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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022

NPI at Netroots Nation 2022: Talking smart campaign strategies with Stephanie Taylor

Wel­come to the third install­ment of NPI at Net­roots Nation 2022, a spe­cial lim­it­ed pod­cast series record­ed live from the David L. Lawrence Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Pitts­burgh. NPI staff jour­neyed to Steel City this past week to par­tic­i­pate in the nation’s largest annu­al gath­er­ing of pro­gres­sive activists.

As part of our con­fer­ence cov­er­age, we’re bring­ing you a series of con­ver­sa­tions with key move­ment lead­ers and elect­ed officials.

In this install­ment of NPI@NN, we’re hon­ored to be joined by Stephanie Tay­lor, co-founder of the Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. Press play below to lis­ten to the audio, or read the tran­script below.


Read the transcript

(Note: this tran­script has been edit­ed light­ly for clarity) 

CAYA: Wel­come to NPI at Net­roots Nation 2022, a spe­cial lim­it­ed pod­cast series from the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, record­ed live from the David L. Lawrence Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Pitts­burgh, Penn­syl­va­nia! I’m your host, Caya Berndt. We’re so glad to have you with us. For this install­ment, we are excit­ed to be joined by Stephanie Tay­lor, the Co-Founder of The Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. Welcome!

STEPHANIE: Thank you so much.

CAYA: Stephanie, just to start us out, would you mind telling us a lit­tle bit about your­self, your orga­ni­za­tion, and what you do?

STEPHANIE: Absolute­ly. So, the Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, we have a mil­lion mem­bers nation­al­ly, and we sup­port can­di­dates who are run­ning for office. Our mantra is “change the world by chang­ing who holds power.”

We work with can­di­dates… mak­ing sure that they have every­thing they need to run a best-prac­tices cam­paign and win. So we do every­thing from fundrais­ing, to plug­ging in our mem­bers as vol­un­teers, to train­ings, to send­ing “Get Out the Vote” emails, to every­thing in between.

We actu­al­ly have tech­nol­o­gy that we’ve devel­oped, that’s a cam­paign in a box, that allows our can­di­dates to set up their own web­site, run their own email list, design their own direct mail…. basi­cal­ly mak­ing sure that these great activists who are run­ning for school board and state leg and city coun­cil can have a best-prac­tices cam­paign going from Day One.

So that’s very much the work of the Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Committee.

CAYA: That’s fan­tas­tic. Do you seek out can­di­dates, or are they more like­ly to come to you?

STEPHANIE: It’s a lit­tle of both. We also have done… Pre-pan­dem­ic, we used to have four hun­dred can­di­dates at a time that we would bring togeth­er for four-day boot camps where we’d even do things like design their logos, take their head­shots. We can’t wait to get those back to those boot camps!

CAYA: You know, the pan­dem­ic has changed a lot about… I think it’s changed a lot about how can­di­dates are run­ning their cam­paigns. Like, for exam­ple, old fash­ioned meth­ods like door­belling became more fraught for some peo­ple. How has the pan­dem­ic changed how you’re able to sup­port can­di­dates on the ballot?

STEPHANIE: That’s a great question.

I think that you’ve def­i­nite­ly seen a rise in more vir­tu­al cam­paign­ing, more folks who are try­ing to reach out and con­nect with vot­ers through social media, through Insta­gram Live and through Zoom calls, and things like that.

But I also think it’s changed the sub­stance of our pol­i­tics, not always for the best. Now, you’ve seen a real rise in the right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion sphere.

You’ve seen a huge rise in peo­ple being online all day and there­fore get­ting their pol­i­tics, and get­ting their polit­i­cal con­tent, through right wing memes and through a lot of the dis­in­for­ma­tion that’s circulating.

So I think that it’s been a two-edged sword that we’ve seen.

CAYA: It seems like you have to work — and with the Inter­net — work a lot faster to fig­ure out how to respond to some of those mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns. Has that been some­thing that you’ve found in your work?

STEPHANIE: Absolute­ly. I think that a lot of can­di­dates are now strug­gling to fig­ure out how they can respond in real time, how they can fight back against a lot of the lies that are being cir­cu­lat­ed around Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates and pro­gres­sive can­di­dates. One thing that works real­ly well is for can­di­dates who have very deep com­mu­ni­ty roots, where folks know them, they know their work, they know what they stand for.

We saw this with Sum­mer Lee, who ran in a dis­trict right here in Pitts­burgh, and she was run­ning against mil­lions of dol­lars in attack ad spend­ing that was being spent against her on tele­vi­sion! In the pri­ma­ry, they were lying about her, lying about her record, and in the end, she still won because peo­ple knew her here.

She had a long track record of doing great work for her com­mu­ni­ty. So at the end of the day, the attack ads don’t work because peo­ple know her.

CAYA: Right. And I think that one of the biggest things about mis­in­for­ma­tion, I mean, I feel like this has been a thing in the media in gen­er­al, and I feel like it’s got­ten worse over the pan­dem­ic, is the ero­sion of peo­ple’s trust. And so, memes and the Inter­net, they feed right into that, because it allows peo­ple to cher­ry-pick their own truths. So it sounds like that in-per­son con­tact is the great­est thing to break­ing down and rebuild­ing that trust again.

STEPHANIE: It def­i­nite­ly helps. We are in a real very hard time. As folks know in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, where you do have a real break­down in trust, you have a real break­down in how peo­ple are see­ing elect­ed offi­cials, period.

One of the things that we’ve been advo­cat­ing to our can­di­dates is that Democ­rats need to run and acknowl­edge that our insti­tu­tions are bro­ken. Right?

Peo­ple get that the sys­tem is rigged, our insti­tu­tions are bro­ken, and that we have cor­po­rate cap­ture of our democ­ra­cy. And so often, the estab­lish­ment Demo­c­ra­t­ic response is to sort of have this knee-jerk defense of our insti­tu­tions. And that’s what you see with the fil­i­buster debate right now, a lot of folks defend­ing the fil­i­buster because, “oh, it’s a norm, it’s our institution.”

Well, vot­ers get that insti­tu­tions are bro­ken. They don’t want you to defend the insti­tu­tion. And what you see with some of these insur­gent can­di­dates that I think have most cap­tured atten­tion and imag­i­na­tion and excite­ment this cycle, which you see with like, a Fet­ter­man, or a Man­dela Barnes, or Lucas Kunce – who unfor­tu­nate­ly did­n’t win his pri­ma­ry, but was a real­ly excit­ing, fan­tas­tic can­di­date in Mis­souri – are folks who get that you can’t run defend­ing the institution.

You actu­al­ly have to say: “the insti­tu­tion is bro­ken and I wan­na fix it. And I wan­na fight with you to fix it.” Because the Repub­li­cans are out there say­ing: The insti­tu­tions are bro­ken, I’m with you, let’s blow it all up.

And the answer to that can’t be to defend the institutions!

CAYA: No, that’s actu­al­ly a great point! I was just think­ing that was a huge part of Trump’s mobi­liza­tion. It was “let’s just shut it all down!” And any­body who actu­al­ly under­stands that we kind of do rely on some sort of sta­bil­i­ty says, No! Let’s not shut it down! Peo­ple are going to get hurt if you do that!

STEPHANIE: Right, right, no, exact­ly! And you can’t blow things up, but you do have to say, I get it. I get why you’re upset. I get that the sys­tem feels rigged because it is rigged. Right? And Trump absolute­ly tapped into that.

And you see indi­vid­ual Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates who are under­stand­ing how to respond to that, but I think there’s a lot to learn from the Democ­rats, for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty on the whole, on how to start speak­ing to this moment, and learn­ing, and under­stand­ing the depth of dis­trust that peo­ple have right now for our insti­tu­tions and our elect­ed bodies.

CAYA: How do you think that Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates can help bridge that gap?

STEPHANIE: Well, again, I think that they have to acknowl­edge that the sys­tem’s bro­ken. I think that they have to be will­ing to offer real plans. So, I live in cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia, and I talk to a lot of Repub­li­cans. I have Repub­li­cans in my life. I have, you know, I talk to a lot of rel­a­tives who are Repub­li­cans. And what I hear from them, over and over… they will agree with me on the issues.

They agree we should ban assault weapons.

They agree abor­tion should be legal.

They agree the min­i­mum wage should be higher.

They agree that we should be spend­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in good union jobs and build­ing green ener­gy. They agree with all of that. We agree, but where we break down is they say they just don’t trust any­body now.

And they say, “well, show me the plan. What’s the plan to make… to fix this very bro­ken sys­tem that we have, and make life bet­ter for me and the peo­ple that I care about? What is the plan? What are you doing to take on the cor­po­ra­tions? Tell me specif­i­cal­ly what you are doing.” And I keep hear­ing that over and over and over from the peo­ple that I talk to.

CAYA: That’s real­ly good insight. I think peo­ple are tired of hear­ing what they think is lip ser­vice. They want action that they can fol­low. And I think with that comes get­ting peo­ple engaged and will­ing to vote.

I know that there a lot of peo­ple who are strug­gling to remain engaged. I’ve heard dif­fer­ent datasets say­ing that younger peo­ple are less like­ly to vote, younger peo­ple are more like­ly to vote… What do you think a com­mon through line has been regard­ing get­ting peo­ple to remain engaged to vote?

STEPHANIE: I think show­ing peo­ple and telling peo­ple exact­ly what you’re going to do [is key]. And we saw this, I think it was very smart, fol­low­ing the Dobbs deci­sion from espe­cial­ly Eliz­a­beth War­ren and Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, say­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic mes­sage needs to be: Give us two more sen­a­tors and we will cod­i­fy abor­tion rights into law.

That is a plan. Peo­ple want the plan. They want the specifics. So you can’t just say “Vote Blue in 2022.” You have to actu­al­ly explain to peo­ple: Here’s the plan. Here’s what we’re gonna do with pow­er. Here’s how we’re gonna make this bet­ter and rec­ti­fy the injus­tices that are cur­rent­ly hap­pen­ing in your life.

CAYA: I kind of wan­na turn things over to you. I’m inter­est­ed to know, what were some of your own per­son­al expe­ri­ences, or what that drew you into this land of work?

STEPHANIE: I was orig­i­nal­ly a union organizer.

CAYA: Real­ly?

STEPHANIE: Yeah. My mom was a long time union activist. I’m a third gen­er­a­tion union activist. My grand­ma was an orga­niz­er for the Team­sters when she worked food assem­bly. After I grad­u­at­ed col­lege, I became a union orga­niz­er in the SEIU 1199, West Vir­ginia, Ken­tucky, Ohio. I did orga­niz­ing in Appalachia, orga­niz­ing health­care and Head Start work­ers… and I had an epiphany.

One day, I was dri­ving back to my hotel after a vote count, and we had won a hard-fought Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board vote count by three votes. After four months of blood, sweat, and tears…and I was lis­ten­ing to the radio and a sto­ry came on. This was back in, it must have been 2003, 2004, some­where in there… a sto­ry came on the radio that George W. Bush had just signed the exec­u­tive order, strip­ping col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights from 17,000 TSA screeners.

And I real­ized, I could spend the rest of my life doing what I’m doing, adding work­ers to the union, fifty work­ers at a time, orga­niz­ing shop by shop, and I can nev­er undo what he just did with the stroke of a pen.

And it just was this real “Road to Dam­as­cus” moment for me, where I real­ized that every­thing that we work on and every­thing that we fight for, we need to be look­ing at who holds the pow­er and who makes the laws.

That’s who we need to orga­nize. That’s what we need to change. So I had this vision of orga­niz­ing Con­gress the way I orga­nize a nurs­ing home: mak­ing sure that you’ve got your sup­port­ers in there, fig­ur­ing out how you get them to vote the right way on the issues. That’ll make life bet­ter for all of us.

That’ll make it pos­si­ble for us to add mil­lions of work­ers back into the union and rebuild the labor move­ment, make it pos­si­ble for us to save the plan­et, and take rad­i­cal action, and climate.

So I moved to Wash­ing­ton, D.C. with two suit­cas­es and spent the next few years just learn­ing D.C., learn­ing pow­er, learn­ing how it oper­ates. Some­where along the way I met Adam Green, my co-founder, and we start­ed the Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee with this idea that we were gonna change the world by chang­ing who holds pow­er, and try to tack­le change from that angle.

CAYA: Thank you for shar­ing that! Just a cou­ple more ques­tions before we wrap up. You know, we just had our pri­maries, and there’s been a lot of con­cern that we were going to see a big back­slide in blue can­di­dates, that peo­ple are going to turn around and vote red. But in coun­ty after coun­ty, state after state, it’s turn­ing out that actu­al­ly, no, that’s not the case. There’s actu­al­ly been a lot more blue wins than we were antic­i­pat­ing, which is great news.

The ques­tion, then is: what do pro­gres­sive and Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates need to do in order to main­tain that momen­tum into 2024?

STEPHANIE: I think we are see­ing some good momen­tum. I think peo­ple are real­ly angry about, espe­cial­ly, the attack on abor­tion rights. Peo­ple are very wor­ried about democ­ra­cy itself. And I think that again, we need can­di­dates who are out there, say­ing force­ful­ly, I will fight for change, and I will do these spe­cif­ic things to pro­tect our fun­da­men­tal rights. I will fight to expand the Supreme Court to get rid of the fil­i­buster, I will fight to make sure that our elec­tions mat­ter and count, and I will fight to cod­i­fy abor­tion rights. I will fight for rad­i­cal action on cli­mate. I will fight for labor rights and the Pro Act.

I mean, we wan­na see peo­ple who are out there actu­al­ly say­ing… again, I’m kind of a bro­ken record on this, but I keep com­ing back to it: the insti­tu­tions are bro­ken, it’s not work­ing. Who’s got the plan to do some­thing about it?

CAYA: No, that’s… I mean, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Same thing. If it’s a good mes­sage, if it’s a good strat­e­gy, it does bear repeat­ing because it’s some­thing that I think that we often for­get, espe­cial­ly as we try to make com­pro­mis­es in order to get our mes­sage across. One final ques­tion for you, this is kind of a strange one to end on a brighter note. Some­thing I like ask­ing every­body is: in these uncer­tain and some­times fright­en­ing times, what has been bring­ing you joy lately?

STEPHANIE: Oh, well, I’m here at the con­fer­ence with my five year old daughter.

CAYA: Who is very adorable.

STEPHANIE: Eleanor. She says she’s run­ning for may­or when she grows up.

CAYA: Yeah, she is!

STEPHANIE: And you know, it’s the future. It’s the next gen­er­a­tion and try­ing to plant those seeds so that the work can continue.

CAYA: Thank you very much. That was Stephanie Tay­lor, co-founder of the Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee! I will drop the web­site and their infor­ma­tion in our post on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate. Tune in next time for our next install­ment of NPI at Net­roots 22! For NPI I’m Caya Berndt.

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