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Electoral Politics

Statement from the Prater for the People Campaign

Prater for the People is a Northeast TN DSA supported campaign to elect DSA member Dennis Prater to the District 9 seat of the Washington County Commission. Following is a post-election statement from the campaign.

This election, the establishment took the seat, but our campaign brought a new voice to the streets. The Prater for the People campaign won 41.38% of the vote, picking up 461 votes to our opponent’s 653.

Our campaign exceeded the typical vote for Democrats in this area. The energy that has been built by trying to connect directly with people on their terms and address their daily needs is undeniable.

My campaign team and I believe the results show that, with the right approach, this race was winnable. We were learning as we went. If we had gone into the race with a little more organizational capacity, we believe we would have won. This time, my opponent was able to rely on the local Republican political machine to secure a victory. They talked to people they already knew. We expanded our circle, and we will continue to expand that circle through ongoing organizing on issues that matter to the people here.

We also laid a lot of groundwork for running future candidates. Our campaign took us to over 2,000 doors. We brought voices and ideas to the public discussion that would not have appeared otherwise. We put forward positive proposals that we sincerely believe would benefit our community.

We believed voters wanted to see a candidate not afraid to take a stand. In this time of extremes of wealth inequality, concentration of power, and polarization in society, we did not and could not have followed the failed model of “moving to the center.” We led from the front and, rather than putting forward a softened version of our opponent’s positions or simply saying, “at least I’m not so-and-so,” we put forward a positive platform and a vision of a better life. People responded.

It is a vision we would have fought for if elected, and it is one we will continue to fight for.

As long as the issues of wealth and social inequality are not addressed, our people will be hurting. The struggle continues, and we are not going away. If the establishment politicians and conservatives were going to help low-income and working people, they would have already been doing it. People are cost-burdened on their rent. People don’t have health care. People are paying half of their wages in child care. Meanwhile, politicians seem to believe and act as if having money means you deserve more of a voice and our needs can be ignored. We can’t wait on them to change their minds. If we want prosperity for all, and not just for a select few, we have to organize for it.

When I look back at all of the conversations I had at people’s doors, I think of the woman whose family was forced to sell their home of decades in hopes of affording her lifesaving medical care – in the wealthiest country in human history. I think of all the working-class residents of District 9 who told me we need more free things for young people to do. I think of all the people who thought I was a salesman because politicians don’t visit them, much less ask what they think.

When we come flyering or knocking in those neighborhoods again, to get people educated on and involved in things that affect them, they won’t be as surprised to see us as they were the first time.

People put a lot into this campaign. Some contributed a whole lot of hours and others contributed what few hours they could spare, and we are grateful for every one of those sacrifices. We are grateful for the financial sacrifices and generosity of all the people who made our campaign viable with no corporate money. Your work and contributions made a difference in Washington County. Thank you to everyone who spent hours walking around in the punishing summer heat.

We entered this race knowing we were taking on a project bigger than ourselves. We hoped to win – and we worked hard for a win – but we were always aware this was an uphill battle. Not only were we running a democratic socialist in an area that typically votes 70% Republican, but we were introducing a candidate most people had never heard of before we showed up on their doorstep. Our outreach, and our putting the needs of low-income and working people first, made us a contender.

I’ll be continuing the fight for the same things I’m always fighting for, the same things I fought for well before anyone thought of the campaign.

Even if we had taken the seat, actually winning the resolution for Medicaid expansion or uplifting our people through community wealth building or putting together community groups as a powerful voice for low-income and working people would have taken organizing and movement-building – and that’s the kind of work I’ll continue being involved in. The issues we need to address are bigger than any one political seat. It was always going to take a movement, and it still does.

There are at least three things I hope people take away from this experience: 1. we showed a viable model for future wins; 2. we advanced the conversation by pointing to things that are possible but that status quo candidates ignore; and, most importantly, 3. organizing is not just for electoral campaigns. If we want to win, organizing must be ongoing.

Knowing you have made a difference in your community and helped bring us closer to a better world can be very meaningful. Low-income and working people still need a voice in our society. I welcome you to get in touch or to organize where you are and be part of making that happen.

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