Don’t walk, run. Run for public office. Do not view elected representatives as ‘they’, view them as YOU! If not you, then one of your friends.
Today January 17th is Occupy Congress thousands of people have converged on Washington DC to let Congress know that they are not properly representing us. The bulk of the demands of the Occupation require action by Congress. But to expect this bought and paid for Congress to represent us, is silly. We need to threaten their jobs. We need to put in candidates favorable to the issues of the 99%.
Many of our Representatives in Congress have grown fat and lazy, used to their power of position. They think that their warchests mean they can take all comers. Due to voter apathy, they are secure in knowing that an upstart challenger in a primary campaign is unlikely to pose a formidable threat. Lets show them that they are wrong.
It is a win/win situation for us. If our candidate wins, well then s/he wins and we have taken that seat in Congress. If our candidate loses, then we have demonstrated that we are a real constituency and candidates need to listen to us. If we do not run, then they will realize that we are a weak and ineffectual movement and they will write us off, the media will write us off, the American People, will write us off.
Too often voter engagement comes from ‘Get Out the Vote’ initiatives. Every year the Democratic party descends upon every community in which it has a party machine and works to get out the vote. This is the lowest form of participation. As a mere voter, you have relegated yourself to an end-user of the mainstream products that candidates have to offer you.
This is why I say, Get Out the Ballot. Balloting is the process whereby a candidate collects signatures in order to be on the ballot for an election. For the House of Representatives in New York State, you need 1250 valid signatures. Collecting signatures early on in a campaign that has little resources is difficult. Until you are actually on the ballot you are not a real candidate. It is important to know the differences between a valid ballot signature and an invalid one. There are many reasons to strike a signature off of the ballot. Maybe someone signs it who isn’t even a member of the party you are balloting for. Maybe it is illegible. Maybe there are reasons such as multi-colored ink on a line that indicate a forgery. So the reality is you really should shoot for five times as many as you require just to be sure. So for the House of Representatives you ideally want 6,250 signatures.
Like everything else in an election, balloting is a numbers game. Those candidates who have lots of money, they just hire people to carry the ballots. But a candidate with a group of dedicated volunteers can collect signatures too. Once you are on the ballot, you are taken seriously as a candidate and fundraising becomes easier. From the ballot flows everything.
In New York I would recommend trying to get on the ballot for one of the two major party primaries. Most sensibly: The Democratic Party; as there are many rank and file Democrats who support the Occupy Movement, who are members of the Occupy Movement, or at least care about the issues. One of the reasons for this is that we have what is known as ‘electoral fusion‘ in New York State. This means that you can run as a third party candidate while also being on the ballot for other parties. You may have noticed that sometimes the Democratic, Green and Working Families Party candidates are often the same. This is because of electoral fusion. There are many people in New York City who just vote Democrat down the line, so there are sensible reasons to want to fight in the Democratic primary.
Congress is the most vulnerable it’s ever been. The approval ratings for Congress have been dismal, and they have been dismal for quite some time. The debt-ceiling debates, TARP, NDAA, SOPA, PIPA, Congressional office budgets, you name it. The list of hits keeps on coming. We need to get these people out of office before our police state gets any worse. Standing outside chanting is insufficient, direct street action is insufficient, civil disobedience is insufficient.
Occupy represents nothing less than a new Civil Rights movement. It’s not about immigration, it’s not about the drug war, it’s not about our eroding civil liberties, it is not about Neo-Liberal/Conservative Imperialism. It is about all of those things. And during the Civil Rights movement people fought, and some even died to bring the right to vote to a larger portion of the population. Voting is important, and dare I say it, a sacred right and duty. We owe it to those who struggled for our freedom in the past to honor that struggle by using one of the most powerful tools we have in our arsenal.
The tactics of Occupation can be used successfully for a political campaign. I stress over and over that money doesn’t run elections, attention does. Money doesn’t buy votes, it buys attention. The Occupy movement is excellent at getting attention without much money. That will be our advantage.
There are some procedural issues that are relevant to Occupying the Ballot. One in particular, I would like to address here. The first person to get a ballot signature in a particular balloting season is the one who gets to keep that signature. So if your candidate gets that signature the first day of balloting and the incumbent gets that same person to sign on the fifth day, then only yours counts, that’s one more signature you have, and one less signature your opponent has. Incumbents are lazy about this process because they do not think that their candidacy will be challenged. They think they will automatically be on the ballot as an incumbent. But they have to get signatures too. Because of this laziness, they won’t be organized for a fight during the balloting period.
A flash mob out seeking ballots for a particular Congressional seat can do quite a bit. If on the very first day, your candidate’s volunteers collect 1250 signatures, then you’re in the running. If 500 people in a single day collect signatures, it is not inconceivable that you can achieve an average of 10 signatures per person in a single day, putting you at 5000 signatures on that very first day. If in the first week of balloting you collect your 5x spread, then you have reduced the efficacy of a ballot challenge.
If you are running against an incumbent, you can be almost certain that they will issue a ballot challenge. This is a common tactic that incumbents use to bankrupt grassroots campaigns. If you cannot afford the legal fight, then they can knock you off the ballot. This is why getting a lot of signatures is imprortant. If you have lots of signatures it increases your ability to raise funds to fight the ballot challenge because you can argue that you are a real contender and need help to fight the incumbent’s dirty politricks. A ballot challenge is a negotiation where you triage your signatures, you decide which ones you will fight for and which ones you will throw away. It makes sense to throw away the questionable ones, because if you get in front of the judge and have a high proportion of questionable signatures, he can rule against you and the judge’s ruling is final.
Any registered voter who is registered in the party that is balloting can issue a ballot challenge. I suggest that if you are reading this, but don’t feel like getting involved in a campaign, that you at least go down to your Board of Elections and initiate the process to challenge the incumbent in your district. This won’t bankrupt them, but it will require them to spend some money on the legal challenge. A political campaign is battle, and any resources that can be neutralized by sympathetic, but unaligned third parties will help reduce the advantage the incumbent has.
The balloting process is key. It is all-important. It demonstrates to the constituents of a districts that you are a real contender. It gets your candidate’s face and the campaign’s brand out into the streets where people can interact with you and get to know what you’re about. This can be a real advantage if you are going against an incumbent that spends more time at their residence in Georgetown than in Brooklyn and has done so for decades. The ability to put a field operation together tells potential donors, large and small that you are an investment worth considering. It also helps generate enthusiasm to grow your grassroots support.
Many people have spoken to me about the nature of the Occupy movement and how it might not be conducive to electoral politics. I’d like to address that. The Anarchist Vanguard of the Occupy Movement is not the end all and be all of the movement. They are dedicated folks, many of them are my good friends, but in my travels as part of this movement I have discovered a great many people who consider themselves part of the movement but who are not a part of that Vanguard. Certainly, many of those will vote. To those that will not, all I ask is that they focus their energies against incumbents and not against grassroots Occupy campaigns. Some of you will vote, or at least help participate in an electoral campaign for people you know. But despite being the most prolific, hardest working and most visible part of the Occupy movement, the anarchists are a tiny minority. I believe that overall the Occupy movement will vote, I believe it can affect elections, just as it has dominated the national political narrative for the last four months.
So many of the goals of the Occupy movement can be achieved in Congress, and in lower offices. Remember, no office is too small to be occupied. I myself am a member of the New York County Committee. Work and organize with everyone you can. Work with Unions, work with your local political clubs, work with everyone who wants to throw the bums out and restore the 99% to the halls of our Citizen’s Government.
Here are some resources for running for office in New York State.
New York State Board of Elections
Running for Office Brochure
New York Political Calendar
New York Election Law