The Secret Weapon Of Progressive Candidates
Community organizing at its finest.
At 7:10 p.m. on election night, a sea of phone bankers and canvassers wearing bright teal t-shirts erupted in a wave of cheers. The polls had just closed and they heard that John Creuzot, the Democratic candidate running for Dallas County District Attorney, was up by 106,000, based on early vote numbers.
Since the beginning of September, the primarily Black and Latino canvassers and phone bankers had been working with the Texas Organizing Project to help get progressive candidates like John Creuzot elected to office.
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The organization has been on the ground for nine years and is working to transform Texas into a state where working people of color, like their canvassers and phone bankers, have the power and representation they deserve.
The Texas Organizing Project PAC (the political arm of the Texas Organizing Project) makes endorsements in statewide races – this year, they had endorsed Beto O’Rourke for U.S. Senate in his race against Ted Cruz. They also endorsed candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives like Colin Allred and State House and City Council candidates.
But walking around the Texas Organizing Project PAC’s Dallas County office, Creuzot was the main race that mattered.
John Creuzot was a former judge with the mind of a reformer. He had previously started a drug rehabilitation program to divert non-violent drug offenders from the criminal justice system and re-entry programs for formerly incarcerated individuals. He had audacious policy priorities for the District Attorney position.
It was through community conversations and support from the Texas Organizing Project that Creuzot came to embrace an even more progressive criminal justice platform focused on ending mass incarceration, eradicating cash bail, and closing prisons as key tenets of his race.
And in turn, voters came out in droves to support him.
Anthony, the 20-year-old son of undocumented immigrants from Mexico, felt ashamed that 2018 would be his first election casting a ballot. He wished he had known more about how politics impacts the criminal justice system so that he could have voted sooner to help make a difference. After being pulled over and jailed for his car registration being out of date, Anthony felt ashamed. He hadn’t told his parents about the encounter, but he knew that he wanted a District Attorney that would vow to end mass incarceration.
Joyce has always voted, but this election would be the first one she’d participate in since her 21-year-old son was put on probation for a crime he did not commit. She got quiet when the conversation shifted to his situation. “I’m worried about him,” she said.
In a way, casting her ballot in the District Attorney race and working to help others to vote was Joyce’s way of taking care of her son. It was Anthony’s way of building a better future for himself and his family.
Political parties have long-dismissed voters of color as either safe Democrats that don’t need to be reached out to by campaigns, or as unlikely voters who aren’t going to vote, so why bother.
It is community organizations, like the Texas Organizing Project, that have built election infrastructure and campaign models to both engage Black and Latino voters and drive candidates to adopt policy solutions that affect them.
While the mainstream Democratic Party in D.C. debates about whether the path to victory is turning out its base or courting more moderate voters, the right answer is right in front of them in the community organization model.
By backing unabashedly progressive candidates and engaging communities of color, the Texas Organizing Project, with progressive partners estimates that they turned out 320,000 new midterm voters.
These new voters saw candidates that vowed to address the real challenges that they faced. They didn’t run on political catch-phrases – they ran on community solutions.
The better our candidates are able to articulate responsive policy platforms in connective language, the more likely they are to win elections, and the more connected they are to community organizations, the more well-versed they become in that language.
Not long after the early vote numbers came in, John Creuzot handily won his election to become Dallas County District Attorney. Texas Organizing Project canvassers and organizers eagerly fled to his watch party as a wave of teal and enveloped the newly-elected District Attorney while chanting his name.
Later that night, while making his acceptance speech, Creuzot thanked family members, his campaign manager, and last of all, the Texas Organizing Project.
To them, he said, “I owe my victory to you.”