A Republic, and How to Keep It: The Gaslit Nation July 4th Special

Happy Fourth of July! In 1787, Benjamin Franklin famously declared “A republic – if you can keep it.” In these compiled interviews, experienced grassroots leaders tell us how we can keep our republic.

Sarah Kendzior: I'm Sarah Kendzior, a journalist and scholar, and author of the book The View from Flyover Country.

Andrea Chalupa: I'm Andrea Chalupa, a writer and the screenwriter and producer of the upcoming journalistic thriller Mr. Jones.

Sarah Kendzior: And you are listening to Gaslit Nation, a podcast that discusses corruption in the United States and the rise of autocracy around the world. So, happy Fourth of July, everybody. We have a very special episode put together to show you how to fix this broken nation of ours that you are celebrating today.

Andrea Chalupa: Yes, but just like our founding fathers, including the ones that were abolitionists and believed in human rights, like Alexander Hamilton, who was very much in the minority on that, we have to fight. We have to show up. We have to work for a more perfect union. The American nation is an experiment. Never forget that. Experiments are fragile, and all of us are being called right now in this historic crossroads that we face again, very much like the crossroads of the early 1930s when the world was teetering on the cliff of fascism. We can turn it into another direction. We absolutely can. You've seen superstars like Greta Thunberg, a child, give an impassioned speech to European Parliament, and then suddenly in the next European election, you have a huge sweep of Green Party candidates pulling off a miracle and suddenly becoming a major viable party when they weren't before. That was because of the words of a child saying please stop killing my generation. So believe in change, believe in progress, believe in the power of hard work. And so two organizations we're going to highlight today which are essentially a silver bullet against the forces of darkness we're up against here in the United States, namely Mitch McConnell and the rabid Republicans who are selling our country out for greed and the Trump klan, clan with a K. The two great districts that we want to direct you to, if you're ever feeling hopeless, channel that despair into helping these organizations do the essential work to protect our democracy. And those are EveryDistrict and Future Now. They are building a progressive infrastructure state by state to help get candidates from the lowest level all the way up elected. It's all about cleansing out the system, identifying and bringing in great progressive candidates, and just empowering people who are compassionate, believe in science, believe in upholding the rule of law, helping recruit those talented people. If you are one of those people listening, get involved with EveryDistrict and Future Now, find out how you can run for office. Find out how you can help support campaigns that can really make a difference. So all of this is about cleansing out the system and putting the right people in place state by state, and that's how we're gonna protect ourselves.

Andrea Chalupa: All right. So this is a Gaslit Nation special. We're very excited to be speaking with EveryDistrict. Why don't you two go ahead and introduce yourselves and what you do?

Nicole Hobbs: Great. Hi, I'm Nicole Hobbs, and I am one of the co-founders of EveryDistrict, and I also serve as our Executive Director.

Drew Morrison: I'm Drew Morrison, the other co-founder, and I'm our political director, so I work on the numbers and the strategy while Nicole works on managing the affairs of EveryDistrict and keeping us moving day after day.

Andrea Chalupa: We made time to talk to you, EveryDistrict, because we feel what you're doing is so important, and you're really taking the long view on strengthening America's democracy by putting the focus on the states. The entire focus has to be on local politics electing local leaders who are progressive and fighting for combating climate change and a fair living wage and human rights and dignity in every single district in your state. The Republicans have been incredibly good about this. Karl Rove wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed laying out this as the GOP strategy for this far right takeover, and they've been so successful at it that the Republicans are incredibly close now. They have enough red states' governments under their control that they could even call a constitutional convention and have a far right editing of our Constitution and really put the prison walls up on our democracy. So what you're doing is essential work, and we're so happy to make time for you and really remind people that we need to stay engaged and take the long view.

Drew Morrison: Yeah, that's absolutely correct. How we build back the party is by working at the state level. And why is that the case? So many of the issues that we care about are actually resolved at the state level, particularly when Congress and Washington are so dysfunctional. Things that we care about, like gerrymandering, start at the state. Voting rights, voter I.D. laws, and all of the things we're seeing across the states where Republicans are seeking to suppress the vote, that is decided at the state level. So we have to engage to make sure that the rules of our democracy really respect each voter. We have to start at the state. Issues we care about, like education, like Medicaid expansion, all of those things happen at the state level. If we want to continue to push this country in the Democratic and progressive direction, then we need to get more control of the state legislatures. This is an every year process to build back control at the state level.

Andrea Chalupa: And so what is your strategy to do this?

Drew Morrison: So we basically believe that one of the most important things that Democrats can do is change how they do fundraising. We all get the fundraising emails that are about you giving as much as possible in time for the latest election, and there's hardly a thank you when you do. And so fundraising becomes a bit of an extractive process, as opposed to a grassroots-driven organizing process. And so what we've done is we've built a database of every state legislative district across the country, and you can now go online. Our link is everydistrict.us. If you go on, you can see those states in dark blue. Click on them and see some of the most competitive districts in your backyard. From there, we allow you to raise money and to give money to state legislative candidates in five states, and unlike a lot of organizations, when you donate to those candidates, those dollars go directly into their bank accounts. It's not held in some PAC somewhere. It is given directly to the candidates so they can deploy it immediately. So we believe in a transparent, grassroots, and person-to-person driven approach. A large portion of our dollars are raised by what we call "fundraising champions," people who decide, "I'm gonna get up there and raise money to support these candidates that I'm interested in." So it's really about changing fundraising from an extractive, top-down process to a grassroots process. We can support the candidates who need the dollars most and build up our own interest and support and energy around the practice of fundraising.

Andrea Chalupa: Okay. So your website identifies competitive local races that people can give five dollars, ten dollars to, and across the board, all those little donations add up, and it's that grassroots engine that is the answer to all of these sort of super PACs, and the end the hell that was brought by Citizens United.

Drew Morrison: Exactly. It's about really rebuilding that power. To give you an example of what that does when it's people driven, we worked in Virginia in 2017 with a core group of 20 donors who were able to create three hundred donors from their networks. And that group of fundraising champion donors after the 2017 election—you know, whenever I've been involved with a fundraising campaign for a non-profit or for a candidate, as soon as the election is over, everybody wants to go away, focus on something else. Instead, in Virginia what you're seeing is people are engaging in this grassroots fundraising for state legislative elections. And so when we turn the fundraising process on its head, it becomes something that's exciting and energizing, and exactly you can combat big money through energy and the commitment of really strong grassroots volunteers.

Nicole Hobbs: And to comment on the big money part of this, what we saw in Virginia with the 15 candidates who won their House of Delegate races was not all of them outraised their Republican opponents, and some of them actually were very much so outraised by the Republican incumbents they were running against, but the small dollars added up so that these candidates could run strong campaigns, get their message out, do the field work that needed to be done to make sure that they could communicate their message to voters, and that was enough. And that's what we've been working on this year with 62 candidates that we've endorsed, is to make sure that even if they aren't able to outspend their Republican opponents or the Republican incumbent that they're running against that sitting on a pile of cash, is to make sure that they can get to that level of viability to run a good strong campaign that can win.

Andrea Chalupa: Interesting. Okay, so again and again we're still seeing research that it's not how much money you have. That's not a determining factor of victory. It certainly helps of course, but we've seen some really deep pocketed races lose. So what are you seeing that really made the difference, for instance, in Virginia in 2017 and those races, if not money?

Drew Morrison: If not money candidate quality. One thing that we think gets lost in the conversations is that we've had some really good candidates at the state legislative level who can really say to their potentially future constituents, "You ought to vote for me because I have a connection to this community." And when we go out to do our questionnaire for the candidates that we endorse and support, the first question we ask is, "Why should someone in this district vote for you?" And what we've seen is people who had strong ties to their communities, who are small business owners, who are school teachers, who have served in the military and then come back and served in their community, are really the people who are leading the way. And that candidate quality which transcends particular ideology or their ability to raise as much money as Republican mega-donors is really the way that people are able to energize and excite voters on the ground. And we think continuing to focus on supporting candidates who can excite people is a really smart path forward.

Andrea Chalupa: Right. And again, with the big blue sweep in Virginia in 2017, we saw a lot of these local races having a bottom-up ballot effect. They're helping the bigger races drive out the vote. So this is like a really energizing force. When you work on the local grassroots level, the bigger races stand to benefit.

Nicole Hobbs: Absolutely. I think that's something that doesn't get enough coverage, is how in Virginia it really was these competitive House of Delegate races that helped the top of the ticket and helped Governor Ralph Northam get elected. And I think for too long Democrats have focused on the top of the ticket, and said if we have a strong top of the ticket, those gains will trickle down to candidates further down the ballot, but that hasn't been the case. I mean, we lost almost a thousand state legislative seats in the Obama era. So having a strong candidate at the top of the ticket there didn't help us. And so I think you're exactly right. We have to flip the script and fund and make sure that these local candidates have the resources they need to be organizing in their communities, not only for them being on the ballot, but for candidates at the top of the ticket. And then the states, the five states that we are working in, there are a lot of competitive races further up the ticket where we think these strong local campaigns who are mobilizing people in their communities can be helpful to these candidates.

Andrea Chalupa: So what do you think are some of the factors that contributed to Democrats losing so many local seats across the country?

Drew Morrison: I think that there's roughly two macro-reasons. The first is that there really was sort of a federal attention of the leadership of the Democratic Party, and also a lot of the grassroots donors and supporters, and it's still something we haven't totally gotten through. You know, right now we know about the great federal candidates who have raised lots and lots of money, and that Democrats are outraising at the congressional and Senate level, but at the state legislative level in the states that we're working in and in other states across the country, Republicans are still substantially outraising Democrats. So there is this sort of federal national-level policymaking bias I think we as Democrats have, because we want to see broad-based, sweeping progressive change that can help everyone, and that lends itself to a federal focus. But it has this challenging downstream effect, because we have such a state-based political system. I think the other thing that's true is that on average the party that is out of control in Washington tends to do well in the States. We did well in the States in 2006 and 2008. And what happens is that you lose that grassroots and progressive energy when you are in power sometimes. And what we really want to do in changing how fundraising is done is say, you know, if we have great years in 2018, 2019, 2020, and if we can win back the presidency, odds are that 2022 would be a really bad year for Democrats at the state level. But if we've changed the way that people are engaged and activated in the political process, then we can overcome any backlash and have a stronger base of Democratic support.

Andrea Chalupa: That's really interesting. It's amazing that we don't need a lot of money to flip seats on the local level in the States.

Drew Morrison: That's exactly right. You're talking about really between 50 to 500 thousand dollars. You're talking about a ninety five percent of the competitive races in the country are raised within that window. You can see on the federal level just how much money is being raised for these individual congressional and senate seats. So from our standpoint, the ability for grassroots donors, particularly when they're working to activate their friends, to become the real drivers of the success of candidates, it's so exciting. You know, if you give one hundred dollars to a candidate and then you're able to get ten to twenty of your friends to give the same, you're one of the largest bundlers that that state legislative candidate has. And so there's ability for average people to really play a large role in changing who has power in the States, and that really excites us, and it's a real big opportunity. It also means that the people who are running at the state legislative level can still be average people who live in their community and care about their community, whereas it's gotten very challenging for middle class people to run for even higher office, so it's a really democratizing opportunity because there's still reasonable campaign finance levels at the state level.

Andrea Chalupa: And that's where all of it is done. It's really the states that wield the power, and it's so important to keep that in mind as we recover from this far right takeover and rebuild our country to be a stronger progressive union. What's always fascinating to me is how poll after poll shows that America is far more liberal than our federal government shows, and that's really because of our archaic voting laws on the federal level, with the college and so forth. So what you're presenting to people is a great equalizer. It's a great way to take back power, and it's a great way to protect lives, so many lives. There's healthcare, everything's on the line right now. And so I thank you both so much for what you're doing. What are your dreams for our country in terms of like, what is your bigger vision in terms of how you see this growing for you, EveryDistrict? How many more states do you want to be in?

Drew Morrison: Our name is aspirational in 2019. We're really excited in not only being engaged in Virginia where we were able to be a big part of what happened in 2017, but also in a state like Mississippi, you know, a state where 50 years ago Freedom Summer was built around people going down to Mississippi to give a real voice to the people who live there during the era of Jim Crow. We're in an era of voter suppression again. We're in an era where we need to fight for every state in order to try to build as much progressive and democratic policymaking in power as we can. So our goal is for Democrats to be able to compete in every state legislature across the country, and we want to build a platform so that people in every district across the country can help drive that change.

Andrea Chalupa: So what are some practical steps people listening to this now can do to help you?

Nicole Hobbs: So first go to our website, everydistrict.us. And the second thing you should do is go out and knock on some doors or make some phone calls. We love Mobilize. They've built a really great platform that makes it easy to connect with volunteer opportunities in your community. And the final thing is make sure you go and vote on Election Day. Whether you live in a deep red state or a dark blue state or a purple state, voting and making your voice heard is so important.

Andrea Chalupa: Absolutely and make sure you have a plan to vote and that you've read ahead of time on the ballot measures. Make sure you vote your entire ballot. And it just takes a few minutes just. Read up on it. Read your local newspaper if you're lucky and you still have a local newspaper, and just educate yourselves before you go to the ballot box. Just make a plan to educate yourself and make a plan to vote. Makes a big difference locally.

Nicole Hobbs: Definitely. And I'll give a shout out to our friends at Ballot Ready. They have a really incredible resource that if you put in your address, it will show you literally everything on your ballot and get some helpful explainers, especially about the ballot questions.

Andrea Chalupa: All right well thank you both so much. And we encourage everyone to check out everydistrict.us. They have very big dreams for our country, and I'm so grateful to talk to you, and what you're doing it's going to make a big difference for our future.

Nicole Hobbs: Thank you. We were happy to join today.

Drew Morrison: Thanks for having us.

Andrea Chalupa: So today we have an interview that we are very excited for. We are speaking with some wonderful women who are going to direct our attention and our resources to a very critical yet overlooked battleground, and that is the fight for states. So could you two introduce yourselves in terms of what you do in this larger picture of trying to turn the state's blue across a union?

Melissa Walker: Sure. So my name is Melissa Walker, and I am actually an author of teen novels and middle-grade novels. And since the 2016 election, I have really turned my attention to state legislatures, and I formed a group that has raised money to try to flip state chambers from red to blue. And in doing that, I discovered a model for giving circles, political giving circles, that I have been able to bring to Alyssa's organization Future Now to help other people form similar groups and help states kind of take back their progressive power.

Alyssa Cast: And my name is Alyssa Cast. I'm the political director at Future Now fund, where I had the privilege of working with Melissa and groups like her so that groups activated, motivated, and unsurprisingly, majority women, can corral their collective power to have a huge impact on flipping state legislative chambers across the country, and going on offense and advancing a progressive agenda in key states.

Andrea Chalupa: So the reason why I really want to talk to you, I remember vividly November 2017, meeting up with Melissa, the novelist, for drinks in New York City. And this was, I think, no sorry, it was October. It was October, and it was days before the round of special elections in November 2017. And Melissa, you were one of the few people that I came across that actually had any sort of optimism, and you were telling me, explaining to me all this great science that a lot of these great groups were doing to flip districts blue, and it was just like this breath of fresh air, and I was just so energized by it. I remember calling Sarah Kendzior: after that and saying, "Oh my gosh. You would not believe what's happening. I think this is a sign of something much bigger." And lo and behold, the campaigns you're telling me about in Virginia and Washington state saw a huge blue wave coming. And so a lot of the optimism that you shared with me on the verge of those historic elections was very much deserved. And so that's why I'm just rushing to you now for hopefully some good signs and good news, and also some important realism that we need in order to get grounded and really win the important battles ahead.

Melissa Walker: Yeah. So I remember that night too. I'm glad I was right to be optimistic. I had spent much of 2017 really learning about the power of state governments and how much they can do for people. And that in itself gave me optimism, because as someone who doesn't have millions of dollars to donate to political races, I felt like I could not make an impact at the federal level. And what I really learned about the state level was that not only does less money make a huge impact, but also the impact of electing different leaders at the state level is arguably bigger than changing the federal level. My group and I did all this research led by Daniel Squadron, who was kind of our North Star on this idea, and we looked into how much states influence all the things that we truly care about. You know, education policy, the environment, gun safety, healthcare, choice, voting rights, civil rights. Those are all things that are decided in state capitals state by state. And so when we really learned about the Republican takeover project red map, how 26 states have a conservative trifecta, meaning they have the governor's mansion, they have majorities in both houses of the legislature, and they can really pass anything they want. And the Democrats have that in seven states when we started, eight states now. It really honed my focus, and I wanted everyone I know to turn their attention to this level of government as well. And so our money that we raised for the Washington State election and for the Virginia House of Delegates elections went very far and added to all the grassroots movements that were coming up. Some of the favorite state organizations that we worked with and hat we've talked to all along, you know, there's a lot of great work being done at the state level. Virginia, it was our first chance to partner with Future Now fund, because they had just started up in actually I think they launched in October 2017 so probably right when I saw you and we were really excited to go in with them into Virginia and support ten candidates with really not a lot of money. It was under twenty thousand dollars to each candidate. It was between five and twenty thousand dollars to each candidate, and we were in the top three biggest givers to nine of those ten candidates. So it's that kind of money that goes so far in these state races, and nine of those ten won their seats, by the way. And Virginia expanded Medicaid, so four hundred thousand new Virginians have Medicaid because of how close we came to flipping the House of Delegates. We got within one seat.

Andrea Chalupa: Wow. And Alyssa, could you talk a little bit about Future Now, how you guys got started, and what your big goals are, and what that timeline looks like? Do have a ten-year timeline? A twenty-year timeline? What are your big dreams for our country?

Alyssa Cast: Yeah, we have very big dreams for our country. Actually, a big part of our organization is an agenda we have for the country called America's goals. America's goals is kind of, our view is, you know, an author like Melissa wouldn't start a young adult novel without an outline; someone who's doing building a house wouldn't build a house without a blueprint; and so if we really want to get our country back on track, we have to have an agenda to do that. So America's goals are, you know, it's good jobs, it's healthcare, it's investing in kids, it's getting special interests out of our politics, it's promoting equal opportunity for everyone, it's sustainable infrastructure and clean water. And so we're pretty zealous about that agenda. So when we look at states that we're going to invest in and the candidates we're going to support to do that, we look at states where we think that we can meaningfully move the needle against those goals. And we only support candidates that also support these ambitious, but we think really reachable, goals. With that kind of framing in mind, it's how we go about doing our work. We did a rigorous analysis of all 99 chambers. Interestingly, Nebraska has a unicameral legislature, so that's why you're at 99, not 100. But we looked at those at those 99 chambers, and we thought, where is there a path to building a new majority in those states, and where is the biggest policy opportunity? It's not really enough to just flip states, or to just flip individual seats. It's exciting. It's exciting when you flip a seat, but it's not enough. It's about how do we build a base of progressive power for years to come, and how do we elect people that we know are committed to the same goals we are? So with kind of that ambition in mind is how we got to the work we're doing this year. Because of the incredible work that we did in Virginia through the support of generous groups like Melissa's, we were able to expand our work into five states this year: Arizona, Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. We're really excited about what we're seeing in those. And we picked states that are deliberately, they're hard to flip. Like, we made it our lives pretty deliberately difficult. We could have picked states where we saw kind of an easy street to flip, but we deliberately picked states where the path was narrow, but where we know that if we change the majority in Arizona, things like meaningfully get better. I mean, Arizona for instance is a state where you've seen some of the most extreme anti-choice measures, or the most extreme anti-immigration measures, and those policies have been shipped out of Arizona and gone national. So if you can stomp that out, stomp out patient zero and where these bad policies are coming from, and also have the opportunity that advances really awesome policies in a state like Arizona, that's changing the lives of millions of people. And we had to do that five times over.

Andrea Chalupa: So this is really interesting, because the work you're doing, very much at the heart of it is the state's rights versus the federal government. And it's such an important reminder of, as your site futurenow.org says, the Flint water crisis, that's a state-level issue. Schools without resources to teach, that's a state level issue. Healthcare that costs too much and cures too little, voting laws and congressional maps that discriminate—all state-level issues. So even if the federal government is in the hands of somebody like the Trump family, on the state level, you can still fight your heart out and organize to turn your state blue and then enact a lot of these policies to create a more progressive union.

Alyssa Cast: Exactly. And I think actually something that's really crystallized the impact of states is the confirmation of Kavanaugh. I mean, it's really fucking depressing that even if we flipped Congress and if Trump's a one term president, the Supreme Court is still going to have an extreme, five-justice conservative majority. And the way to push back against the harm and destruction that that five-member conservative court can advance, is to do it in the States. If you're someone who's concerned that at a best-case scenario the Supreme Court is going to allow Roe to die a death by a million cuts and in a worst case is going to overturn it, we have to fight in the States. If you're concerned that the Trump court is going to uphold corporate interests over the interests of regular people time and time again, and protect those corporate interests come hell or high water, you've got to fight that in the States. It's really, I think for Melissa and I, made our mission at our work feel that much more important.

Melissa Walker: Yeah, we've actually really teared up over the past couple of weeks together, and I think Roe is a really good example. A lot of states, those 26 Republican trifecta states that I mentioned earlier, will really start to absolutely get rid of a woman's right to choose, and blue trifecta states, and even states where a couple of the, like maybe the governor and one legislature is blue, those states will start putting in laws that protect women. One of New York's first goals is to get our choice bill up to speed. It's not where it needs to be. And so those protective laws can do so much for the citizens of the states where there's progressive people in power. So in these states that have bluer governments, they make it easier for people to vote, and that's going to be something that's really important in terms of the Supreme Court, too. They're really in a position now to limit people's voting access, and in a mindset to do such, but states can push back on that, and that's arguably one of the most important things that states can do for democracy.

Andrea Chalupa: How did it get so bad? How did the Democrats lose so many states over the last decade?

Melissa Walker: You know, there's a few answers to that, but I think one of the biggest answers is that we got really excited about Obama winning the presidency and controlling things at the federal level, and everybody kind of had stars in their eyes. Obama was really elected by a Democratic coalition that did include all 50 states, the 50-State Strategy. After he was elected, people I think kind of rest on their laurels a little bit. And we really haven't funded state races in a meaningful way, and Republicans have. The Koch brothers and their ilk have come in and really taken things over at the state level. We lost we lost almost a thousand state seats since 2008, and the truth is that losing those seats made people's lives worse. The states that enact Right to Work laws, and you know in Oklahoma, many of the schools have four days of school because public education isn't funded. There are all these things that made people's lives bad, but a lot of times people don't look to their state legislatures for those answers. They look at the president, and maybe they look at their senators and their Congress people who are going to Washington, D.C., but where they should be looking is at their state capital and their local governments, because that's where the problems lie in many cases, and it's really where the solutions lie.

Alyssa Cast: Republicans have always done a good job of understanding that states are powerful in their own right, that all of these laws that affect healthcare, education climate policy, that they're a large part decided in the states. And as a party, Democrats, Melissa and I included, believe in the power of the federal government, but that doesn't mean that we don't also believe that states are really powerful in their own right. It's something that frankly we still struggle with. And even today, as you see Democratic groups increasingly finding religion about states, that often the narrative is about redistricting, that states are powerful because they control drawing congressional districts. And that's true. It's true that that's a huge power states have, but they're also powerful in determining, you know, does your kid get a decent education at their public school? Are there enough teachers there? Those basic things are not determined by the federal government, but by your states. I really believe that if Democrats came to understand the true power of their state and the role that the state plays in their lives, that you'll see a lot more momentum and interest from Democrats in the States. For people who want to have a really big impact, states are where it's at. It is really exciting to support a credible congressional or U.S. senatorial candidate, and you should do that, but also you should support state legislators, because flipping an entire state legislative chamber costs one tenth as much as winning one competitive congressional race. That's huge.

Andrea Chalupa: Why has this been overlooked? Melissa has explained to me that it's just not as sexy as some of the other causes out there that people could support. Could you talk about sort of the perception problem?

Melissa Walker: So this is Melissa again, and I think that one thing that happens is that we, at least I, had a basic lack of knowledge about state legislatures. I think that 99% of the people I talked to cannot identify with their state senator or state House members are. They can usually name their senators and their Congress people, the people who go to D.C. for them. Very rarely can someone name for me the person that goes to their state capital. And it's a body that operates in shadow in some sense, because people aren't aware. They know their governor. They know their federal reps, but blow that it gets really hazy for people. So that's part of it. I think part of it might be the loss of good local news coverage, and all of us focusing on big national news all the time. I think that's part of it, too.

Alyssa Cast: Yeah, and I can say candidly that when Melissa speaks of people who don't know who their state legislator is, or the power that they have, I can put myself in that same camp. I'm someone that has lived and breathed national politics or refreshing Twitter since I was a kid, but I didn't really know what my state legislator did. One of the reasons how I got to Future Now fund was Daniel Squadron, our executive director, was my state senator for nearly a decade. And I started seeing these really cool things happening in my neighborhood. Affordable housing projects that really gave people dignity, incredible parks being put up. And I saw in this park that there was a plaque that had Daniel's name on it, and I said, "Who the hell is this Daniel Squadron, and what does is he doing giving us parks?" And I looked into it and he was my state legislator. He was my state senator. And I thought, "Huh. I guess that they do more than just like drive to Albany." They have real impact. When you peek behind the curtain, it's pretty clear to see how impactful they are.

Andrea Chalupa: Melissa, did you talk about—you shared this with me before, and it was terrifying. What are you up against in terms of Karl Rove, the brain of the far-right takeover of our country, what are you up against in terms of the Conservative strategy, the Conservatives' nightmares for our country?

Melissa Walker: They do a lot. They do a lot of funding at the state and local level, and they have for decades. They will definitely be better funded than the Democrats. But the good news is—I'm looking for the silver lining—the good news is that we don't have to fund Democratic candidates to the same level. We just need to fund our candidates enough so that they can get their message out, because when we fund candidates enough so that they can knock on all the doors, so that they can have a mailer, so that they can have a digital ad, so that they can be out in their district meeting people, we can win those races, because in state legislature districts, you can really reach your voters and talk to them. And when you do, turns out the Democratic message is better. People like it better. I'm going to give you healthcare. We're going to help you improve your life. And that message resonates with voters when they're able to hear their candidate speak, and we need to fund our candidates to get them out there meeting people.

Alyssa Cast: And what we see is, you know, there are in the five states that we're working in this cycle, they're obviously different parts of the country with different types of voters and different types of issues, but we hear the same things again and again. Like the top three issues in almost each of these states is generally the same. It's healthcare, it's education, and one that always surprises me is clean water. Like clean water is not just a Flint Michigan issue, it's a main issue where they have an incredibly high rate of lead poisoning in their water supply. Clean water is an issue in North Carolina. And so these are issues where Democrats win, and where people can run campaigns and do run campaigns on these issues. The candidates that I speak to and the candidates we've endorsed, these are people who are knocking on thousands of doors in their district, and they tell us they are not talking about Trump, even if they're hearing about Trump on MSNBC or Fox News, they're not thinking about it when they’re taking to candidates. They're asking about their local schools, their local water supply, and will I be able to afford healthcare.

Andrea Chalupa: Could you speak a little bit about the conservative plan to call a constitutional convention to change our Constitution in a way that would be more advantageous to the Republicans? Because that's a real thing that they are really gunning for that, and I think people realize how close they are to calling a constitutional convention.

Melissa Walker: So yeah, there is a certain number of legislative bodies that they need majorities in in order to call a constitutional convention, and it's definitely been a goal of the Koch machine, and one of the one of the main goals that they have with that is that they'd like to repeal the popular election of senators, which is terrifying. It would mean that governors around the country would appoint senators, and they have a lot of governors. That's been a big part of their plan in the state takeover: get the states. In states where legislators draw the redistricting line, they get to control Congress. Get the governors, and get enough chambers to call a constitutional convention and eliminate the election of senators. It's a truly terrifying future that we've been gunning towards, and it's called Project RED Map. The more I read about it, there's an amazing book called—excuse my French—Rat Fucked, by Dave Daley about it, about the whole plan, and they really laid it out. You know, Karl Rove had an editorial in The Wall Street Journal that the subhead was whoever controls the States controls Congress. And it was just like, "Wow, they just put it out there." And they were saying it all along, and we still really didn't take our eyes off the federal level, and we didn't find the states to where they needed to be.

Alyssa Cast: And funding states, it's also a question of how they funded it. I mean, the Republicans have built incredible in-state infrastructure. It's not as exciting to talk about it, but they have the capabilities, resources, and muscle memory in state to run elections where they can seize control of legislative majorities, and Democrats and need to build the same. It's really important to fund inspiring candidates, and it's equally important to fund the activities that allow states to have the best field program cycle after cycle, the best digital infrastructure cycle after cycle. We need to do those things, and we're behind.

Andrea Chalupa: Right. So it's about building the 50-State Strategy that got Obama elected in the first place in 2008, and just keeping it permanent, and having it set up so that it's not only protecting our elections and our Democratic candidates cycle after cycle, but also pushing through the policies we need to really raise the bar on quality of life here in America and undo generations of damage by a lot of these Republican policies in some of these states. So there's a 2017 Daily Beast article, "The Conservative Plan to Rewrite the Constitution (and yes, it's a thing)," and they remind us that it only takes 34 states to call for a constitutional convention, and Republicans are very close.

Melissa Walker: Yeah. Yeah, it's very scary.

Alyssa Cast: I think one thing we've learned is that we should take Republicans at their word Like when they say they're going to do stuff, they're going to try to do stuff. Like we shouldn't act that these things are hypothetical, or like an extreme joke. When people show you who you are, they generally mean it.

Andrea Chalupa: Okay, so how do we get involved? How can people listening to this get involved and help your organization Future Now? And what are some practical steps that they can take?

Melissa Walker: Well, we do have an amazing giving circles program, which is groups of people banding together to raise money for these five states that we talked about. And again, small amounts of money make a huge difference. Some groups are trying to raise $1,000 among their friends and family; some groups are trying to raise $25,000. And everybody is really activated and energized, so that's definitely one thing; start a giving circle at futurenow.org.

Alyssa Cast: And the other way is that there are all these amazing giving circles that are already up and running, and you can support them. Like each of them explains why they're doing what they're doing, why they've adopted the same thing they've adopted, what the stakes are, and you can give directly to them.

Melissa Walker: The giving circle program will definitely expand. And then of course in 2020 all the states will be on the table again, and Future Now fund will expand to support many more states, so if people are interested in starting a giving circle for their own state and it's not one of our chosen states, it's absolutely something to get in touch about that can be pursued for the next cycle.

Andrea Chalupa: Great. Thank you so much for his important discussion, another reminder that you have to get involved now and maintain the long view.

Andrea Chalupa