Let's Talk With Derek Marshall In The Victor Valley
On Saturday morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that big cities lost more residents as the pandemic enveloped the U.S. Los Angeles was one of them-- 41,000, 1% of the population, having moved out between March of 2020 and March of 2022. Thousands of these Angelenos moved to the outer suburbs and exurbs in San Bernardino County, long one of the fastest growing counties in the country.
The vast majority of the voters in CA-23 (formerly CA-08) live in San Bernardino and the data the political prognosticators use is not nearly up to date. Their data shows a slight GOP lean-- R+2.6% but the county grew population by half a percent-- including over 11,000 people from Los Angeles in the last 12 months alone. These people don't know the incumbent, Trumpist Republican Jay Obernolte, who voted against certifying the elections, against the Equality Act, against COVID Relief, against lowering the cost of insulin, against prevent gas gouging, against stopping domestic terrorists, against relief for families in need of baby formula, etc. Blue America-endorsed progressive Derek Marshall, unlike most challengers, has raised enough money (over half a million dollars, basically keeping pace with Obernolte) to deliver the message to motivate voters in the sprawling district. He's a former top Bernie Sanders community organizer running in a district that Bernie won and has already been endorsed by the California Democratic Party, PDA, the Inland Empire Labor Council and Blue America. You can contribute to his campaign here.
One of the sharpest election organizers this cycle, he explains below what his team is doing to win this election:
Community Organizing Can Build Electoral Power
-by Derek Marshall
I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone when I say that politics today makes people feel disconnected. We seem to be more divided than ever, and we’re left with a sense of dejection at how little we can control or change about the status quo. However, I can tell you from my own experience, community organizing and mutual aid are great ways to take a step toward your own agency and feel a direct connection to your community.
My life has always been about organizing and finding a way to make real change through action, that’s why I’m running a unique grassroots campaign to represent California's new 23rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
For decades now, we’ve seen Democratic electoral strategy become more and more focused on the grasstops. Campaigns that mostly focus on paid media, mail and digital programs with minimal or surface level engagement in the field and the community at-large. As a community organizer, I find this strategy at best ineffective, at worst, responsible for increasing the number of disengaged and disenfranchised voters. Real, sustainable, electoral power can only be built when deep bonds are forged between candidate, party and community-- voters want to feel connected to their representative and that means showing up at the doors, at community meetings and having the tough conversations with voters who don’t always agree with you.
It’s pretty simple really-- we can’t expect voters to come out for us if we don’t respect them enough to engage with them directly and make them part of the conversation.
And that’s what we’re doing in the Inland Empire. Our campaign invested early in our ground game-- we’ve been out in the field talking face to face with voters at the doors and at community gatherings for months.
We have knocked on thousands and thousands of doors and in the month of May alone we’ve completed hundreds of volunteer shifts and have made over 50,000 direct calls to voters.
Don’t get me wrong-- I think TV ads, radio spots and mail all have their place in campaign strategy-- trust me our campaign has done plenty of it. We’ve put out an aggressive paid mail and spanish language radio program as well as a competitive digital program-- but organizers know-- the face to face conversation is where and how we win.
To understand this strategy, I think it's important to learn a bit more about me and my background in community aid and organizing…
I’ve been involved in community aid since I was a child. Growing up, my family ran a homeless outreach program every weekend called “Soup to Go.” It provided meals and supplies to those in need, and from an early age, I learned that extreme inequalities prevail in our society. But I wasn’t without hope. I formed relationships through the outreach program and saw how a meal could uplift the spirit of others. Those Saturdays were the catalyst in my lifelong commitment to bringing positive change-- no matter how small.
I got my first taste of political organizing, as a lot of folks do, volunteering for big national or state races. I knocked on doors for Barack Obama in Virginia in 2008, Elizabeth Warren in 2012, and Bernie Sanders in 2016. While these experiences helped me cut my teeth in the electoral organizing arena-- there was something missing. To be blunt, electoral organizing felt disconnected from real, tangible change that could help a friend or neighbor better their life. That’s a feeling I’m sure many have felt and continue to feel.
But electoral politics holds power-- I felt as a budding organizer a deep desire to contest for that power on behalf of working people while continuing to provide direct aid to my community.
So, I went local. Enter the Jessica Salans Los Angeles City Council election-- a scrappy and grassroots campaign where the only voter targeting we could afford was to circle the district and knock on every single door. By day I was the campaign’s Organizing Director, by night I drove Uber full-time to stay afloat-- but that’s how much I believed in the power of local organizing. The calling was too strong for me to ignore.
And while the campaign came up short, the movement born from the campaign had created massive change for Los Angeles. The team of activists and volunteers who helped drive the Salans campaign eventually teamed up, and we helped lay the groundwork for the organization today known as Ground Game LA.
Ground Game was influential in flipping a U.S. House seat from red to blue in 2018 for Katie Hill, the first openly bisexual member of Congress, and they continue to lead the charge in Southern California on issues like housing affordability and ending houselessness in Los Angeles.
For me, these experiences led to stints as a journeyman political organizer-- doing groundwork for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New Georgia Project’s Ossoff/Warnock special elections, and Sen. Sanders’ historic Nevada Democratic Caucus victory. I learned pretty quickly that having structure and clear goals for a campaign is the key to success. One of the staffers who was in charge of organizing these goals was Cody Hoskins. He’s now my campaign manager. In fact, my entire Congressional campaign team is made up of community organizers.
What my organizing experience taught me is that it’s always possible to make real change. Even when campaigns are deeply financially outmatched, or come up short on election day, it’s not a wasted effort if you keep the team and community active by working towards justice.
Is the system flawed? Yes. Does it have a long history of keeping working people from having a seat at the table? Also, yes. But that does not mean we as organizers and activists should completely ignore contesting for power. With the right strategies, I believe we can accomplish the mutual aid work that is so important to helping our neighbors today while also organizing for long-term change electorally for the future.
Although it may seem that we’re more divided than ever, I find myself feeling more connected through organizing-- it brings people together, not just in politics, but in life. To me, where there’s organizing, there’s hope to create a better society for all. That’s exactly what I’m aiming to do with my campaign.