You should run for office.
Yes, I’m talking to you. At some point in the last few months, you’ve thought: “Hey, I’d make a better president than Trump!” And you’re probably right. But rather than plotting your national run in 2020, let’s start a little closer to home.
You know that important policy decisions are made by state and local elected officials around the country, but just how many of those races are there? One estimate puts it at over 500,000: state legislatures, state attorneys general, city and county governments, state and local judges, district attorneys, various boards and special districts, and on and on. There are nearly 100,000 school board seats alone.
Put another way: the United States has about 1 elected office for every 500 voters. Count your high school class, your extended family, everyone around town—chances are you know at least 500 people. One of them should be an elected official. It could be you.
But which office? And how to get started? Local government varies a lot around the country, so you have to start by looking locally at which offices are available and when they have elections. Contact your local election administration for more details.
There are also a few different groups that can help you navigate the process and win.
Look to the party
In theory, recruiting and supporting candidates is a core function of a political party. Unfortunately, local party structures have atrophied in many parts of the country, leaving candidates to fend for themselves. In other places, the local parties stifle dissent through machine politics.
That said, if you’re new to electoral politics, it’s worth figuring out what’s going on in your county. There’s no central place to look up contacts for the local party though, so you literally have to just google: “[your county] local Democratic party” (or other party of your preference). Try to get in touch with someone or attend the next meeting.
If you find the local party isn’t very helpful, you could take on the task of reforming and rebuilding it—a worthy goal in its own right. But for the purposes of running for office, you might also turn to affiliated groups for help.
In many parts of the country, local political clubs or other groups fulfill party functions like candidate recruitment and support. There are also many nonpartisan groups, like university-run institutes and leadership development nonprofits, doing the same work.
The best national guide to these parallel local structures seems to be this state-by-state map of resources and organizations. (This list focuses on groups that support women running for office, but many of them support all kinds of candidates.)
Don’t hesitate to reach out to current elected officials or past candidates in your area. They may be able to point you in the right direction or make local introductions.
The number of national groups supporting candidates has grown in the last few years. Their support ranges: online resources, in-person trainings, volunteer recruitment, fundraising, policy advice, and more.
Here are a few that seem to be offering the most active support. Don’t hesitate to follow several, as there’s no one path toward running for office and they all offer slightly different resources.
Emily’s List: Providing tools and advice for pro-choice Democratic women at the state and local levels, and greater support at the federal and gubernatorial levels.
Higher Heights: Elevating Black women’s voices in progressive politics through candidate training and more.
National Democratic Training Committee: Offering free online training for Democratic candidates everywhere, especially for local races.
New American Leaders: Preparing first- and second-generation Americans to run for office with trainings and fellowships.
Progressive Change Campaign Committee: Offering training, financial support, a volunteer base, a team of experts, and more.
Run for Something: Targeting millennials (under-35) committed to a progressive agenda and connected in their communities.
She Should Run Incubator: Not immediate campaign support, but thoughtful guidance through a set of online courses for women and girls considering a future run for office.
Veterans Campaign: Running nonpartisan campaign training workshops for military veterans.
Victory Institute: Training and supporting LGBTQ elected officials and building a pipeline of future leaders
Wellstone: Providing in-person candidate and campaign management training across the country, as well as online resources and training materials.