Progressives Need to Run for Office–Any Office!


I was recently reading an article from last year about a tiny but interesting Philadelphia success story: editor Phillip Garcia of The Rumpus won a position as a local election judge merely by writing in his own name as a candidate when voting, because no one else ran. No one else even voted, apparently. Garcia literally won an election with one vote: his own.

True, the winner of this position “only has to work on Election Day, receiving a sum of $100.” But they also play a critical role in helping make sure elections are fair:

They’re in charge of running the election at a particular polling place, making sure lines don’t get too long, reporting any broken voting machines and making sure paperwork is being filled out correctly, Schmidt explained. Judges are required to be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age and a resident of the locality the position presides over.

You can see how his little position as a one-day judge actually has some profound impact, or at least it could, depending on the circumstances.

Imagine if a typical MAGA hat wearer had won this seat, which they easily could have done with only two write-in votes. And imagine that it’s a typical liberal-leaning polling place–mightn’t it have ended up like this shitty situation in the last election in my hometown of Tulsa?

(By the way, Tulsa, like many urban areas in predominantly red-leaning states, is a bastion of centrism and even liberalism. This was an election that featured a ballot initiative regarding medical marijuana, and simultaneously featured several delayed openings to polling places likely to vote in favor of the measure. I can’t decide whether a conspiracy is afoot, or whether Tulsa elections are always this podunk, but people are only noticing now because they all got out to vote for weed.)

By simply being brave enough, or foolhardy enough, to throw his name into the hat, Garcia can avoid a Tulsa-style shit show in at least one polling place in Philadelphia.

And true, not every elected position is as easy to win as writing your own name down once. But many positions are almost as simple, with probably hundreds of roles in government going unfilled each year. Many others are relatively unnoticed elections, where it takes only a small number of votes to win.

Even 18 year olds can win elections, as a young Michael Moore learned when, at age 18, he won a role on his own school board while still in high school, effectively becoming his principal and vice principal’s boss:

MICHAEL MOORE:  … right after 18-year-olds got the right to vote, I was still a senior in high school. And we had this very brutal vice principal who carried this wooden board around and gave swats to students whenever he felt like it, and he gave it to me one day, made me bend over because my shirttail was out. You had to have your your shirt tucked in back then. And I was just so upset, I went home and I saw in the paper that two school board members were retiring, and there was going to be an election in June. And I started thinking, geez, I wonder if I could run for office and be this guy’s boss? So I called the county clerk and found out I could run. I got the required number of signatures, and I ran …


AMY GOODMAN: How many signatures did you need?

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, actually, that was—when they said I had to get all these signatures, I’m thinking I had to get thousands of names to run, and I was a young man filled with a lot of lethargy, so I was not inclined to want go door to door getting signatures. And the county clerk said, “No, you only need 20.” And I said, “20?” He said, “Yeah, 20.” And I’m thinking, geez, I know 20 stoners who will sign anything. So, I got the petitions. I got—within an hour, I got my 20 signatures. I was on the ballot. And, you know, I was a senior in high school. I had kind of long hair. And the Republicans in town were just, “Oh, my god. This hippie is going to be on the school board.” So a whole bunch of them go and get petitions to run also, to try and stop me. But it made no sense, because they would just split the adult vote, you know, which is what they did. Six of them ran against me, and I won with a plurality of votes, and I became one of the first 18-year-olds in the country elected to public office.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what did you do with this trusty charge of the public?

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, my first—first position on my platform was to get the vice principal fired.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, you were both a student at the time and his boss?

MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, yes, for like the last week of school, I was—yes, I was one of his bosses, and I was under fear of being hit with that board. It was an odd—it was an odd situation.

Wouldn’t you like to be that 18 year old with the power to fire your own vice principal?

Right now I’ve been sleeping nights at #OccupyICELA, living in a tent outside of ICE headquarters to protest the illegal deportations of good people and the separations of families by ICE agents. The work we’re doing, to prevent ICE from efficiently processing immigrants and sending them to detention centers elsewhere, is certainly helpful. But in part it is possible because we have a City Council that has decided we’re politically more useful than not.

But what if one of us, the folks sleeping on the street, was instead a head honcho in charge of enforcing homeless ordinances, who could simply not enforce them when it came to our own camp?

Of course, I don’t believe such a position exists, and if so, it almost certainly is an appointed position–really it seems to be up to the discretion of the LAPD to ticket us or not regarding our encampment. But why couldn’t progressives run for sheriff? Or for the role of District Attorney, and choose not to prosecute us? Or perhaps a progressive ally could have become an elected official with less direct but no less powerful abilities to hurt or help us–say, City Controller, with power over the city’s purse strings? Maybe we could simply dry up the funds to kick us out of the camp–and while we’re at it, maybe we could dry up the funds to other aspects of ICE as well, becoming a true sanctuary city?

And let’s say one of us protestors gets attacked tomorrow when the pro-ICE protestors come, and this buddy of ours ends up in front of a judge? Well, why couldn’t another of us–or an ally with a law background–be that judge? Just look at the dozens of elections for judge that didn’t even wind up on the ballot, simply because no one wanted to run against the incumbent?

There were far more than this… this is just as many as I could fit into one image.

So yeah, guys! If we’re brave enough to get in front of ICE busses, or be arrested, we should get brave enough to run for office as elected officials. We spend so much time trying to plead for mercy and understanding from those in political power, when in fact we could be them, in some cases merely by writing our names on pieces of paper.

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