Many people hate the word “politics.” They equate it with corruption, greed and the consolidation of unchecked power. And the U.S. Presidential race only magnifies these feelings and perceptions.
Our sitting President, Donald Trump, has proven himself a master at lowering public conversation into the gutter, and below. His rhetoric, stunts, and now potential crimes only cause more voters to say “I told you so” and tune out of politics entirely.
But what if politics, and the race for President in particular, could inspire us, and be a source for meaning? Or even joy? That’s what People’s Action wants, so we have designed our process to endorse a candidate for U.S. President with this in mind.
Every day at People’s Action, we fight to maximize the participation of everyday people in the political process. That’s because we believe you belong at the center of the decisions that affect your lives. So we are now applying this radical zeal for people-centered politics in our own endorsement process by placing the maximum amount of power with our own grassroots leaders, from across our million-strong network of member-driven groups.
Since last spring, grassroots leaders from across the People’s Action network have been meeting to discuss how we will make an endorsement for President. This grew out of our movement politics strategy, which has already elected more than a hundred grassroots leaders committed to co-governing with the communities they represent at every level of government.
The democratic body at the center of People’s Action is our Delegates Assembly, which is kind of like the United Nations or the U.S. Congress. Every one of our 48 member organizations in 38 states, from Los Angeles to Maine, selects two delegates to serve a three-year term on our Delegates Assembly.
One of each of these two Delegates is the Executive Director or a senior staff person of a member group, and the second is an unpaid volunteer, one of our grassroots member-leaders. Together, the Delegates make a number of major decisions for our organization: they elect our Board of Directors; they vote on major policy decisions, such as our commitment to support Improved Medicare for All, and it is they who will make a recommendation about who we believe is best suited to be the next President of the United States.
People’s Action’s greatest strength is our gorgeous diversity, and this is on full display in our Delegates Assembly. Where else in our nation’s political process can public-housing residents from New York City, student leaders from California and family farmers from Iowa deliberate together, practice core democratic and organizing skills, and get into deeper relationships? I promise you, you won’t find anything like this happening inside either of our national political parties.
At People’s Action’s national convention in Washington, D.C. this April, our Delegates Assembly ratified our People’s Platform 2020. We then crafted a questionnaire based on our platform’s principles, and shared it with presidential candidates.
Five candidates – Mayor Pete Buttegieg, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, and Senators Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, chose to respond to this questionnaire, and you can read their full responses to our questions on issues like housing, health care and racial justice here.
We also organized public, live-streamed People’s Presidential Forums with candidates in Iowa and Nevada, and smaller conversations with individual candidates in other states. While not a formal part of our endorsement process, many of our Delegates attended these meetings.
So Delegates have now seen how the candidates have shown up – or not – on the issues and values that matter most to us: that our economy should work for all of us, we are all connected, we can repair our history, and government should and can be for the common good.
The Presidential Forums, in particular, gave a chance for rank-and-file leaders from People’s Action organizations to have unscripted and real conversations with multiple Presidential candidates. Real people from our member groups – our leaders – were able to share their own stories of struggle and pain, engage the candidates as their own equals, and really pushed the candidates on some of their responses to our questions.
At the Forums, these true community leaders – Moms, Dads, workers, faith leaders, immigrants, asylum seekers and their allies, everyone – engaged with the candidates face-to-face, free of candidate stump speeches. They were incredible displays of people-centered politics.
How are Delegates feeling about the process so far? Based on their written feedback from the last Delegates Assembly video meeting, people are “inspired, “awed,” “proud,” and “appreciative.” Others said “everything takes longer than you expect, but process matters.”
Our Delegates debated for nearly three hours – which for our East Coast leaders lasted late into the night – which demonstrates the depth of their commitment to their organization, this endorsement process and our shared belief that we can work together to improve our communities’ lives.
In the coming weeks, the Delegates Assembly will meet again to discuss candidates. Any option for endorsement has to meet a high bar: two-thirds of our voting members have to agree. Community leaders from our member groups, especially in early-voting states like Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire, will continue interacting with the candidates and doing the hard, intensive work of debate and negotiation to reach a final decision.
People’s Action is trying to build the world as we want it to be. We practice radical democracy as we know it can be, and as we deserve it to be. The process will not be easy – no big, democratic decisions are, especially when we are trying to decide which leader can best initiate a progressive era and beat Trump.
And by practicing real democracy at People’s Action, we are breathing life back into daily practices of participation we know can be beautiful when they fully incorporate the lives, hopes and dreams of the people they represent. And when we do, we make meaning together, build and deepen relationships, and take collective ownership for our country.