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The weeks after the 2016 election were some of the gravest, most sobering of my life. I felt paralyzed. But I quickly became morbidly curious, driven to understand why the minority of voters in our country commanded unilateral control of our government. What I learned about gerrymandering, voter suppression, and widespread civic disengagement catapulted me into a state of determination to do something, and Sister District was born. I was so passionate about taking action that I left my job and career to work at Sister District full time.
Predictably, the newly-minted Trump presidency brought extreme lows. The Muslim ban, the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch, the tax cut for the wealthy, the incessant stream of rigth-wing ideologue judicial appointments.
But the post-election era also brought unexpected highs. Thousands of people just like me were equally as horrified and equally determined to take action. Communities came together to speak up for the values of tolerance and truth. I met some of my closest friends through the shared goal of restoring democracy. The antidote to the unprecedented vitriol spewing out from the administration was community building and grassroots action.
Stephanie Hansen was running in a special election for the Delaware Senate on February 25, 2017. It was the first time we were able to test our model of shepherding volunteers and resources from across the country to a specific strategic race.
When Stephanie won, my glee was instant and contagious. A good day in a sea of bad ones. A sign that with hard work and persistence, little by little, maybe we could actually succeed. But our model would face a big test in the November 2017 elections, where 15 of our candidates were running.
On election day, one long and difficult year after Trump’s victory, I was in the Seattle area canvassing for our candidate, Manka Dhingra. It was icy cold and pitch dark when I turned in my last packet. I got in the car to drive back into town to wait for the results, and it started pouring rain.
As I sat at a stoplight, I saw my phone light up. We had set up a process for people to get text alerts whenever the results of one of our elections was called. As I glanced at the text, I saw that we had won our first race. And then suddenly, the phone started buzzing non-stop.
I was overcome. I started sobbing uncontrollably, making it almost impossible to see the road ahead of me between the tears and the rain. And I felt something I realized that I had not felt in an entire year: hope.
We are now three election cycles in. Our Sister District community has donated over $1.8 million to our candidates, and volunteers have made over 1.5 million voter contacts. I can barely believe it, but we find ourselves again in a presidential election year. The stakes have never been this high, especially for state races.
I know that we’re all exhausted. This president and his associates have pushed us, pulled us, and absolutely overwhelmed us with their incompetence, corruption, and cruelty. This reality is something we never thought possible in the United States, but we are living it, every day, and have been for three years now. So I know we are tired, but now is not the time to wind down, it is time to ramp up and give it literally everything we have. This. Is. It.
As you plan your year and determine what kind of civic engagement you will undertake, remember that this is the year where states matter most. 2020 is a census year, which means that the people we elect to state legislatures in November will be the ones in power during the next districting cycle; they will draw the voting district maps for the next decade.
There are still 35 states where the legislature controls redistricting. And the power of districting is sometimes the only power that matters. For example, Austin, Texas, the most progressive city in a red state, is cracked into 5 different congressional districts. Only one of them is represented by a Democrat. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University, the largest public HBUC in the country, is split into two congressional districts, both of which are represented by white Republican men. The examples of politicians manipulating elections for their benefit are endless.
Since the last redistricting cycle, Republicans have repeatedly taken a disproportionate amount of power in state houses and Congress because they have rigged the system to ensure that politicians can choose their voters instead of the other way around. To add insult to injury, this summer, the Supreme Court disingenuously held that political gerrymandering is permissible. The only way to change this and bring balance back to representation is to win elections in the states.
With this in mind, Sister District’s 2020 political strategy is laser focused on winning the most races that will have the greatest impact for Democrats in the states. We are between 2-4 seats away from flipping a chamber in Minnesota, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. We have a fragile majority to defend in Colorado and Delaware. And we are going to fight tooth and nail to make valuable inroads into Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and Texas. These are not going to be easy races, but after 3 election cycles, we know we can move the needle.
We have had some great successes. But right now, none of that matters. All that matters is what we can do over the next 344 days. It is no longer a marathon, it is a sprint. And we need everyone to carry the baton and help get us over the finish line.
-Rita Bosworth, Executive Director of Sister District