Grassroots electoral power-building gains momentum in the Bay Area

By Margi Clarke

Did you see lots of ads about candidates and ballot measures this election cycle? Well, prepare for a lot more. The national airwaves and internet are where big money in politics dominates the debate, and it’s true for Bay Area elections as well. Grassroots voices can be drowned out by the traditional ways elections are handled by mainstream consultants, media companies, and most political leaders. They don’t invest in talking with constituents, instead broadcasting one-way to them with false-solution politics, and political donors and political ads grease many palms along the way. Fortunately there are groups working to ensure community voices are heard, both locally and nationally.

In California, grassroots organizations have been strategically working for decades to overcome the money and power imbalance, and in recent years have succeeded in progressive wins in local, regional and state races. In the Bay Area in particular, community groups ‘punch above their weight’, mobilizing significant numbers of new and less likely voters who can be the tipping point in tight races. By motivating and mobilizing year-round with young people, people of color, women, and low income, marginalized communities, these groups are contesting power in more places, and are more able to wield progressive power in key cities. Their cutting edge campaigns and year-round policy work increasingly looks like co-governance with progressive leaders.

Progressive victories over the last few election cycles include living wage ordinances, renter protections, worker benefits, more public resources for alternatives to law enforcement, and more progressive candidates in cities, towns and for county level offices. It is clear that local grassroots power can influence regional and national agendas, and lead the way with practical solutions. Who are these small but mighty groups, and what is their strategy? 

A recent report by Bay Rising Action and Center for Empowered Politics shares the work of 40 organizations across the nine Bay Area counties. These groups engage a cumulative total of 45,000 members in advocacy campaigns, local organizing, policy crafting, and leadership development. These 40 groups mobilize nearly half a million low-propensity voters in the region, up to 12% of the active voter rolls (and as a sector, touch many more, since this scan is just a sample of advocacy networks in the region.)

The report gives the field, and funders in the advocacy space, a view into the ecosystem of organizations, coalitions, and electoral power strategies led by the grassroots sector. The grassroots political ecosystem includes nonprofit educational/charitable (501c3) and advocacy groups (501c4), as well as volunteer-led groups, and a wide variety of allied groups that do policy work, leadership development, polling, and strategic planning. They work in affiliated networks and regional civic engagement tables with labor, progressive funders, and allies to achieve community agendas through ballot measures, policy work, and candidate endorsements.

We already see more right-wing attacks at the local level in the Bay Area, with school boards, city budgets, and policing becoming essential terrain where local voices and organized grassroots power can defend our communities and actually move progressive solutions to the center. This report shows the value of the sector and their aspirations. The formula to combat big money centers on day-to-day organizing, and these are the groups scaling up to bring people-centered solutions to the Bay Area and beyond. 

To learn more, contact us for access to the full report.

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