At latest count, there are a record-breaking 529 women candidates running for Congressional office in 2018. And likewise, there’s a historic number of women activists all across the country mobilizing to make sure they win.
“Since the explosion of the Women’s March all of these grassroots groups have formed, and it’s almost overwhelming. There’s so much going on,” says Vanessa Wruble, executive director of the sister march network called March On that is not affiliated with Women’s March, Inc. “What’s slowly happening now is all the groups are coming together into this giant grassroots army. Everyone is getting really coordinated. It’s very exciting.”
While turnout for midterm elections is traditionally much lower than it is for presidential elections, early polling suggests people — especially Democratic-leaning voters — are more fired up about voting in this cycle than in years past. A Washington Post-ABC Poll conducted earlier this year found that 51 percent of Democratic-leaning voters planned to vote in midterms, compared to just 34 percent of Republican-voters. Also helping: The newly invigorated student movement against gun violence, which is offering yet another opportunity for bringing new, highly engaged voters into the process.
Earlier this year, Women’s March, Inc., was engulfed in controversy, when one of the group’s high-profile leaders, Tamika Mallory, failed to disavow anti-Semitic remarks by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, leading many to distance themselves from the group. While Mallory’s mentions on Twitter are still full of calls for her to step down, outside of the dramatic echo chamber of social media, the work on the ground has continued.
This weekend, the Women’s March “Power to The Polls” tour will make it’s third stop in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a day-long convening series of trainings on civic engagement, coalition building, voter registration, and other community organizing tools for local activists. Melissa Harris-Perry, along with national co-chairs Bob Bland and Linda Sarsour will also be in attendance as speakers.
The North Carolina stop is part of what will be a 10-state tour, designed to bring attention and energy to swing states. After launching in January in Las Vegas, the Women’s March recently announced stops in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, with more announcements to come.
In North Carolina alone, there are 116 female candidates for General Assembly, with most running as Democrats, The Charlotte Observer reported. The state is also home to a heated battle over redistricting, after a panel of federal judges ruled in January that the district maps were gerrymandered to benefit the Republicans in power and must be redrawn in time for 2018 elections. But then, a few days later, the Supreme Court stepped in to block the ruling for the time being, leaving the current districts in place at least until the next election cycle. This comes after the Supreme Court stayed a lower court’s strikedown of a racist voter ID law designed to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision,” the court found.
The Women’s March organizers in North Carolina are hoping this weekend will be just the start of their effort to shift the power balance in their state. “We have a lot of women running for re-election and running for the first time in the state legislature,” says Aisha Dew, an organizer and political operative in North Carolina who is serving on the local host committee in Charlotte. “We have to get together in person to get organized so we can support each other.” They are expecting roughly 200 people to attend.
A large part of the strategy overall is to get into communities now to activate new voters.
“There’s such a lack of participation in midterm elections,” says Nantasha Williams, political engagement co-lead for Women’s March. “The point is educating people, and making them understand that the power is in their vote.” So far, the organization has registered at least 12,000 voters nationwide, according to a Women’s March representative.
Earlier this month, events were held in Cleveland and Columbus in Ohio, attracting more than 400 people on the last weekend to register to vote, says Rhiannon Childs, director of Women’s March Ohio. In addition to electoral strategy sessions and panels on ballot measures that Ohio voters will decide on this year, attendees got their feet wet during a deep-listening canvass to talk to voters and also make sure they were registered.
“Before this, as just a constituent and voter, I’ve really only seen people come to my door right before the election. They want your vote, but they don’t care about you,” Childs says. “This is a different approach: We’re centering issues. We’re going out to talk to people about the economic links between reproductive justice and being able to have a job and have equal pay. By going out now, we are hoping voters are going to pick candidates based on the things we care about.”
Meanwhile, March On, has set their sights on not only registering voters (especially young voters on high school and college campuses, who are fired up by the March For Our Lives movement), but also endorsing specific candidates and funneling money into key races through their affiliated political action committee, Fight Back PAC.
So far, they’ve endorsed 7 female candidates, from Illinois to Arkansas, with plans to endorse many more as primaries continue throughout the summer. In the meantime, they’re also supporting special elections candidates like Arizona’s Hiral Tipirneni, who lost by just five points in a deeply red district. “Our goal first and foremost is to turn seats from red to blue,” says Andi Pringle, executive director of the Fight Back PAC. “We’re staking claim everywhere. We’re not going to let any seat or any race go uncontested.”