Run For It: Bernie’s Revolution Expands To Local Elections

Anarchist mobs would rule the streets and bust into your house if we didn’t have government, many believe. Others wonder whether lawmakers do worse damage.

The United States, its counties, cities, towns and villages, have governments to protect us from each other; and we have elections to protect us from government.

Votes are a small part of democracy, cast once or twice yearly. Thousands serve our county daily as volunteers, hundreds work on boards and commissions and dozens are elected officers.

The ballot is one tool of the American system; like the free press, courts, police power, rebellion and civil disobedience, it sometimes fits or fails the job.

Most think voting pointless. Of 218 million Americans who could register to vote, only about 65%  have done so.  And of these, only 58% voted in the 2012 Presidential poll. That’s 38% of potential participation. Abstainers explain that their concerns are not raised by candidates, that they see candidates corrupted by power, and the real decisions make by bankers, so they’d rather not bother.  Everybody knows that to run you have to be rich anyway, they say.

But as Bernie’s campaign proves, elections can spotlight urgent changes, focus furious debate, and announce a new era. Candidates can be crowdfunded and independent of fat cat demands.

Seven thousand Berners have signed up to follow Bernie’s example by running for local office. Local elections give us all a chance to be low-budget winners.  Small-town votes weigh more ― there have been many won by one or two votes. And votes get weightier when great issues rouse strong candidates.

When major parties merely party, the stage is set and the curtain opens for independent nominations.  Every registered voter can be a candidate, and everybody 18 years or older by election day can register. Any resident 18 years old or older on inauguration day can run for most local offices.

Maybe you have a vision or gripe that the Republicans and Democrats don’t talk about.  If so, connect with one of the minor parties or start your own. Here’s how:

Think up a party name and symbol.  If you’re enraged about loud music and jackhammers, you might campaign as the QUIET party. Taxpayers might revive the GREENBACK party. The PEACE party could declare a nuclear-free zone.  The IVORY party would address fluoridation, and the movement for compost toilets might rally under the POOP banner.  Strong campaigns have been made by parties called Villagers, Citizens, Pioneer, Equity, Common Good, Action, and Creative.

You can fly solo or gather a team. The more the merrier: campaign manager, volunteer coordinator, fundraiser, webmaster, lawyer. You can find them early or, if your message is compelling, they’ll find you.

Make a website and print some flyers describing your solutions. Bernie’s campaign proves that social media have become the powerful core of longshot campaigns.

Announce your candidacy and its website with a press release and/or visits to local radios, newspapers, cable, bloggers. They’re grateful when you have something novel to say. Combine soundbites and slogans with substantial practical knowledge. Where do you get knowledge? From talking with friends and neighbors, by surfing the web.

Don’t be intimidated by experts. Do your best research but remember, experts with advanced degrees have made a mess of America, and they disagree with one another. They’ll often say whatever they’re paid to say. During debates and interviews assert your values, re-assert your values, and describe how your solutions serve your values.

Effective campaigns speak boldly about big issues and offer specific practical proposals for fixing problems. These days it’s essential to headline solutions with slogans. 

People wait in line to attend a campaign rally for Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Santa Cruz, Calif
People wait in line to attend a campaign rally for Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Santa Cruz, California, U.S., May 31, 2016.

Candidates who don’t worry about winning have the most fun. They refresh public debate by speaking freely. Cautious politicians try to please more voters by saying less.

Get nominating petitions from the Board of Elections. Follow their instructions carefully. Find three friends to be named atop the petition as your party’s committee.

You and anyone eligible to vote for you (registered in any party or independent) can collect signatures from anyone else eligible to vote for you― standards vary by state. Collect far more signatures than you need, then return completed petitions to the Board of Elections by the deadline. Then watch for challenges to signature validity from opponents. Having a lawyer present during petition review could help. If you have enough valid legible signatures, you’re on the ballot.

Knock on doors, say hello, kiss babies, voters and dogs, or just shake hands.  It’s sort of like trick-or-treating for grownups, and a great way to learn more about your community.

Participate in whatever public forums and demonstrations you prefer.  Send more press releases.

Someone may offer to host a party or benefit concert to pump your campaign. Have fun.

Report campaign expenses on the required dates.

Remember to vote and remind your supporters.

Time for another party.

Whether elected or rejected, congratulate your opponent.  Win or lose, you made news.  The world turns a little more your way. Connections you made become the grassroots base for  confronting unjust power while creating models of better paths. You’ve offered  leadership to find the people you want to follow.

Glover is founder of 18 organizations and campaigns dedicated to ecology and social justice. He served as campaign manager for four teenage candidates in 1999, one of whom won election to city council and all won double digit percentiles. He convened the Los Angeles Green Party in 1984. He was a Green Party primary candidate for U.S. president in 2004, and for governor of Pennsylvania in 2014. He is author of six books on grassroots power.