Letters From the Trenches are letters written by activists for activists, highlighting some of the work that’s making a difference in our world. Our latest installment is written by Hillary Shields, co-founder of Indivisible Kansas City and candidate for Missouri State Senate in the 8th District.
The November 2016 election changed everything – including my life.
Before January 2017 I hadn’t been involved in politics for almost a decade. Now I’m running for a Missouri State Senate seat in a special election that’s happening this November.
Like a lot of other people, in the days right after the election, I was very upset – and not entirely sure what to do about it. I felt powerless. Then I found the Indivisible Guide – which at that point was still just a Google doc. (For those who are unfamiliar with the Indivisible Guide, it’s a blueprint for activism that was written by former congressional staffers. From its humble beginnings as a Google doc it has grown into a vibrant online resource and nonprofit with multiple chapters in every congressional district.). Seeing that guide, it all made sense – it was full of very practical advice, and I thought to myself: “I can do that – I can help organize people to do that.”
So I did. I found a small group on Facebook that wanted to create an Indivisible Group in Kansas City, and we all just threw ourselves into organizing. We did our first event in January. Our Senator, Roy Blunt, was having a series of mobile offices out in the suburbs that day; we publicized them on Facebook and said we were planning to attend. A whopping 35 people showed up at the mobile office in Blue Springs – an event that usually drew only one or two constituents. Senator Blunt’s staff was shocked. And not only did we have huge numbers attend, but the people who came talked to the staff about healthcare and asked some really tough questions. They weren’t used to getting hard questions – or having someone live Tweet the office hours.
After the event was over we shot a little recap video and posted it to Twitter. That night it was shown on The Rachel Maddow Show.
And that’s when it hit me: we can really have a voice in what’s going on in our country.
We started having office visits with all four Senators (Kansas City is on the border of Missouri and Kansas, so both Kansas and Missouri senators serve the metro area.) We went every single week.
We welcomed other activists – some of whom hadn’t been involved politically since the Vietnam War, and others that had never protested a day in their lives. We did Spring Training where we taught other people how to become more politically active by visiting and calling their elected officials – and it was amazing seeing people getting involved for the first time. We were – and are – making activism user-friendly.
And honestly, that’s been the last six months of my life. From January to June, every waking moment I’d be thinking about Indivisible KC. I do have a 40-hour-a-week job as a paralegal at a law firm, so I spent my coffee breaks, lunch hours and evenings organizing events, drawing up graphics, coordinating and planning. Actually, we planned most of our office visits at noon so that working folks like me could attend on their lunch hours. It might not be glamorous, but that’s just the practicality of trying to fit activism into your regular life, isn’t it?
Ultimately, I had to admit that although that our activism definitely matters, sometimes it feels like we’re talking to a brick wall. You know how it is – the staff we speak with sometimes don’t seem to listen – or care. So I decided – if we really want to make a change we need better people in office.
Our group is all about holding politicians accountable. And the final step in accountability is to show a politician the door if they don’t do the right thing for their constituents.
That’s when I decided to run for office.
My district – District 8 – sits in the eastern suburbs of Kansas City. Our State Senator, Will Kraus, ran unopposed in the last election and was term limited out in 2018. I asked our county officials if any other Democrats had announced their intention to run; nobody had. No sooner had I formed my committee, announced my candidacy and created a small campaign website did I get word – from a reporter no less – that Kraus resigned his seat and a special election had been called by the governor. Instead of having an election in 2018, I would be part of a runoff this November – in three months.
But you know what? I’m here because I care about people and I want to make their lives better. If that means I run a campaign in three months rather than 15 that’s what I’m going to do.
So, why am I running? I’m running because I believe in some key issues that I think all Missourians care about:
I believe that anyone who works hard should be able to support his or her family. I think the anti-worker “Right to Work” bill that was passed last session is bad for Missouri. So I’ve been out collecting signatures to put Right to Work on the ballot – so that Missourians can reject that terrible legislation themselves. And when Missourians do just that, I want to be in the legislature so I can keep the legislature from trying to pass that kind of legislation again.
I don’t believe people should have to worry that getting sick will bankrupt them. That doesn’t just mean saving the ACA – it means working on policies closer to home, too. We should fix things like the MO RX program – which was working just fine until the GOP eliminated it. When that program ended, it had really devastating and real-world impacts. In fact, my friend’s mother’s prescription drug costs went from $800 to $1600 a month. That is not okay, and I can’t believe anyone would think it is – no matter what party they’re from.
I believe all families should be able to send their kids to great public schools.
I know the value of a great public education – my husband and I are both graduates of public schools. But it’s becoming harder and harder for working families to afford public college tuition. I want to restore funding for our public schools and ensure that families can get their kids get the education they need to be successful without going into a lifetime of debt.
I also want to say something to the people who are reading this, whether they are new activists or seasoned organizers:
What you’re doing is so important. It may feel like you’re talking into the wind sometimes, but you are making a difference. If you keep working toward the things you believe in – and get your friends to do the same thing – we can and will accomplish so much. It’s true that we have people at both the Missouri and federal level that don’t seem like they have our interests at heart. But, if we work together we can stop them from putting terrible policies in place. We worked together to stop the repeal of the ACA, and if we keep staying strong together? Well – if we do that, we can do a lot of good.
Michele asked me to tell you what you can do if you want to help my campaign. With only three months, we have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time. District 8 is historically GOP leaning, but it could go either way – we have a real chance to make a difference. So messaging is really important, and getting the word out is crucial. If you don’t live near Kansas City, donating money helps me print flyers and make yard signs to put up in the district. If you live nearby or can travel, you can sign up to volunteer canvassing and making phone calls.
And please – share this article or other content from my campaign website (www.hillaryshields.com) on social media. Help me get the word out that we’re ready to turn the page in Jefferson City.
If you want to help Hillary’s Campaign, forward this Letter to a friend or two!
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