Running Progressive Candidates in the Trump Era
TRNN Executive Producer Eddie Conway speaks with lead organizers from Working Families of Maryland and Wellstone Action about the need to change the culture of politics
Eddie Conway: Welcome to the Real News. This is Eddie Conway coming to you from Baltimore, Maryland. I’m now at Coppin State University where the Working Families of Maryland and Wellstone is having a training seminar and conference, and we are going to talk to several of the participants and the organizers.
Charly Carter: Maryland Working Families is a state chapter of a national organization, and our goal is to create a government that is more responsive to the citizens, to push policies that lift up working families.
Eddie Conway: Okay, it seems like there’s a large turnout here at Coppin State College, and I understand you’re responsible for making this happen. What does Wellstone do?
Monica Perez: Wellstone is a national training organization and leadership development organization, so we get to go around the country, do this with partners like Working Families in Maryland. We get to train future candidates, campaign workers, campaign managers, grassroots organizers.
Cory McCray : One of the things I take away from Wellstone was that they helped me to sharpen my 30-second spiel. When I went to the doors, I’d go like … I was there today. I never really changed it, but I knock on the door. I say, “How are you doing?” I’m going to say, “My name is Cory McCray. I’m running for our 45th legislative district. I just wanted to see if you had any concerns or issues within the neighborhood.” I think that’s very, very important, before you go jumping into yourself, that you ask them how can you help them.
Charly Carter: About 40 leaders from around the state have gone through the Wellstone action training. In 2015, we trained about 40 candidates. All 40 of them have run, and we probably have about 15 of those who are in elected office now either on the state central committee. We have five council people here in Baltimore city that we’ve elected, and then we have people in the state legislature as well.
Charly Carter: We actually did a session about how you had to remain attentive to your partner because they were your biggest support as a candidate, so we try very hard not to encroach upon that [inaudible 00:02:24].
Kristerfer Burnett: Sorry. I don’t know why I was even [inaudible 00:02:26].
Charly Carter: When we have leaders who don’t want to listen to their constituents, or who are elected by working people but then want to listen to the corporate big wigs, then it’s our job to hold them accountable. Sometimes that means running people against them, or electing our own people from the community.
Cory McCray : Would I ask the same? When I ask Miss Barber, when I ask Tony for that five bucks, that five bucks might have meant a lot, and you better be sure that they’re going to vote because they’ve got their investment paid in there. You learn that as an entrepreneur, as an organizer, how do you get people to take a piece of what you’re trying to do. We raised a significant amount of money, but I think we raised about $3,000, $4,000 off of just five dollars at a time part of it, which is very, very important. I always tell folks, don’t leave that on tape.
Charly Carter: We want to change the way we choose our candidates here in Maryland. We want to change the way we elect our candidates here in Maryland. I want to point to two in particular, or actually I could point to several, like Cory McCray and Kris Burnett. And Ryan Dorsey. People who they engaged the community. They’re not out taking big contributions or seeking big contributions. They’re engaging their neighbors.
Kristerfer Burnett: People started asking, “Have you ever considered running?” For me, it was the furthest thing away from that. I just wanted the shopping center better. I just wanted my neighborhood better. That was really pretty much it.
Then, I guess it was 2014, this guy called me and is looking for a campaign manager, and I told him … I’ll never forget this conversation … “I don’t know anything about running for office.” I’d never run a political campaign, and he told me … He may not remember this, but he said, “It’s organizing. It’s just like any other organizing campaign you’ve ever run. I just need someone that likes knocking on doors, that runs a tight ship, and is very organized.”
Monica Perez: I think Maryland is just this incredible state where there’s so much potential, so many diverse, inclusive candidates are coming out, wanting to run for office. We have a strong partnership with Working Families here where they ask us to come in almost every month and do trainings. They, themselves, go out and recruit and scout candidates to fill all of the boards and commission seats, all the county commission seats, take positions within the Democratic party.
We love that we’re able to do this at Wellstone and come in to a state like Maryland that’s ready for us, that’s ready to keep candidates going, that’s ready to elect good people and train them all along the way. Most folks just want candidates to be trained, and forget when they get elected how to actually train them and keep them in the fold. I think this is a long pipeline project. This is long term. It is not just come in for a weekend. We’re here for the long haul in Maryland, so it’s an exciting time to be in Maryland right now.
Mark McLaurin: If you are an insurgent, Democratic progressive, go out there and get it. People are paying attention. People are hungry. Trump has fostered an environment, I think, where people want something different. They don’t want folks that are going along to get along.
Eddie Conway: Thank you for joining me at the Real News.