Anna Callahan is an organizer with infectious energy and an unceasing desire to act. The Berkeley resident was so motivated by Bernie Sanders’s presidential run in 2016 that she quit her job and volunteered for the campaign full-time. Since the campaign ended, she got a tattoo of Sanders’s iconic hair and glasses and has continued to fight for his agenda — this time from the bottom up.
Callahan, who is speaking about this approach at the Democracy Convention this week, recently co-founded a new group called the “Incorruptibles,” which aims to build a progressive base in cities and towns across the nation to help run candidates for local offices: in state houses, city councils, planning commissions, select boards and more. “There is only one Bernie Sanders,” she told Truthout. “Our goal is to create thousands of Bernie Sanders and fill all levels of government with incorruptible service leaders who represent the needs of the 99 percent.”
The Incorruptibles, which hopes to focus on base building in local chapters so there is a permanent infrastructure of support for candidates in each area, is just one of many organizations that have sprung up since the Sanders campaign to embrace the “down-ticket strategy.” The idea is that by starting off with local offices, over time a generation of like-minded politicians who seek to fight for the people, instead of for the ownership class, will emerge up the ballot as well.
“We think that by putting progressives at the bottom of the ticket, and training and organizing a strong base of support, over time it can have a positive impact up the ticket,” said Callahan, director of the Incorruptibles. “As we organize and train activists, we will win with more frequency.”
The most recognizable organization of this kind is probably Our Revolution, launched by Sanders himself in August 2016. Our Revolution has already endorsed 16 victorious candidates for a variety of elections at the local level in 2017. Other groups that have formed since the Sanders campaign include Brand New Congress (BNC) and Justice Democrats, which are allied in their efforts “to recruit and run dozens of outstanding candidates in a single, national campaign for Congress in 2018.” Another organization, #WeWillReplaceYou, is specifically targeting corporate Democrats. It asks supporters to take the “primary pledge” and help challenge Democrats who are not steadfast in their opposition to Trump and the regressive GOP agenda. Some of these groups, like the Incorruptibles, have local chapters. There are also independent local groups and citizens who emphasize the down-ticket strategy in their regions.
In addition to trying to build a progressive majority in the future, such actions can have short-term benefits in efforts to curb the Republicans’ record domination of state legislatures across the country: Republicans now control 68 of 99 legislative bodies (and both chambers in 31 states). This has generated excitement from mainstream Democratic Party organizations focused on the state level, which have praised the influx of progressive electoral energy.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) “is excited to see a renewed focus on down-ballot races from Democrats and progressives … this focus and energy is finding form in groups newly active in the state legislative space,” said Jessica Post of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “DLCC is pleased to welcome these groups as new weapons in our arsenal … in our fight to flip state legislatures and build Democratic power in states.”