Updated: Jan 31, 2022
Colorado's first congressional district-- basically Denver-- is the most progressive in the state-- D+24. The voters there were smart enough to make Trump's share of the 2020 vote 22%, a point lower than his 2016 share. The member of Congress is neither a Blue Dog, a New Dem of a progressive. Diana DeGette is... just there. She's not terrible-- her ProgressivePunch lifetime rating is "B"-- but she sure isn't a cutting edge, forward thinking representative for a district like the one she represents. Denver deserves some who works hard enough for Justice to earn an "A," consistently.
Today Blue America is officially endorsing DeGette's progressive primary opponent, Neal Walia, the son of Indian immigrants and the first person in his family to be born in the US. He told me that both of his parents, like many immigrants, came to this country in pursuit of what was known as the "American Dream." Neal a University of Colorado graduate taught English, worked for a former Colorado governor, and spent a handful of years working in Washington D.C. for national organizations that did advocacy in and out of the halls of Congress.
"Yet, in spite of taking all of these steps," he told me, "I feel like my life is more vulnerable than it’s ever felt. I am currently being crushed by a lifetime of student debt. I can’t afford to buy a home in the city that I love, and the cost of childcare actively delays mine and my wife’s ability to start our own family. Additionally, my parents, who should have already retired, don’t feel like retirement is an option anymore due to them not having enough financial security to take that step. Feeling all of these pressures accumulate in my own life and knowing that so many Americans are going through these same struggles, I made the choice to run for Congress. Our communities deserve to have a representative who lives their struggles, but more importantly, will fight to fix them as if their lives depended on it. Because my life does."
You can contribute to Neal's campaign here or by clicking on the Blue America 2022 congressional thermometer below. This weekend, he wrote that when he "started this journey I never would have imagined that I would be writing a blog post for Blue America as a candidate who has been endorsed by former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, the national Working Families Party, and the Progressive Democrats of America Denver chapter. I say that because candidates like me aren’t meant to make it in our current political environment. An environment that is designed to empower those with wealth at the expense of working class Americans. And believe me, my journey has not been an easy one. I’ve taken many losses since I began exploring the possibility of running for Congress last year. There have been so many factors that could have ended my candidacy, but we have endured and now sit on the brink of making history in Colorado. I’ve long believed in the power of storytelling as the most effective way to unite and inspire our communities. So, in my first blog post, I’d love to tell the story of my campaign journey. My hope is that some of you can learn from my experiences and then hopefully, be motivated to take this step yourselves. We need people like you to run for office. More importantly, we need people like you to believe that it’s possible to not only run, but WIN. Our time is NOW, and I believe that more than ever.
My journey began back in January of 2021. That’s when I first had the sit down with my wife, parents, sister, and extended family to not only inform them I wanted to run, but to ask for their support for what could be a very long and hard journey. Let me be clear, I never could have done this without the support of my family. I do not come from generational wealth and my parents are public educators. Without the buy-in of my family, my candidacy would not be possible. Thankfully my family immediately celebrated my decision and urged me to embrace the journey and fully commit to the path I wanted to take. My wife and parents said that if and when the time came for me to let go of my salary and healthcare, which I would eventually do right before my formal campaign launch, they would be there to protect me. I am extremely privileged in this sense, and feel like this is a reality many of us should be open to talking about. There are so many extraordinary humans who should be in elected office, but the financial hardship that comes with running an election and not having access to a pay check and health insurance is a barrier for so many deserving to take this step. It’s no wonder so many good people ultimately embrace the corporate PAC route. It’s almost a necessity.
After getting the green light from my support system, I immediately reached out to a long time friend of mine named Michael. Michael and I went to CU Boulder for undergrad together. Since graduating, we’ve both had the privilege of experiencing rewarding careers in politics. Michael, a seasoned campaign professional from the Bernie world, was always the person I knew I had to connect with first. Not just because he’s an amazing leader and human being, but because I trusted him. So we grabbed coffee one afternoon and I told him that I was going to run for Congress, and that I needed his help to guide my exploration. He told me that I was a mad man, but instantly assured me that he had my back and that he believed in my vision for our communities. We then embarked on a series of meetings, calls, and coffees with community members and leaders, current and former elected officials, and political strategists from Denver to DC.
Being able to talk with relevant political leaders was another advantage I’ve had in this journey. Spending the last decade of my career in state and national politics awarded me the opportunity to have conversations with some of the best and brightest in the business; folks who not only knew IF my candidacy was possible, but how I could win as a first time candidate. After hustling through calls and video chats for about three months, news of my underground campaign journey hit the ears of some of the most accomplished political operatives within the Bernie and AOC camps (shoutout to my dear friend Mac Muir for spreading the good word). I soon found myself in a number of interviews with people I’d normally have no business talking to: Dr. Stephanie Kelton, Fedhal Kaboub, Rohan Grey, Pavlina Tcheverna, Jesse Myerson, and my current Senior Advisor and former Advisor to a certain Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Andres Bernal, all generously gave me their time and guidance at a time in my journey when I literally had nothing. With significant amounts of preparation going into these calls, we ended up doing remarkably well in building their trust and received early assurance that if I was able to talk the talk in addition to being able to walk the walk, these folks would help me transform my campaign into one of national significance.
This moment was the first time I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I knew there was a real path to victory for me, and that the Cinderella story I was hoping to tell wasn’t just a dream. It was something that could become a reality. And this is something people who are trying to do what I am doing have to understand. Without some sort of national leader or organization that can bless your campaign, runs like mine are nearly impossible with local grassroots support on its own. To take on a titan, you need the support of other titans. I am lucky, and I have no shame in admitting that. In fact, having luck on your side in a campaign is a necessary ingredient to winning.
After a few more months of quietly building trust and support in Denver, I eventually was able to bring on my first campaign manager and staffer (shoutout to Morgan Watters and Alyssa Nilemo for believing in me since day 1), who for the first month generously offered to help me on a volunteer basis until we raised some money. We formally launched our campaign in July of 2021 and started our run off in style. As a first time candidate who has never run for office before, nearly 200 people showed up to my announcement. This was a moment that truly caught me off guard. My team and I went in with the expectation that if even 50 people showed up, we would have considered our launch to be a smashing success. When I spoke in front of that crowd, something clicked into focus for me that I now understand more than ever: this election has never really been about me. I may be the face of this movement we’ve built, but our grassroots campaign is real not because of just me, but because of what our movement represents: communities seeing themselves in me because we share a similar story and struggle, people being frustrated with a Democratic status quo that continues to exploit its constituents for power and profit, and people who are in desperate need of leaders who are committed to fighting for transformational change and who are willing to take on the establishment, even if it comes a great cost to themselves.
And the rest as they say, is history. Since our announcement, we’ve hit countless milestones. In my first three months, we raised over $100,000 in small dollar contributions without accepting a single penny from a corporate PAC or special interest groups. We’ve earned press and have featured on several podcasts with national reach, including Jen Perlman’s JENerational Change. I’ve also been able to hire a full team of incredible leaders, including my good friend, Andres Bernal (shoutout to the homie Andres), who are being paid meaningful wages, a huge priority for me going into this race. These leaders are helping me make history by being the first person of color to ever represent our district, as well as the only federal candidate in all of Colorado who doesn’t accept corporate PAC money. We’ve started our attempt to go viral on Tik Tok. We’ve also received the verbal endorsements of several state and local officials in Colorado, which we will begin to publicly market in the very near future. All to say, the sky's the limit for this people powered campaign and momentum is very much on our side.
If you’ve managed to make it this far, thank you for sticking with me. I’m very much looking forward to sharing the rest of my journey with you as it continues to unfold, but also to dive into my vision for our country and communities. My goal is to end homelessness in the United States of America and turn my district into one of the leading voices in our fight for a green new deal, healthcare as a human right, housing justice, and so many other transformational policies that our communities have been yearning for. Pay attention, Blue America members. Our movement is here to stay.