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.
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.