Would You Call Someone Fighting for Democracy a Loser?

The spectacle of King Charles’s coronation this week was a good reminder: Democracy is not the default.

Freedom is not humanity’s factory setting.

Quite the contrary, actually.

Through human history we have organized under an all-powerful king figure. We give them authority over everything and everyone, lots of gold, jewels the size of golf balls, silly sticks to hold, silly hats to wear, and silly things to say.

America, the shining (though tarnished) city on a hill was a relatively revolutionary idea, made possible because some upstarts got mad about taxes, got creative, and forged a completely different path.

And so, we became a democracy. That’s how we describe ourselves. It’s woven into our national fabric. It is foundational.

Many believe it to be inevitable.

That’s a dangerous belief.

It’s untrue. It’s not inevitable. We’re living through the proof.

As David Pepper often asks – would you describe a country that’s restricting voting, curbing civil rights, allowing constitutional rights to be gutted because of a Senate procedural rule, allowing politicians to gerrymander themselves out of accountability, voting for things that are terribly unpopular and refusing to vote for things that vast majorities support (I could go on, and on, as you know) … as a vibrant, functioning democracy?

I would not.

As just one example of many: Gun reform is not only wildly popular with the general public, it is literally a matter of life and death. I don’t need to impose upon you how urgent this issue is. Just read the news on any day that ends in Y.

And yet Republicans proudly refuse to even consider it. Republican elected officials wear AR-15 badges on their lapels – proclaiming their allegiance not to their constituents’ lives, but to their lobbyists’ interests.

It’s demoralizing, isn’t it?

It’s demoralizing to have to try to convince your elected representative that your life should matter more than easy access to a battle rifle. But that’s what we’ve done, diligently, passionately, year after year.

With persistence and passion, gun reform advocates have had many successes, often in the form of being able to beat back pro-gun legislation in red state legislatures. Just retaining the pro-gun status quo is actually a win in red states that are trying to expand gun access even more. Those states have radicalized Republican state legislatures that are more beholden to talking points than policy, and they vote as they are told.

And so, to make progress with common sense gun reform, we have to make progress with those elected officials. We need to turf out the ones that care more about MAGA talking points than their constituents.

Easier said than done, perhaps, but not impossible, especially with the vast community that cares so deeply.

But, over the years, I’ve discovered a particularly sticky sticking point: Democrats’ honestly-held belief we cannot win rural America, coupled with their illogical adherence to a broken strategy that neglects rural America.

In my work supporting pro-democracy candidates (read Democrats) in rural districts, I hear a common refrain: Democrats are doomed here anyway, there is no way we will win this district, give up and save your resources, cut out early, there is little point in trying, lose fast and hard, just get it over with.

Decades of Democrats’ neglect – borne of a doomed neglect-rural-America strategy they’ve doubled down on for God knows what reason – have turned once blue bastions into scarlet-red havens that will be hard to win for a long time.

Does that mean you just … give up half the country?

That would seem crazy, if so many people didn’t believe both that American democracy is inevitable (and therefore action to save it isn’t required) and that their ability to win races in these red rural districts is impossible (and therefore action is pointless).

The two beliefs, taken together, have absolutely paralyzed people to action.

I’ve spent years trying to crack the code on how to motivate people – to get them to understand both the threat and the opportunity before us.

I’ve spent years explaining why fighting in every race in every district in every state is so critical to democracy. And every few months there’s a situation like the Tennessee Three, or SB8 out of Texas, that make people stand up and take notice of the need to fight for democracy everywhere.

And then a few weeks later I once again hear questions about the “strategy,” of fighting in “losing” races.

Recently, when someone told me that she had been asked how we could justify supporting “losing” candidates, I posed a simple question:

Would you call someone fighting for democracy a loser?

And so I’m asking you. Would you?

I would not.

And I would support that democracy-loving champion’s campaign in whatever way I could. (And I do.)

So I’m doing something different this week.

As one of the actions for the week, I’m asking for your help.

I want to understand why we seem to be so paralyzed to helping “losing” candidates who are fighting for our fragile democracy, and what we can do as a community of organizers and activists to combat it.

So – even if you do nothing else in this week’s list – please leave a comment and let me know.

How can we convince the American people that when you fight for democracy…

You’re always a winner?

Let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of May 9, 2023

Help Launch Blue Tennessee: Markers for Democracy

A number of wonderful organizations including Markers for Democracy is fundraising to launch a Blue Tennessee, a proposed expansion of Every State Blue. ESB is a crowdsourcing community that supports Democratic state legislative nominees for state legislatures, and is active in Missouri, Ohio, and Texas.

In order to launch they need to raise the initial start-up costs $64k – and are taking pledges through this link. MAKE A PLEDGE TO BLUE TENNESSEE NOTE: Your pledge will not be charged until and unless the $64k goal is reached, so this is truly a no-risk proposition.

To learn more about Every State Blue and the launch of Blue Tennessee, please join the conversation on May 17 at 7:30pm eastern with special guests: David Pepper, former chair of the Ohio State Democratic Party, board member of Every State Blue, and author of Laboratories of Autocracy; Jess Piper, executive director of Blue Missouri; and Kate Craig, 2022 Democratic candidate for Tennessee State Senate and founder of Harvesting Democracy. Chop Wood, Carry Water‘s Jessica Craven will be our master of ceremonies for the evening. Sign up here: https://www.mobilize.us/markersfordemocracy/event/562674/

Spread the Word About Affordable Connectivity Program: Hat Tip to Susan Rogan!

The Federal Communication Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program helps households at or below 200% of the federal poverty line get access to the internet through service and computer discounts, allowing them to connect for essentials like work, school, and healthcare. More than 17 million households are already benefitting from the program, which was created by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Spread the word about the Affordable Connectivity Program—link: https://www.fcc.gov/acp—and let’s tell our Members of Congress to renew it past 2024. Refer your MoCs to this tool so they can see the need in their states.


P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every email! We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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