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LA Special Election 2019 — The Power of Movement Politics on Display

How two local grassroots organizations worked together to demonstrate the power of knocking on doors.

Last year when the sitting Councilmember for Los Angeles City Council District 12 abruptly resigned, a City Hall insider predicted to me that there would be a crowded field in the special election, but that the winner would be a “slightly left-of-Center Dem.” He had a short list of congressional and legislative staffers who he thought might jump in and win. If you think like a City Hall insider, that prediction makes sense. It’s probably a good approximation of where the district, as a whole, is at politically.

The special election on Tuesday June 4 shattered that insider’s prediction. John Lee, every so slightly in first place at the time of writing this, is the former Councilmember’s chief of staff, a Republican, and the candidate following the same tired playbook that’s been used in this City for decades.

The second-place candidate, currently behind by about 50 votes (out of 32,317 votes cast) is Loraine Lundquist, a true progressive who is accountable to the grassroots movement for environmental and housing justice in the district, and somebody very much not using the same old playbook.

Ground Game- Los Angeles and Food & Water Action members decided right when this seat opened up that we wanted to explode expectations and bring a new kind of Movement Politics to the Northwest Valley. We had been working with the community for years to close Aliso Canyon and had built a base of voters for Katie Hill in Porter Ranch. It was time to take our power building to the next level and win a City Council seat.

We built up a network of progressive allies and laid out our vision for how we could shake things up. We did a massive voter education push to inform people about the special election to try to drive up turnout. We hosted the definitive candidate forum and framed the election around our issues of environmental and housing justice (none of the typical LA City questions about parking and getting more police on the street).

We decided to endorse Loraine because she best-reflected what we hope is the future of local politics in LA — real people from our base with experience working on our issues with us, and it’s who our members were most excited to put in hard work for.

We then put our boots squarely on the ground, and knocked on 10,749 doors and identified nearly 1,000 people to vote for Loraine, and in the process turned the most conservative council seat into potentially one of the most progressive (stay tuned for August runoff results).

This special election is the best way to illustrate what we do:

We work on issues that deeply impact people and that people care about, and we pursue policy solutions that would make the world more just if we enacted them (Aliso Canyon and getting supportive housing built).

We develop community leaders from the grassroots to lead those campaigns, and from that base we encourage people to think about their own political leadership, and if they’d want to compete for governing power by running for office (people like Loraine).

We always put our platform before personalities and campaign in such a way that the win belongs to the whole base, and that we advance candidates who are part of and accountable to our base, not to fundraisers or corporate donors or political parties.

Finally, we know that we can’t win the way insider candidates win. As one of our members has been constantly saying, “Face to face or you lose the race.” There’s a reason we named our political organization “Ground Game.” We know that lawn signs and billboards and mailers don’t vote — people vote.

If you can knock on 10,000 doors and drop literature about your grassroots program (first) and your endorsement (second), and talk to 2,000 of those voters, and get 1,000 of them to explicitly commit to supporting your candidate, and get some of them to donate and volunteer, in a special election where about 30k people vote, you can change who gets first and second place, which determines who gets into the runoff. You can make sure that voters in the general election have a clear choice between a conservative insider and a bold progressive, instead of two boring, demoralizing choices that are basically the same bad flavor.

“Politics,” what people usually mean when they say it, sucks. Attack ads suck. Parties suck. Corporate PACs really suck.

“Movement politics” isn’t that. It’s getting everyday people to recognize their own capacity for leadership. It’s getting the political system to respond to your community’s real needs and demands. It’s getting one member of your base into a position of power with the explicit commitment to govern with your entire base.

Movement Politics isn’t really “Politics” at all in that sense. It’s democracy. Movement Politics doesn’t suck. It’s actually pretty awesome.

Donate to or join Ground Game Los Angeles and do something awesome for a change.