Change is Not Waiting, We Are Here

by Wilnelia Rivera

Some political pundits credit the recent victory of Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley as an anomaly of the political climate or at worst, an uninformed choice made by a new crop of voters who were swayed purely by good speeches and rallies. Not only does this dismiss Pressley as a viable candidate and a seasoned campaigner but it dismisses voters’ ability to decide on what’s best for their community. The reality is that women of color are not elected solely based on their inspirational stories. MA-07 deserve the real story to emerge and the numbers don’t lie. When compared to the last midterms, voter turnout increased by 58 percent (full analysis here).

The establishment said that Pressley couldn't build a team to effectively challenge a sitting incumbent without the support of Boston Mayor Walsh, former Governor Deval Patrick, or without the backing of  progressive labor unions and organizations such as 1199SEIU, Emily’s List, and Planned Parenthood. She had to raise at least $2 million dollars. She couldn’t win without TV. “It just was not possible,” they said, but our movement building strategy worked and produced historical results. Behind speeches and rallies were volunteers, staff, and Rivera Consulting, Inc., the lead architect of the Pressley campaign.  

Rivera Consulting, Inc. calls these campaigns movement building campaigns because they both expand the electorate and ignite the base. Activists are trained in relational organizing and reach out to the pool of people who don’t normally vote while conventional campaign tactics are used to ignite the traditional base of likely voters. They also learn campaign plans to win and how their contributions are vital to success. By increasing their ownership, their activism is likely to extend beyond election night.  

We need political campaigns that connect with voters and residents on the issues they care about and that are not just persuading them to show up for a candidate or party. This strategy contradicts most political spending which is dedicated to TV ads that no longer promotes turnout from the nearly 60 percent of the Democratic base, the American Rising Electorate (millennials, people of color, and unmarried women. These ads are only aimed at the swing voters. Traditional electoral investment has focused on recapturing mythical white working class voters at the neglect of working class in communities of color and women. To win over the near and long term, messaging needs to be more carefully robust/mindful.

At the same time, movement building campaigns are more dependent relationship driven strategies and the heavy use ethnic media, digital marketing, and social media. These campaigns seek not only to win elections, but also seek to usher in movements that enable future policy change and advocacy. I believed from the very beginning that Ayanna Pressley could win if we identified first time primary non-voters across the district that matched her voter base in Boston. We did. She can win if likely voters represented a smaller share of the overall electorate on Election Day. They did. She won by 18 points, almost doubling overall turnout, and winning over 76% of all precincts across the district.

A deeper dive also reveals that first-time primary voters made up nearly 50 percent of the overall electorate - representing  the majority of all voters - while frequent and super voters only made up 12 percent of the electorate. These new voters were largely millennials, people of color, and women - the base fueling the current political resistance from the ballot box to main street, who alongside traditional liberals sent a loud message: Change is Not Waiting, We Are Here.

In this political climate, if progressives want to win governance power, we must first recognize that conventional political funding that has contributed to this current landscape. We cannot go back to business as usual, we must build upon the progress of this cycle to deliver the governance coalition that is necessary to take back our country. This is not a gimmick or a television advertisement that can be done weeks before an Election Day. It requires hiring and developing the talent to run these campaigns. We must give early financial support to elect bold progressives, while also investing in increasing the turnout of our base. Movement building campaigns don’t stop on Election Day, they extend civic engagement into protests, policy change, and resistance.