Campaign Debrief

To all those blaming us Berniecrats for the devastating loss of Hillary as our next President, I want to talk about the last three months of my life.

I remember getting into Facebook arguments with a few very intelligent Hillary supporters (I wont name names) defending Bernie and his platform, and decided to go to the DNC in Philly to see the culmination of his campaign. This was after months of canvassing and phone banking for Bernie. At the DNC, I witnessed the harsh treatment of Berniecrats- a group that was boisterous, perhaps a little sophomoric, and definitely not willing participants- at the hands of Hillary delegates. I was viewed with disdain for wearing my "Inland Empire for Bernie" shirt; it was as if, despite having a Master's degree in Public Policy, I was an ill-informed ingrate. We were definitely not stronger together; we weren’t even together in Philadelphia. I never received a great argument for why I should support Hillary aside from "to defeat Trump". In a discussion with a Hillary delegate, I suggested- "do you know how you'll win us over? Talk about the Progressive platform". They rarely did over the last three months.

At the convention, Ana and I ran into a Missouri delegate named Kesha Duncan, a fierce (perhaps even ‘nasty’) African American woman who urged me to run for local office. Ana did the same, offering to be my campaign manager. At the convention, we joined a Green Party march with Cornell West; a protest with a group of Philly activists at the gates of the DNC; and another march soon after with Up to Us where we sang, held hands and had a group hug. I then witnessed Bernie turn all of his delegates over the Hillary. I was crushed, but determined.

About a week after returning from the East Coast, I found myself, on a whim, calling the Redlands City Clerk, Sam Irwin. We set up an appointment for Thursday morning; Friday was the deadline to register. In a little more than 24 hours, I needed to find 20 registered Redlands voters in 24 hours, write up a candidate statement, form a PAC, provide justification for my Transportation Planner ballot designation, and sign other forms. Oh- and I had to pay $1,218 of my own money (there was no campaign fund to loan to at that point) to have my statement printed in all 35,000 Redlands voters' ballots. I turned this all in around 4 PM Friday afternoon.

That work and monetary contribution was my initial investment to secure my spot on the most intense crash course on running a campaign I could have ever imagined. It wasn’t merely a baptism by fire, it was baptism by volcano. I learned from Sam that there were 9 candidates for 2 seats. The odds were crap and I didn’t even know how far I wanted to go with this thing.

I then started by inviting a group of a dozen or so folks over to to my apartment help with campaign strategy. A handful showed up. We talked about all the things we would need- a website, a Paypal, a bank account, flyers, signs, etc- it was a whirlwind and with less than 90 days to go until election day, extremely overwhelming. I enlisted the help of a few friends to work on graphics, another friend to help with managing our modest website. I promised to try to pay them back if I had funds left over in the end (I do).

One Sunday in late August, we had a critical training with a consultant from Oakland who works on political campaigns. We learned that day that we were about 4 months behind, $20,000 away from a legitimate campaign budget, and about to enter the most important month of canvassing. We needed a message and volunteers, and we needed them fast. Our consultant was able to help us with a campaign message that was just vague enough to be acceptable by a majority of residents while still speaking to the important issues facing the community.

Early on, we had a campaign kickoff at my apartment. About 30 people showed up, my mom made food, I gave a speech (where I almost cried). It was assumed that the folks invited would be key volunteers for the campaign. We were able to get some preliminary voter data for a section of the city from which we could start canvassing the following week. Then we started meeting with a lot of local groups, working on the campaign message, and interviewing for key endorsements. I knew that securing volunteers and endorsements was the key to the success of the campaign as I couldn’t do it all alone with a candidate and a campaign manager.

It was very rough to secure committed volunteers to the campaign. We had dozens of folks help out over the course of the campaign, for which we are truly grateful. Unfortunately, however, it was hard to sustain their willingness to help out more than once or twice (which is completely understandable, as we all have busy lives). We met with local Greens, local Progressives, and local Democrats. We met with local college student groups as well.

We met with the Abigail Medina campaign and knocked doors for her early on in Rancho Cucamonga to introduce the campaign to her volunteers. Several weeks later, we met with the campaign manager for Abigail’s campaign. He wanted to help us out, but his hands were tied as he couldn’t spend state campaign funds on providing data or have paid canvassers hand out our materials. This was completely understandable, of course, but we were still dismayed by this reality. With two big Assembly races locally that many of the friends we had made since we started canvassing for Bernie were working on, it often felt like a vacuum was sucking the air out of the room.

For many days on the campaign, I walked alone. I can’t tell you how many doors I knocked on or people I spoke to, but it was probably several thousand. Had our campaign operation been more sophisticated, we probably could have analyzed these data better and been more successful. Our door speech was simple: “I want to be your voice on City Council, what is important to you?” The most prominent answers included homelessness, public safety, water rate hikes, small town character, orange groves, and warehouses. People told me they were tired of the incumbents; we needed a change on Council (I’ll spoil the ending for you- we probably won't get a change on Council). Many stated that no one had ever knocked on their door before and they would vote for me simply because of that fact.

The biggest windfall in our campaign was when Eddie Tejeda and I were both endorsed by the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee. This ensured that our names would be printed on thousands of door hangers (photo attached) that would be mailed out to registered Democrats in the City. The Redlands Area Democratic Club was also supplied with 2,500 door hangers. Eddie and I decided to work as a team. We received the greatest amount of support from the Redlands Area Democrats; several of them, including Kristin Washington, Phil and Nony Cortney, and Frank Garcia would assist us regularly in our canvassing. Mark Westwood of the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee also helped out with inviting me onto KCAA a few times to discuss the campaign and the issues facing the City.

The best day of the campaign was the meet and greet that local Democrat and environmental powerhouse Dianne Landeros hosted. Eddie and I were introduced to the community and received a great deal of support and contributions. On this day, the campaign felt so real and legitimate. I was so proud to stand in front of that group with my mother, brother and sister-in-law in attendance. That night, we had a fighting chance.

This was followed by three important campaign forums over the next week and a half- League of Women Voters, Redlands Conservancy, and Chamber of Commerce. By then, I had a refined message and had done a lot of homework. I felt like I did a great job of discussing the issues and reflecting my own passion and voice. The response was pretty good, in my opinion.

After this, it was the final push. We began to get heavy support from local University of Redlands students from two groups, as they had not been brought on as paid staff for Abigail Medina. Due to our association with the Redlands Democrats, we were able to bring groups of volunteers to canvass for the California Democratic Party’s official local slate- Pete Aguilar, Abigail Medina, Eddie Tejeda, Dustin Foster. They also helped by booking us a booth at Redlands’ Thursday Market Night.

Towards the end of the campaign, the fatigue set in and it took more and more energy to go out there for several hours every day. I looked toward election day with excitement. Then last night happened.

I never would have expected Trump to win- no one did. But I guess it is one of those years (Brexit, Duterte in the Phillippines, Trump) where the politics of hate trumps the politics of love. I never was in love with Hillary, but after all of the hard work I put in with the local Democratic Party and all the help they had provided this cycle, I was looking forward to her as our President and to work with other Progressives to hold her to the policies outlined in the party platform.

To get back to the original point, please do not disparage Berniecrats for the loss. As a Berniecrat who felt snubbed at the DNC, I worked tirelessly for the past three months since trying to elect Democrats to public office. I supported her challenger in the Primary yet ended up sharing my name with hers on a door hanger that was distributed to thousands of people living in Redlands. I did exactly as Bernie tried to do- integrated myself into the Democratic Party in an effort to stimulate Progressive politics into the mix and win elections. I poured my heart and soul into this thing every day, despite the fact that I knew my chances were slim. Although the campaign may have been sloppy, poorly planned, and mismanaged, I have the confidence to say that I, a Bernicrat, have dedicated so much to the Democratic Party over the last three months.

I write this in tears knowing that the devastation and anger I have felt since Trump’s victory makes me realize how sincerely, in the end, I still wanted Hillary to win- despite all of her flaws. I am afraid for all of my friends and family members of color that may be targeted by the new administration; I have spoken with many over the past two days who are visibly frightened. I mourn for the planet, as we now have a climate change skeptic in line to lead the EPA (Myron Ebell) and will likely leave the UN Paris Agreement. We now have a Republican controlled Executive, Legislative, and soon-to-be Judiciary branch with a mandate to cut taxes for corporations and millionaires, repeal the Affordable Care Act (ending millions of Americans’ health care coverage), and cut welfare spending. We will likely enter another war as well, further indebting us.

Say what you want about the Democratic Party’s ties to corporations and fracking, but the truth of the matter is they are the preferable Party of the two. Unfortunately, their inability to modernize their operations and message to the Progressive movement has left them crippled. Case in point- in Assembly Districts 40 and 47, despite millions of dollars spent in mailers and negative attacks (which always hurts the liberal candidate) both of the Democratic Party endorses lost by a combined 8,000 votes. They were inefficient with campaign funds too- my campaign spent about $1/ vote; theirs probably spend about $300/vote.

My final message is to my fellow Berniecrats: after this defeat, the door is wide open. Many of the Democrats will be leaving politics for corporate jobs, or perhaps, bureaucratic work. It falls upon us to get out there and mobilize for 2018, 2020, and beyond. We need to educate all citizens, including Trump supporters. We need to stop with the politics of division, of discussions of sell-outs, without knowing all of the facts. As a Bernicrat, I have infiltrated the Party and found that many Democrats are actually good people. That’s actually the most simple thing I have learned this campaign cycle- on average, Republicans are angry, while Democrats are happy. Seriously. Most profound, however, is the response you can get when all you do is share your positive message for the community, keep it simple, and do it with a smile.

You just might get 2,500 people to vote for your campaign.