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    Dems, It’s Time to Wear Out Our Soles

    By Peter Gallotta–

    Have you ever experienced that unsettling moment when you’ve looked in the mirror and, for whatever reason, you just don’t recognize yourself? That’s pretty much how it feels to live in America right now.

    We are living in the “upside down” straight out of the show Stranger Things on Netflix. A complete alternate universe where everything that once seemed normal and assumed—a free press, due process, patriotism—has been replaced with “fake news,” detention centers for 2-year-olds and treason. American democracy has become the latest victim of another bad Trump deal.

    And as a Democrat, I have to ask if we’re doing enough to stop this. Sure, we’re all waiting for Robert Mueller’s investigation to reveal the collusion that seems all too probable. But in the end, that may fall short of reaching the President himself. We’ve taken to the streets and protested outside of ICE offices after the Trump administration viciously started separating immigrant families at the border. Democratic leaders and activists continue to call out Trump officials in public and on Twitter. (I’m with you, Maxine Waters!) But what we really need to do is to find the stop button. Like, now.

    But unlike this President, we respect process and fair, democratic elections. So, while our tools are powerful, they are limited and time bound. We must look to the midterm elections this November, our first opportunity to put a real stop to this madness by taking back the House and the Senate. The question is, can we do it? And what will it take?

    If there’s anything we’ve learned, it is to expect the unexpected. In June, a 28-year-old Latinx Democratic Socialist named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a primary election in New York City against Joe Crowley, a ten-term Congressman considered a potential candidate for Speaker of the House. Ocasio-Cortez ran a low budget campaign against an incumbent she argued was out of touch. She was outspent 18–1. In an interview, she credited talking issues of economic and racial justice—not Trump—for her upset win, along with engaging lapsed and first-time voters, a strategy most political consultants would not advise.

    Since this was a race between two Democrats in a big blue city like New York, some argue there’s not much that’s replicable here. But I disagree. I hope someone from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has been taking notes because the lesson from Ocasio-Cortez is clear: many voters perceive Democratic establishment candidates as out of touch, and voters respond to authentic leaders with an explicit agenda, not just running on your standard rhetoric and platitudes. “Any old blue just won’t do,” to echo the words of Nina Turner, president of Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution.

    That may be true here in California, too. Earlier this month, the California Democratic Party did not endorse incumbent U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein but instead her progressive opponent, California State Senator Kevin de Leon. Even if the California Democratic Party’s endorsement of de Leon is more symbolic than a game changer (Feinstein is still considered the frontrunner), the message it sends is one worth heeding: it’s time for a change.

    But even if we don’t send a new Democratic Senator to Washington, California is well-positioned to send more Democrats to the House. Seven of them, in fact. After the primary election in June, all seven of these so-called “swing” districts have a Democrat going up against a Republican.

    While the election returns showed more votes cast for Republicans than for Democrats, that could change come November. That’s because Democratic turnout tends to be lower in midterm primaries and higher in general elections. Plus, midterm races are often a referendum on the party in power in Washington, which means Republicans will be playing defense. And with most Republican candidates silent in the wake of Trump’s meeting with Putin in what looked to be a public act of treason, there may be even more wind in the sails of Democrats in the weeks and months ahead.

    As with every election, it will come down to organizing, messaging, and turnout. If the Ocasio-Cortez win serves as a model in these races, it means that we have to get the messaging right and talk not just about what we are against, but what we are for. We also need to organize, organize, organize and to talk to everyone—not just those most likely to vote. A few weeks after her victory, Ocasio-Cortez posted a photo on Twitter of the shoes that she wore while campaigning. The soles were worn and threadbare. Between voter registration drives and canvassing, Democrats have their work cut out for them. We have to walk our talk.

    In the next few months, I’ll be heading down to Modesto (Congressional District 10 is one of the districts we can flip) to knock on lots of doors and to talk to voters. Maybe they’ll be Democrats, maybe they’ll be Republicans, maybe they’ll have never voted before. But they need to hear from fellow Californians. They need to see an alternative vision for this country that lifts them—and all of us—up. That’s how we turn around the upside down.
    Who wants to join me?

    Peter Gallotta is a 30-something LGBT political activist holding on to the city that he loves thanks to rent control and two-for-one happy hour specials. He is a former President of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club and currently serves as an appointed member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and an elected delegate to the California Democratic Party.