If you have been working on building a coalition of groups to pressure your House representative into supporting the new Medicare for All Act of 2019, and escalating pressure on that representative through targeted canvassing work and other mass tactics, your chapter will be in a good position to transition this coalition into DSA’s work to elect Bernie Sanders for President in 2020. Electing Bernie Sanders represents the best way not only in which we can bring class struggle politics to millions of people, but also in which we can win Medicare for All.
Other “progressive” candidates have supported Medicare for All in order to appeal to a left base, but they also support much more moderate legislation, with a wink and a nod to the insurance companies. Only Bernie Sanders has consistently maintained the kind of independence from monied interests necessary to pass a transformative reform like Medicare for All.
For the first time in a long while, we have two excellent pieces of Medicare for All legislation in H.R. 1384 and S. 1129, as well as a wide range of politicians who are willing to support them. In order to get us over the hump, we need a wave of socialist and progressive victories in 2020, none more important than a Sanders presidency. It is this message that we should bring to our Medicare for All coalitions, loud and clear: the only way to win Medicare for All is to elect Bernie Sanders and other candidates who will champion the transformative politics we’re demanding. But our work doesn’t end there, because we know we are working to build a mass movement that will hold our candidates accountable and continue fighting for Medicare for All well beyond election day.
The first step to transitioning your Medicare for All campaigns into Bernie 2020 campaigns is to come up with a campaign plan. A campaign plan is a way for your chapter to work together to map out what your work for Bernie Sanders will look like, how it will relate to your Medicare for All work, and how it fits alongside other chapter priorities.
A good campaign plan might include sections addressing the following questions and topics:
- Campaign Goals: A campaign like this will be a sustained and complicated effort—so it’s important to set clear political goals for it that can help guide the work and inform a range of decisions you’ll make along the way. Think carefully about what you want to achieve as an organization—and think beyond simply winning an election (though that is an excellent goal!). Goals could include anything from “Spread Class Consciousness in our Area” to “Strengthen our Coalitions with Labor and Community Organizations”. Deciding upon these goals collectively with your chapter and campaign team will help you make key decisions about everything from where to focus your canvassing efforts, to how to work in coalition, to how to craft your messaging.
- Coalition Work: Who do you want to work with in coalition? How do you want to define the parameters of this coalition? What should you expect from partners in this coalition? And who in your chapter is going to bottomline the work of building and maintaining this coalition? See section 1 of this organizing guide for more information about coalition building. You may also look for YDSA chapters at local colleges and universities to partner with. YDSA voted to make Bernie 2020 one of their top organizational priorities at their 2019 Convention, so many chapters are already engaged in campus organizing for 2020 and would be excited to partner with DSA chapters and OCs.
Affecting the Election: What is the best way for your campaign and/or coalition to get Bernie votes and delegates? Some analysis of the nature of your state’s primary would help here (Is it a winner take all primary? Presidential preference? If the latter, how many 2016 primary votes would have needed to be moved in order to gain an additional delegate for Sanders? When is the primary and how should that affect your timeline?). If you have 2016 primary data, you might want to look to see where Bernie did well and focus your field operations on those neighborhoods.
- Remember that the 2020 primary field is going to be much more crowded than the 2016 field. Our work is going to matter that much more.
- Compliance: DSA’s National Electoral Committee can help you with compliance with campaign financing requirements. Anything you spend on electoral work (materials, food/water, etc.), including in-kind donations, needs to be documented and reported. Be sure you are working carefully with your treasurer and any other relevant leaders to manage and document campaign expenditures. Contact [email protected] for more info.
- Responsibility: How do you want to run your campaign? Should it be a chapter-wide responsibility, or do you want to delegate work to a Bernie 2020 committee? What does membership on this committee look like? Who is going to be responsible for communications, for canvassing/tabling, for organizing town halls, etc.? Deciding ahead of time what roles need to be filled and who is going to fill them will save you headaches down the line.
- Down Ballot Races: Bernie’s 2020 run allows a unique opportunity to pair a highly visible and popular democratic socialist presidential candidate with progressive and socialist candidates at all levels of office. And if your chapter is running the campaign, you can explicitly tie your local candidates and ballot measures to Sanders in your materials and raps.
- Timeline: Door-to-door and crowd canvassing for the Democratic primary should probably kick off in earnest around October, and get out the vote work should commence in February 2020. Ultimately, though, your timeline will vary depending on factors like the date of your state’s primary and the capacity of your chapter and/or coalition—but the earlier you start, the better chance you will have at building a strong campaign, recruiting new activists to your chapter, and influencing the primaries.
One key element of any successful electoral campaign will be a field program, which organizes all activities that involve direct voter contact and conversations. This could mean an array of canvasses (both door-to-door and crowd canvasses), phone and text banking, public events like town halls, and more.
Building a successful field program will flow from clear answers to central strategic questions—how many votes are you trying to win? For which candidates, in which areas? How will your field operations support your campaign goals, such as coalition-building or growing leaders in your chapter?
In our original Medicare for All organizing guide, we reviewed the basics of putting together a “knock every door” canvass for Medicare for All. Many DSA chapters and OCs have now put that organizing capacity toward Pressure Campaigns that have used a range of tactics to move House reps to sign onto H.R. 1384. These campaigns all lay strong foundations for building successful field programs that combine a range of tactics to reach voters directly with socialist messaging and convince them to take action at the ballot box and as volunteers.
Your field program might include the follow tactics:
- Door-to-Door Canvassing: Our original Medicare for All Organizing Guide included section 3 on how to run a “knock every door”-style canvassing operation. Especially in the early months of the 2020 electoral cycle, big “knock every door” canvasses are great ways to recruit people to your campaign and chapter. Your “Ask” at the end of the rap can simply be to support Bernie Sanders for President and join DSA in fighting to elect him. If you do a “knock every door” canvass, be sure to bring voter registration forms too! When the Democratic primary really starts to heat up, however, it’s time to turn to persuasion door-to-door and street canvasses, and to help with this, DSA has electoral tools that your chapter can use to target particular voters, so as to maximize your canvassing efficacy.
- Using Voter Data: While “knock every door” canvasses don’t require voter data, you may consider using voter data to help guide your canvassing operation. Depending where you want to canvass (certain districts and precincts) and who you want to canvass (particular demographics and party affiliations), you could use access to the VAN network to help shape your canvassing operation and select the most strategic areas and doors to target.
- Crowd Canvassing: Where door-to-door canvassing allows you be more targeted in your voter contact and have more in-depth conversations, crowd canvassing can be an effective tactic for reaching a mass audience. It is especially useful as you approach election day and more people are paying attention to the election. It also takes very few people—even two or three volunteers at a big event, farmer’s market, or by a public transit station can pass out hundreds of fliers and have dozens of conversations in just a two-hour shift. Consider researching different locations that might be good for such canvasses, and when you might have the most success stationing crowd canvassers (rush hour is ideal for public transit).
- Voter Registration: Depending on your area and field strategy, you might consider incorporating a voter registration drive into your field operation. This could be part of your “knock every door” canvasses, a tabling operation at public events, or a collaborative project with YDSA to run voter registration on campus.
- Phone and Text Banking: While face-to-face canvassing is proven to be the highest-impact voter contact, phone banking and text banking can be great tools to expand the reach of your field operations. You can use systems like CallHub or Hustle to build effective operations that will enable you to reach voters where you might not be able to canvass, or to follow up with your voter contacts during your push to “Get Out the Vote” just before election day.
- Town Halls: Something that DSA can offer to the Sanders campaign that other organizations cannot is our willingness to champion clearly the revolutionary political agenda that Sanders is campaigning on. Planning public-facing town hall events during the primary season will be an important form of political education during the 2020 race, representing an opportunity to communicate directly to voters about our politics, and engage a mass constituency. See section 4 of our original Organizing Guide for more specific information on how to plan out a town hall event. Good topics to host town halls on might include Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, College for All, Sanders’s program for racial justice, or his fight against income inequality and for a strong labor movement.
While direct voter contact through a field program is key to building a successful campaign, a strong Communications Program is critical to expanding the reach of your campaign and spreading your message and democratic socialist politics to thousands more people than you will be able to reach face-to-face.
Today, more than ever, we have the capacity to build independent communications programs for our DSA campaigns that reach thousands of voters, deliver class-conscious political messaging, and change the tenor of the races we’re campaigning in.
Developing a team or subcommittee to build a strong communications program will redound to your campaign’s benefit, and will also produce critical infrastructure and build a mass audience for your DSA chapter or OC in the long run.
Your communications program might include the follow components:
- Political Messaging: Consistency in messaging is key to coordinating across your campaign’s field and communications operations. You’ll want to decide on consistent slogans, talking points, and campaign themes. These messaging elements are most effective when they extend across your canvassing raps, literature, social media, press releases, and more. When crafting this messaging, consider what kind of politics you want to highlight—are there key issues in the race? Are there ways of foregrounding a socialist analysis of those issues? What do you want to make the race “about”—people vs. money, fighting Trumpism, etc.? You can also codify this messaging by developing tools like social media kits that collate the relevant talking points, hashtags, and themes you want to weave throughout your messaging.
- Social Media: You may want to designate a team to manage your chapter’s social media feeds (or to make new feeds as necessary)—having a dedicated team to post content, links, graphics, memes, and photos from the campaign to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more will be key to expanding your campaign’s reach and getting local DSA members and other activists excited about the work you’re doing. You may also consider creating and moderating Facebook groups for your region (see if “[Your State] for Bernie 2020” is still available!) where you can share posts, promote events, and recruit activists from all over your area who might be interested in a DSA for Bernie Campaign.
- Traditional Press: Your communications team can also pursue avenues for placing articles and op-eds with traditional media sources. If there are papers or alt-weeklies in your area, you might consider writing and submitting op-eds in favor of Sanders or other DSA-endorsed candidates. You can also build a list of press contacts and submit press releases to them related to any big events or announcements in your campaign.
- Opposition Research: Especially if you are engaged in down-ballot races, you may want to consider dedicating some of your communications team to doing opposition research on your local opponents. With some research on sites like OpenSecrets, you can easily find information about where your opponent’s campaign contributions have come from. DSA chapters and their coalition partners have produced agitational websites to highlight the corporate interests and affiliations of establishment and machine politicians running against democratic socialist candidates. Examples include BuffyWicks.money in California’s 15th Assembly District and DebMell.money for the Aldermanic race in Chicago’s 33rd Ward. Consider ways you might be able to highlight issues of corporate interests in your communications, whether it’s a full website or simply messaging highlighting your opponent’s ties to a capitalist donor class.
One of the greatest ways in which DSA and our Medicare for All campaign stand to benefit from Bernie 2020 work is sustained growth in membership. DSA gained thousands of activists over the course of its 2016 Bernie campaign, which primed it to become the mass organization we are today. 2020 offers a similar opportunity, albeit at a much larger scale—if we do our job right, we should expect our chapters to grow significantly as millions more people around the country learn about democratic socialism through the Sanders 2020 campaign.
A key task for our organization, then, is both retaining these new members and developing them into effective socialist organizers and leaders in our chapters and OCs. We know that whatever comes in 2020—a Sanders Presidency or not—we will need a mass movement grounded in organizations like DSA to deliver on mass demands like Medicare for All. 2020 and the fight to elect Sanders is the beginning of our fight for socialist demands, far from the end.
As you build your campaign and begin launching your field and communications programs, consider how you can build leadership opportunities into everything you do. Your leadership development plan should take into account:
- Leadership Development Engines: Our original Organizing Guide included a section on “Organizing and Leadership Development” that described ways to carry out leadership development through the “Organizing Cycle” (making an “ask”, supporting the person, debriefing with them, and repeating with a more demanding ask). It also described ways to systematize leadership development by building “Leadership Development Engines”—systems built into campaigns that facilitate the development of as many leaders as possible. Think about how you might integrate such systems into every aspect of your campaign. Your field program, for instance, might include trainings where active canvassers learn how to run canvasses themselves. Such a program will create a pipeline that empowers and trains new leaders in your chapter and grows your chapters’ capacity over the campaign. In communications, you might recruit new members to help write social media posts, and the most committed ones might be good candidates to run the accounts themselves. Considering ways to integrate such Leadership Development Engines into your campaign will help you and your chapter grow over the course of these 2020 campaigns.
- Political Education: In addition to giving people new organizing skills through our 2020 campaigns, we want to make DSA a space where activists new to socialist politics can begin learning more about democratic socialism. Consider ways to integrate political education into your campaign in such a way that it will help new members and volunteers see the value of DSA as a place to learn about democratic socialist politics. This could be anything from hosting a series of town halls to simply integrating brief political discussions into campaign meetings to talk about how Sanders and his platform (like Medicare for All) can support a broader socialist movement.