition to torture.

Trump Soho (212) 842-5500 - Started talking and was interrupted "Sir, sir, I apologize, we don't deal with Mr. Trump" and they hung up.

Trump National Doral Miami (305) 592-2000 - By far the nicest person I spoke with. After introducing myself the woman that picked up said she'd take my message. I expressed my opposition to Trump's refugee policy and that we needed to be doing more for Syrian refugees, and asked that my position be conveyed to Mr. Trump and she said "Absolutely, sir. Have a nice day".

Trump Winery Tasting Room (434) 977-4001 - Person connected me to a voice mail line where I expressed my concern that Trump was violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Mar-a-lago (561) 832-2600 - Person said that the new comment line was (501) 374-4242 and said that I should call that number. I googled it, and that's the Clinton Presidential Library number, and did not call. Tried calling Mar-a-lago back and it hung up / disconnected.

Trump Hotel Las Vegas (702) 982-0000 - Interrupted, "you have the wrong number" and hung up.

FYI: Byron LaMasters is a Democratic political consultant at InFocus Campaigns. He is a Texan living in DC whose interests include politics, travel, books, and baseball.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Executive Order – the implications of the refugee and immigration ban

Like me, I am sure you are all sickened by the first week of the Trump administration. While I don't usually delve into too much policy on the blog I was so infuriated by the recent Executive Order on immigration that I didn't want to let the moment pass without saying something. Earlier today I participated in a protest at the White House, but I wanted to do as much as possible with my small platform to share information about why the ban is dangerous and discriminatory. Thank you to James Blake, who is way more expert at this than I am, for obliging and for my grad school classmate who connected me with him. His bio and analysis are below. By the way, if you are interested in joining a protest against the so-called Muslim Ban, click here to find out what is happening in your city. There are still plenty of activities going on.

On Friday, January 27, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a wide-ranging Executive Order that ended the refugee resettlement program temporarily for four months, in addition to banning entry of people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya. The order cuts in half the number of refugees planned to be taken in during 2017. Priority will also be given to certain religions.

Controversy has ensued. The Executive Order has drawn significant criticism from a wide range of groups. At the diplomatic level, several policy makers have questioned whether it goes against the Geneva Convention, while many other argue that it undermines U.S. world leadership. Because of the rushed nature of the Executive Order, confusion and anger has spread. Some politicians, academics, medical professionals, former interpreters to the U.S. government and athletes are caught up in the blanket-nature of the Executive Order, and are uncertain whether they can travel back to the U.S. Yesterday, amid media reports of chaos at airports, a federal judge ruled that the authorities had to stop deporting refugees and others who were stuck at the U.S. airports.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, in the U.S., the reaction has been deeply polarized. The U.S. president tied the Executive Order’s rationale to improving national security, citing 9/11 on several occasions, and stating he wanted to clamp down on security vulnerabilities from the visa system. This will likely be the start of further policies in this area. CNN wrote an article that President Trump’s next step could be to check digital records of those immigrants seeking to enter the country. Some on the political right have praised the Executive Order as a first step in securing borders and protecting the U.S. against terrorism. The political left and center, however, is by and large furious, with the more hardline comments criticizing the president for demagoguery, inciting fear, hatred of marginalized groups and, in fact, undermining national security. Some have equated the president’s ulterior motivation in the Executive Order to be a blanket Muslim ban.

Protests against the Executive Order have been held – and are being planned – in cities across the country. Notably, on Saturday, a spontaneous demonstration was held outside JFK international airport after immigrants attempting to re-enter the U.S. were detained.

In the bigger picture, there are particularly troubling aspects to the Executive Order. The U.S. shapes global thinking through its leadership. For many years, its welcoming position to refugees has been widely recognized, and has set the tone and direction for other countries to welcome, particularly the most vulnerable of refugees from war-torn countries. Among experts, the U.S. refugee program itself is a success story. Those refugees who have been resettled have boosted their communities through innovation, diversity and cultural enrichment. The program itself has a long-tradition: the U.S. is after all at its core a nation of immigrants.

Perhaps even more troubling, the world is facing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Neighbors to Syria, particularly Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon are overwhelmed by refugees, who have fled from years of conflict in Syria. Meanwhile, refugees have flooded Europe in recent years, as they desperately seek opportunities to rebuild their lives. The pressing nature of the world refugee crisis is calling for U.S. leadership and solutions, but with the Executive Order, it has seemingly shunned responsibility and instead, shockingly, turned inwards.

In terms of security, while the Executive Order has been couched in matters of national security, it is not apparent what improvements it was trying to make. Refugees were already subject to lengthy and significant investigations by Homeland Security, with cases taking an average 12-18 months of vetting, biometrics and interviews. It is harder to get to the US as a refugee than it is by any other immigration route. The risk of letting in potentially dangerous individuals as refugees was already small.

Indeed, there is a likelihood that the Executive Order will drive increasing security risks over the longer-term, as it plays into the broader narrative of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda of a clash of civilizations with the West. The Executive Order risks aiding the radicalization of marginalized elements from the country to look for reasons to carry out attacks in the U.S. It is also a boon for the recruitment to groups such as the Islamic State.

Given the reaction and implication of the Executive Order, the only real solution seems to be to repeal it, and instead work with the system that was left in place by the Obama administration. In some key positions, such as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, the Trump administration has a wealth of experience to draw upon, and beneath these individuals are many talented security experts. The Trump administration should seek counsel from these experts and consider the Executive Order in more depth.

The US has a proud history of welcoming refugees, and fostering a community of diversity. The Executive Order has caused great confusion, hurt and embarrassment to the U.S., and, sadly has global ramifications.

James Blake is an expert in political and security risk analysis. He started his career at a leading political and security risk consultancy firm in London. He subsequently worked in-house at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC, where he advised on international security matters across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Most recently, he was the sole political analyst at the International Rescue Committee. He was in Turkey conducting an assessment on refugees as the European Refugee Crisis escalated, to help with the IRC's programming in Europe. He also helped IRC teams access conflict zones and mitigate their risks as they sought to respond to the world's worst crises. James wrote geopolitical analysis for the Soufan Group for several years, and is a contributor to Jane's Intelligence Magazine.