We started Ground Game Texas with a simple idea: investing in year-round organizing works. So, our very first initiative in April and May of this year was piloting a get-out-the-vote effort in Grand Prairie, Texas (between Dallas and Fort Worth). After we invested $5,000 in staff to knock doors and make calls, our scrappy but determined team helped elect two Black City Council candidates for the first time in 40 years.
All of the data we have supports another central idea in our theory of change: that engaging voters on popular, progressive issues through direct-democracy ballot initiatives will increase engagement and turnout. In Austin, we piloted our first municipal ballot initiative-- to end enforcement of low-level marijuana possession. In order to qualify, we needed to collect 20,000 verified signatures from registered, City of Austin voters. Our team gathered nearly 35,000 signatures, a huge accomplishment and a clear indicator of the enthusiasm voters have for progressive policy.
It’s a simple, common-sense idea-- that popular ideas and policies, when combined with direct action, can move voters to participate in so-called “off-year” elections.
But in the process of our Austin field program, we discovered another huge and previously unexplored benefit that could be massive when these programs are deployed at scale. Our organizers found that many of the folks they talked to were either not registered to vote at all or were registered at an old address. This has long been a problem with traditional, voter-file-based voter contact programs. Adding up-to-date data about where petition signers live, and adding new registrants to the rolls who support our campaign, helps everyone in the progressive community, and has the potential to make massive shifts in the parts of Texas that we need to win.
And the data are pointing in that direction. Overall, based on the results in a recent, November 2021 election in Austin, Ground Game Texas petition signers were 129% more likely to vote than other eligible Texans.
Between Grand Prairie and Austin, we got involved in another issue-- convincing school boards across Texas to adopt mask policies to protect students and staff from COVID exposure. After Governor Greg Abbott issued an order that said masks could not be required for children-- even though students under 12 were not eligible for vaccination-- Mike Siegel added “legal director” to his job description and successfully represented parents in three school districts who sued to allow their schools to have mask requirements. Then Ground Game Texas collaborated with another grassroots organization, Blue Action Democrats, to found “Safe Schools for All,” a new organization that helped organize in dozens of school districts across Texas to adopt mask rules. The movement ultimately convinced over 80 school districts to adopt mask policies, despite the obstruction of state leadership.
It has been a busy year, but we are only getting started. To respond to the challenge of low voter turnout in South Texas, we recently launched a living wage ballot campaign in Mission, Texas, which will require the City of Mission and contractors working with the City to offer a $15/hour minimum wage to all city employees and contractor employees. In the months ahead, we’ll continue to work with allies in the Rio Grande Valley to bring the living wage campaign to other cities in the newly drawn Congressional District 15-- and help ensure the district retains progressive representation.
We will also start additional marijuana decriminalization initiatives in four cities, including San Marcos and Killeen.
And one of our most exciting projects is a city charter change in El Paso that would adopt a “climate policy” for the City and consider the climate impact of every major City decision, including budget decisions, procurement contracts, and new developments.
Let’s do a little math here: if each of our campaigns boosts turnout by thousands of voters, we’re looking at directly mobilizing more than 100,000 new progressive voters helping to decide the next Governor of Texas.
But having a winning strategy isn’t enough. Every time we launch a new campaign, that means hiring campaign staff, recruiting volunteers, knocking doors, and producing flyers and mailers-- and we have less than a year until the big election in November 2022 to scale up our work across Texas.
As you consider your charitable end-of-year giving, we’d like for you to consider helping us as we work to lay the foundation for progressive change in Texas. Your financial contribution at the Blue America Turning Texas Blue thermometer or here will help us mobilize thousands and thousands of new voters across the state. And we have three mechanisms by which you can give-- through a 501(c)(3) organization, a 501(c)(4) organization, or through a state PAC.
Ground Game Texas is building a progressive Texas from the ground up, one city at a time.