This week, our interview is with Rachel Murphy Azzara, the Director of Democrats Work for America, a PAC designed to harness grassroots energy and turn that into wins on election day. As someone who has followed their work since their inception one year ago, I’ve been amazed at their incredible ability to figure out who the strongest candidate is likely to be in any given race, and then fuel that candidate to a win. Their “win-rate” is off the charts already! I was curious to learn more about how they were doing their work and their focus going into the November midterms.
Here is our interview:
TS: Were you politically active before 2016?
RACHEL: I have always been a voter. I’ve also worked on campaigns, helping them with canvassing and phone banking.
TS: Walk us through election night and how you came to think about organizing your efforts going forward.
RACHEL: Well that night I felt sick. I had been working with others on the campaign and no one knew what to say to each other. We were exhausted from campaigning and the reality was setting in that the battle was just getting started. As you recall, the days and weeks after the election were crazy–there was talk about a recount, and asking electors to revolt, etc.–and it was important to pull people out of their shock and despair because there was work to be done.
As the dust started to settle, we recognized that the fight had to center around two activities: fighting the new administration’s harmful policies and simultaneously working towards the midterm elections.
TS: Why did you decide to tackle these priorities by founding the Democrats Work for America PAC?
RACHEL: On-the-ground activists have a lot of knowledge at the district level that I think can be better used to win elections. We’ve lost so many legislative and congressional seats and we have to turn that around. After the election, we were meeting a lot of people online, forming groups, and creating coalitions. I knew we could be a more effective force in promoting great candidates and winning elections, and creating the PAC was the best avenue to do that work.
TS: What was one of the first things Democrats Work for America started working on?
RACHEL: The first thing we dove into was candidate assessments. This is the incredibly important work of determining the viability of candidates for districts that we have deemed winnable with grassroots support. And by that I mean, is this a person who can win the general election? We tapped into local state groups to help learn more about the potential candidates. What background did they have in that district, how well were they known, what were their platform issues, how were they regarded by the people in that district, etc. The work that we are doing is by no means personal; the goal is simply winning the general election.
The Democratic party already has a progressive platform, and it has gotten more progressive over time. We are well aware that politicians in the redder states, and the redder districts, will have to compromise more than those in bluer states, otherwise they will lose the seat. Right now, in 2018, nothing is more important than getting Democrats–of all stripes–elected. If Republicans win these elections, all of the hopes we have for progress we’d like to see in our country is off the table. It simply won’t happen at all.
We can see that the Republicans in office now are doing a gauntlet run; they know they could lose in November so they’re trying to push through as many laws, policies, and judges as they can. If they get another two years… I am fighting as hard as I can to prevent that.
TS: You mentioned working together with other activists through social media. What role does social media play with your work?
RACHEL: Social media has been great for organizing, and working with others to collect the data and relevant district information we need to do our work. But the conversations that will turn out more voters must happen in real life. On social media, there are a lot of people who cry “Troll!” or “Bot!” when they see something they don’t like, and often you see people then block that account. In the real world, if you close your eyes, the world doesn’t go away.
We have to really listen to people. We have to get back to a point where we agree to certain basic truths. But now, go jump into any MAGA (Make America Great Again) thread on Twitter, and they clearly don’t see what we see. And remember, they vote.
There are always the extreme partisans but not everyone is. For those who aren’t at the extremes, we need to know what their issues are. What will their criticisms of our candidates be? We have to listen to them to hear what the right-wing talking points are going to be. I don’t think social media behavior trains us to have the conversations we need to be having. There’s also just too much preaching to the choir.
TS: Talking about politics in person and in social settings can be a minefield, so how do we do it?
RACHEL: First and foremost, I think it is crucial to focus on getting to know the person you are talking to–specifically, what is on their mind, what are they fearful of, what issues guide them, etc. It could be a simple entry like, “I am concerned about the country. What are your thoughts?” Or, when you see an acquaintance, “What have you been up to recently? I’ve started volunteering for campaigns.”
Don’t attack someone for their thoughts, and they won’t attack back. I have Trump supporters in my family. I won’t let those divides change the family. These things need to be brought up–not argued over–but talked though. It is important that we find our way into these conversations.
TS: So how do you recommend people start to plug into their communities, to have these conversations?
RACHEL: I think a lot of people don’t volunteer because they’re terrified of conflict and want to avoid it. Again, people don’t have to have conversations with the hyper-partisans. But they do need to talk to the regular folks in their community. Once they are out there a little, the conversations will start to happen. Offer to hand out flyers. Volunteer for a local event for a candidate. Just by being in the community, people will talk to you. You’ll learn a lot about where they are coming from.
TS: What else is Democrats Work for America doing?
RACHEL: Right now the focus is on the races that are winnable with focused, grassroots support. From there, we will support those districts: by amplifying the candidate, mobilizing volunteers, maintaining connections with grassroots organizations in that district, continually talking to folks in that district to stay in the loop, etc.
TS: I know some of my readers will be on board with the work that your PAC is doing. We all want to see a lot of wins in November. If they want to help your efforts, what can they do?
RACHEL: We’re always looking for local volunteers. We utilize local grassroots activists for candidate assessment, collaboration with local organizations and campaign support such as phone banking, canvassing, or house parties. We also are very much in need of financial support, particular recurring contributions. We run a very lean operation and rely completely on individual donors to get this work done; no corporate funding. Also, just amplifying our candidates and messaging on social media is a help.
TS: What are you most proud of accomplishing so far?
RACHEL: I have to say, our win rate in the primaries and special elections so far is pretty awesome. Since the PAC began in July 2017 we have featured 221 races and our candidates have won 179 of them. That gives us an overall win-rate of 81%. We’ve won 16 special elections and 14 legislative races (in the 2017 cycle.) In the midterm primaries, 146 of our candidates have won the nomination. We’ve had several election nights with win-rates over 90%. We’re very pleased about that.
We’re developing a good reputation as a group that is betting on the right candidate and boosting them in a way that gets them the win. The strategy of focusing on the street level is what needs to happen, and it is working.
TS: Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
RACHEL: Right now, we have a government that doesn’t represent us at all. We cannot let this continue. The priority is getting Democrats elected, and it will take the full spectrum of Democrats to get this done. So many people just don’t get involved, so I implore everyone to do something. First and foremost, vote. After that, help to register people, volunteer for a campaign, talk to people about issues, offer rides to the polls on election day. Please don’t sit this election cycle out.
Postscript: If you’re interested in flipping seats this November, I encourage you to look into Democrats Work for America. You can follow them on Twitter at @DemsWork4USA and see their website at democratsworkforamerica.org.
If you’re ready to help them, reach out to Rachel (on Twitter at @RachelAzzara or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org), and donate to support their work here.