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 Michela Skelton, who ran for the Missouri State House of Representatives in the 50th District in the August 8th special election.
Last week, I ran for the Missouri State House of Representatives in the 50th District. Officially, I lost. But I didn’t really lose.
In a rural district that hadn’t seen a democratic challenger since 2012, I – a young, female, progressive Democrat endorsed by Planned Parenthood and NARAL – lost by less than 300 votes.
Honestly, I only lost because I ran out of time.
In 2016 I decided that I would run for the 50th District in 2018, but when that seat opened for a special election, my timetable changed. All of a sudden, rather than having two years to plan and launch a campaign I had just a few months. Still, I was able to count on all of the people that I had met at political events, group meetings, and fundraisers in the months before the 2016 election. People from all over the state turned out to help me – to help us – change the face of Missouri politics.
And right from the beginning of the campaign I made what some politicians might think is a radical choice: to meet as many of my potential constituents as I could. We knocked on doors and went to events, I showed up at restaurants and diners and sat down with people I didn’t know. I personally went all over the district early on Saturday mornings, just introducing myself and getting to know people.
The support that we had from all over the state was amazing. We called on a statewide network of activists and had two big Saturday canvases. But, every weekend we had local volunteers out on the doors. All told, we knocked on 17,000 doors.
I – we – learned a lot. Our district is split between Boone County, which as the home county for a number of colleges is traditionally more liberal, and more conservative rural areas. Even though we knew that our strongest position was in Boone County, we didn’t neglect the rural areas. We still went to those rural areas and knocked on doors, hoping to have conversations with as many constituents as we could.
So many people who answered their doors said that no candidate had ever come to their home. Our campaign – a progressive campaign – was the first to take the time to come to their door to have a personal conversation. It meant so much to them that we valued them enough to make that effort. People really do feel forgotten – and we can do a lot of simple things to ensure they no longer feel that way.
Those real conversations that we had with people – especially those that I might not agree with – paid off. Because I had started a conversation with them, they were able to judge for themselves what they thought of me, and our campaign. And, when the negative attack ads came out against me, some of those same voters were comfortable enough to reach out and ask me personally whether the allegations were true.
I think it’s really important for everyone to realize that people will forgive you for believing in something different – as long as they think you really believe it. In years past, the Democratic party has run left in primary races only to turn around and water down their message for the general elections. Voters have seen time and again that a Democrat will change their tune once they’re in office. Voters’ trust has been eroded.
People trusted me because they know that I mean what I say, and I say what I mean. They might not agree with it – but they respect me for being honest.
We need more of that in politics in general, but especially in the Democratic Party.
And, as an aside, sacrificing women’s rights is not the way to win. Selling out our most loyal voters is not a way to win. The polling that we did in mid-Missouri showed that Planned Parenthood is viewed positively even by some Republicans. I was endorsed by NARAL and Planned Parenthood; my opponent is vocally pro-life – if this race was decided by whether a candidate was pro-choice or pro-life it would have been a landslide. It wasn’t.
People don’t blame candidates for having deep convictions or believing in women’s rights. They blame candidates for promising one thing and doing another – for being wishy-washy. The Democratic Party has done that too often – and it’s hurt our credibility as a party. And that’s where we need to do better. I worked hard to do just that, and I’ll keep at it.
Michele asked me what I would like to say to the activists among us. The President’s campaign of shock and awe, throwing every possible horrible thing at us at the same time, is meant to stop us. The goal is to overwhelm and discourage us – to tire us out and not give us time to catch out breath.
But if you’ve ever sung in a choir, you know that the music has to go on even though everyone has to breathe. So you stagger your breathing. You time your breathing with the people around you so that even when you catch your breath, the music never stops.
We can do the same thing. If you need a breath, take it and let the activists at your side sing on. Then come back and let someone else take a moment. Working together we can keep going, even when the shock and awe campaign rages around us.
And another thing – activism doesn’t always have to be hard work. It’s as easy as sitting down with someone else that you don’t know. Get another activist, drive 20 minutes away from your town, sit down at a diner and introduce yourself to the people around you. Listen. Make those connections. I’ve done this a bunch of times, and I’ve never been turned away. People want to talk to you, if you will listen.
Reach out to and make connections with the other activist groups around you. There are thousands of people just like you that are working to further a progressive message – even here in Missouri. And many of the people that I met in the lead up to the 2016 election were people that I relied upon for advice and help after I decided to run for office.
And one last thing: we’re not done. In 2018 there will be another election to represent the 50th District in the Missouri House of Representatives. I’ll be on the ballot again, spreading the same progressive message to my fellow Missourians. In the meantime, I’ll be talking to as many of my constituents as I can.
I hope you’ll decide to come out and join us on the campaign trail.