I was recently in Washington, D.C., when a woman from Arizona came up to me on the street. She noticed the button I was wearing for our campaign, RiseUp Idaho.
“What’s that?” she asked. “It’s about restoring our democracy,” I said, “It’s not about party politics.” I then explained how we’re recruiting grassroots candidates and holding them accountable to what people really want in our state.
She then asked, “Is that coming from a Liberal, or a Conservative perspective?”
I said, “Tell me what those labels mean to you - because it seems to me that neither party, or those labels, mean much of anything anymore.”
So we started talking about the issues on our RiseUp Idaho platform. First, guns. We believe in banning assault rifles, and doing everything we can to make sure our schools are safe and our kids are no longer targets.
She said, “Well, I absolutely agree on that.” Next up, health care.
I told her we support Medicare for All, and expanding access to care. She started talking about her experiences with care, then said, “Well, we agree on that, too.”
By the end of the conversation, she asked for my card so we can keep in touch.
“I have some liberal friends, but we can’t talk about politics anymore, because nobody’s listening to each other,” she said. “But I think we have a lot more in common than I ever would have thought.”
These are the kinds of conversations that change hearts and minds, and can bring us together. That’s why at United Vision for Idaho, we’re committed to knocking on 24,000 doors in our state, mainly in rural communities, between now and November.
We’re not going out to tell people who to vote for. We’re not even registering them to vote, if they don’t want to. We’re there to listen, to hear what matters most in people’s lives.
Our goal is having these deeper conversations with people and then inviting them into community with each other, so that rural communities can get out of the isolation that’s been keeping us divided as a state, and as a nation.
No Easy Road
None of this is easy: in some places, we’ve got Proud Boys, alt-right militia members and white supremacists. And for a decade, conservative groups like ALEC and the Koch brothers have found Idaho legislators to be easy recruits for their agenda. We’ve even heard of employers checking to see who is a registered Democrat on their staff, and firing them.
So the fear and isolation people feel is real. But when people start to talk and come in to community with each other, they realize that they really do have power to change the course of their lives, and that together we are strong.
A Change Is Coming
We’re already starting to see change in Idaho: Raul Labrador, the Tea Party Congressman who told a Town Hall last July that “no one dies because they don’t have access to health care,” was trounced in his bid to become Governor. Goodbye, Raul!
Paulette Jordan, a Native American state legislator who grew up on the Coeur D’Alene reservation, just won the Democratic nomination for Governor. She’s endorsed our RiseUp Platform, and has promised to meet with us quarterly. So has Aaron Swisher, an economist from Boise who’s running for Congress in the 2nd District. And since Idaho’s May 15th primary, we’re hearing from even more candidates who want to be a part of our process.
So candidates in our state are finally starting to pay attention to people who have been forgotten, and left behind. They’re starting to listen to those who have been left out of the political process - who are now demanding that politicians and anybody seeking office be accountable to them.
The Process Is The Platform
RiseUp Idaho combines issues of concern that are on the national platform put forward by People’s Action – racial and gender equity, access to health care, just immigration and a fair economy – with others Idahoans tell us are important to them: gun sense, preservation of public lands, and restoring the authority of local governments.
Seven months ago, we starting going out into communities to vet these issues, to make sure we got them right. We wanted to make sure that all of the issues on our agenda are reflective of where people are - not what we think their issues are, but what their issues actually are.
We then incorporated everything people told us and sent it out as a questionnaire to every registered candidate in the state. Every single one – Democrats and Republicans.
So it’s really become a People’s Platform, one that candidates can be held accountable to.
This paradigm shift, really, is one of power: reimagining our democracy not as one dictated by corporate interests or politicians, but one that’s led by people - people who are willing to step up, have meaningful conversations, listen to each other, and then make sure that the people who are running for office are accountable to them.
And that process makes all the difference. We are attuned, really listening to what people say matters to them. And we’re taking back our power in places people didn’t expect it: in states red and blue, all across the country. Even in Idaho.