Can Red and Blue America Ever See Eye to Eye? She’s Betting on It

In the days after Donald Trump emerged victorious in the 2016 presidential election, Paula Green watched as the shock and disbelief gripping her small New England community began to give way to a deep, dismal sadness.
The residents of liberal Leverett, Massachusetts, where Green lives, had overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton, and many were struggling with the same questions: What had inspired their conservative countrymen to vote the way they had? And what, if anything, could help them find common political ground in the future?
Green, a psychologist with more than 30 years of field experience as an international peacebuilder and facilitator in war-torn communities across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, wasted no time. Together with other members of the Leverett Peace Commission — the local organization she and a few friends had formed years earlier to protest America’s seemingly ceaseless wars — Green organized a get-together at the local library. Somewhere between 60 and 70 stunned residents turned out to talk and mourn, but also brainstorm a way forward.
Within a few months, the Leverett residents formed Hands Across the Hills, an organization dedicated to bridging partisan divides through structured dialogue. In October 2017, more than a dozen of them met face-to-face with a sister coalition of 11 members from Letcher County, Kentucky — a conservative coal-mining community nestled deep in the heart of Appalachia — for three days of music, potlucks and discussions. The results from that weekend, and another between the two groups in the spring of 2018, exceeded even Green’s expectations about the transformative power of compassion — especially in an America that seems more polarized now than at any time in its history.
NationSwell spoke with Green about the ways in which simply initiating a conversation can impact relationships and promote empathy, and how Hands Across the Hills plans to help bridge the deep-seated political divides that define today’s America.
NationSwell: It’s just after the 2016 election, and you’ve decided that you want to partner with a sister city to have this dialogue series — what was it like even trying to find a community willing to do that, given the political climate?
Green: We looked for conservative people in our own town or a neighboring town and discovered pretty rapidly that we couldn’t find anyone who wanted to talk to us. People’s emotions were pretty raw from the election, and polarization had set in already. That’s when one of our members found Ben Fink, who works for [the Appalachian arts nonprofit] Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and who was writing about dialogue and similar work. We reached out to him and eventually formed a partnership, and that’s how we wound up with a coal community in Kentucky as our first partner.
NationSwell: What specifically about the election was so troubling to you, besides the obvious partisanship of it?
Green: We saw immediately that people were splitting into enemy camps, and those enemy camps were demonizing each other. Because that’s been my work internationally, I recognized the danger signs of so much dehumanization happening in the country. I wanted to step in, and this provided me with the perfect vehicle to do that.

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Self-identified liberals from Massachusetts met with their conservative counterparts from Eastern Kentucky for a series of discussions in April 2018.

NationSwell: What was the thinking behind having conversations as a means to bridge that divide?
Green: My international work has focused on supporting people in local contexts, in war-torn and war-recovering countries, who invited me and my organization to help them sort out how they could restore what had been before the war. That of course was extremely difficult, because there had been armed conflict in most of these places, and people were very fragile and frightened. But they also knew that unless they joined with the other side of the conflict, they would not be able to rebuild their community.
NationSwell: I’m sure some issues are bound to spur some extreme reactions. What do you do to deescalate the situation when people’s temperatures get hot?
Green: Those three-day dialogues were all very carefully designed to maximize interaction between the Kentuckians and the Massachusetts people. Each day we’d have potluck meals and  music and dance and art and theater games and homestays. Each of those activities was carefully chosen to enhance relationships so that the transformation occurred not just in the dialogue but in all the activities that contributed to that feeling of goodness and well-being that emanated from the group.
Nevertheless, tempers do rise in these situations, and my role as the facilitator is to manage that anger so that it doesn’t spill over into an attack. Sometimes it calls for a moment of silence and reflection, or for people to reframe their statements in a way that is non-attacking, or it involves people going from being in a big circle to being in small groups of three or four. We make sure that nobody feels they need to withdraw from the group because they’ve been too hurt, while at the same time keeping us really honest about our feelings.
NationSwell: If you could zoom ahead into the future, what does Hands Across the Hills ultimately look like to you? Do you have plans to scale, at this point?
Green: If I could wave my magic wand, I’d want to spread these dialogues all around the country to tackle the different issues that are polarizing us. I’m actually working with an institution called the Alliance for Peacebuilding to see if we can do some spreading of dialogue around the country. We’re only in the talking stages right now — there are many organizations attempting dialogues across divides, and I’m in support of all their various efforts. But most of these groups only allot a day or two, and what I like about the model we’re working with is that it can take people deeper because it allows for more time.
NationSwell: You mentioned that you recently led a second dialogue series in South Carolina, which focused on race. What that was like?
Green: It was very challenging. Race is a fundamental divider in our country and has been a national tragedy for 400 years — it needs to be dealt with on every level. We had people from Massachusetts and South Carolina, and I also brought in some of the Kentucky people to keep them in the loop. Each group was of mixed race, and we spent three days having deep, often painful, but very, very productive dialogues. We didn’t talk about Trump or politics — the only topic was race and racism.
NationSwell: I’m impressed that you can have a dialogue like that go off without a hitch.
Green: It was beyond my expectations. This one worried me, because this is a 400-year-old history with such endless suffering. People talked about their first experiences of discovering race and racism, and the wounds of African Americans who have been at the mercy of racist attitudes in this country. We talked about racism as the water we all swim in, which we don’t even necessarily notice all the time because we are all swimming in it, and its total, pernicious effect on the members of our society.
NationSwell: More so than exacting a political agenda, is that the endgame here? Seeing and understanding diverse perspectives for what they are?
Green: What we are ultimately aiming for is for people to rehumanize the “other.” There was a tremendous gap — the people from Kentucky, their region was the opposite of ours, going 85–90 percent for Trump. We didn’t run away from the issues but had conversations in the spirit of, ‘We’re not here to change each others’ votes, or change each others’ opinions on the controversial issues of our day. We are here to listen and learn and deepen our understanding.” Everybody wants better medical care, everybody wants better schools, everybody wants safer streets. The question is, how do we talk together to find common ground on how to get them?
NationSwell: But just to push back on that a bit — you’re naming things that are pretty unambiguous in their popularity. What do you do with issues like climate change or gun control, where not everyone agrees on how or whether we should approach them?
Green: Climate change is pretty black and white at this point, of course, but we understand why people whose only livelihood has been coal for a hundred years defend the industry. Defending coal means objecting to climate change data. So we understand where they’re coming from — it’s not out of stubborness; it’s out of desperation for jobs, for work, for feeding their families. Understanding that helps us to be compassionate toward their situation and work together to find policies that will change their situation.
People have attended our [dialogue series] in numbers far exceeding our expectations. It may look like we’re hopelessly divided, but we want to show people that there are ways to bridge that and to act together for the common good.
NationSwell: So in other words, there’s a way to change yourself without changing your worldview — or changing your mind.
Green: People change their minds. They expand their worldview, they open up to things they hadn’t seen or understood before. The way I think about it is that these encounters are a wonderful prelude to a commitment to institutional change. It’s about standing up for each other — realizing we’re in this together. We are tied together in this, we’re not separate.
More: 9 Strategies for Talking Politics — Without Picking a Fight

The Faces of America’s Diverse New Leadership

It’s a watershed moment and a season of firsts in U.S. politics. London Breed was just elected as San Francisco’s first African-American woman to serve as mayor. Hoboken, New Jersey, mayor Ravinder Bhalla is the nation’s first Sikh to hold that position. Danica Roem is the first transgender woman elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. And there is a record-breaking number of female candidates — more than 300 and counting — who are currently running for seats in the House.  
Here are four up-and-coming candidates who, if elected, will upend the status quo and make history in the process.

Stacey Abrams

In May, former state House minority leader Stacey Abrams secured the Democratic nomination for governor of Georgia. Abrams is the first black woman to be chosen as a major party’s nominee for governor, and if elected, she would be the first black woman to ever govern over a state in the nation’s history.
“I am humbled by the opportunity to, you know, sort of tile this ground for folks. But I’m also excited about what it means for everyone who has yet to see themselves reflected in leadership in America,” Abrams told the New York Times after her win against former state Democratic Rep. Stacey Evans. “My goal is to make certain everyone has a seat at the table and that folks can see themselves and their values reflected in our government.”
One of Abrams’ biggest challenges is the state’s Medicaid expansion.
Georgia was one of 19 states that didn’t expand Medicaid services offered through Obamacare. A recent report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggests that if the state were to expand Medicaid in the near future, it could provide health insurance to 473,000 more residents in 2019.
“Medicaid expansion is transformative for our state,” Abrams told the Times. “It will help every facet, every community, and I’m just deeply saddened and ashamed that we haven’t done so already.”

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New Mexico congressional candidate Deb Haaland could make history as the first Native American woman to serve in Congress.

Deb Haaland

“So tonight we made history,” Deb Haaland told a crowd of supporters on June 6, after winning the primary for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. If Haaland wins — as she is expected to — she will be the first Native American woman ever elected to Congress.
But it’s not just a win for diversity. One of Haaland’s top priorities, she says, will be environmental protection. “I’m concerned that if we don’t do more to protect our open spaces and reduce climate change, there will be devastating and lasting impacts on us and future generations,” Haaland wrote on the Daily Kos. “Ignoring climate change sets up our students and workforce for failure by not educating them about the needs of the future.”
New Mexico has recently experienced an oil boom, with Exxon and other companies investing billions in oil production. This also means that the state currently ranks third in the nation for crude oil production, which runs counter to the idea of reducing carbon emissions. Despite this fact, Haaland, a former Democratic state party leader, has proposed to make New Mexico the “clean energy leader” in the nation. “I will fight special interests in Washington who exploit Native, rural, and low income communities,” she wrote, “for the purpose of fracking and drilling that pollutes our environment.”

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Congressional candidate Dan Koh is focusing on improving Massachusetts’ education system.

Dan Koh

Dan Koh was Arianna Huffington’s chief of staff and the first general manager of Huffpost Live before being chosen as Mayor Marty Walsh’s chief of staff in 2014 — all before Koh turned 30.
At 33, Koh is taking on a congressional race for Massachusetts’ 3rd District — and he’s raised $2.5 million in less than a year. If Koh wins, he will be the first Korean-American Democrat in Congress.
A product of a Massachusetts education, with two degrees from Harvard, one of Koh’s primary positions is a better education for everyone in the Bay State. “Massachusetts has one of the best education systems in the country, yet too many of our students are being left behind, especially in under-resourced neighborhoods,” reads his website.
It’s true that Massachusetts has some of the highest-ranked schools in the country, even when compared to other nations. But with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ focus on voucher programs, which Koh argues guts public school funding, there are fears about the future of the state’s education system.
Koh proposes a three-pronged approach to helping education flourish in the state: invest in tuition-free community college; support funding for teacher development and recruitment; and provide universal pre-K for all students.

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As the daughter of immigrants, Lupe Valdez says, “It is my goal to make sure that young Texans don’t face the same inhumane treatment I witnessed firsthand growing up.”

Lupe Valdez

After securing the Democratic primary nomination in late May, Lupe Valdez is the first openly gay Latina to run for governor of Texas.
A former Dallas County sheriff and a hardline progressive, Valdez could be a major player in the immigration debate by leading a state that is in the middle of a heated partisan battle on how to secure the nation’s borders.
A challenge Valdez faces in protecting immigrants is the state’s SB4 law — similar to Arizona’s “show me your papers” law — which allows police officers to act like immigration law enforcement and ask for proof of citizenship during, for example, a routine traffic stop.
“Standing up for immigrant communities has been a staple of my life,” Valdez writes on her website. “It is my goal to make sure that young Texans don’t face the same inhumane treatment I witnessed firsthand growing up.”
Valdez has said she grew up in the poorest zip code in San Antonio, with migrant parents who had eight kids. But through military training and access to good public education, she was able to thrive despite these odds. “I’m the candidate of the everyday working Texan, and I’m going to be their voice,” she says.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Dan Koh was running in Boston; he is, in fact, running for Massachusetts’ 3rd District, which is just north of Boston.

The Rise of Transgender Political Candidates

If visibility is key to influencing policies and the lawmakers who write them, then LGBTQ advocates could soon have reason to celebrate. Since the start of 2017, the number of transgender people campaigning for office has risen —leading multiple news outlets to dub 2017 the “year of the transgender candidate.”
So far, there have been 29 transgender individuals to appear on ballots this year, according to the Trans Candidates Project.
The result, hope activists, could change the way the U.S. debates sexual-identity politics, especially in an era when the culture wars have become so inflamed that state lawmakers routinely dedicate time and resources to dictating which bathrooms their constituents can use.
“Our opponents are pushing for anti-trans laws, and we really believe that trans lawmakers are the antidote,” says Elliot Imse, director of communications for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a nonpartisan political action committee. “When you have LGBTQ people in power it changes the conversation, and it changes policy.”
The number of trans people in the U.S. is estimated to be 1.4 million, or 0.6 percent of the national population, according to a June survey using federal and state data. The elected world, however, is out of step with the general population, Imse argues. “There are 520,000 elected officials and positions nationwide. Just six are held by openly trans people. We’re talking severe underrepresentation,” he says.
That imbalance, coupled with anti-trans policies in general, such as President Trump’s executive order banning trans people from military service, has lately been spurring action of a different sort. Instead of hitting the streets in protest, trans individuals are now hitting the streets for campaign signatures.


“It’s purely about visibility,” says Mayor Jess Herbst of New Hope, Texas. A majority of the 600 people who live in her small Dallas suburb had likely never even met someone who’s transgender. At least, before this year.
Herbst took over as mayor in the spring of 2016, when she was still known as “Jeff.” This past January, Herbst announced her transition in an open letter to the town’s residents.
“I’m not especially sensitive to the pronoun I’m called, and I expect people to take time to make the change,” she wrote. “I will continue as Mayor and hope to do the very best for the town.”
Since then, little has changed in New Hope. Life is business as usual.
“In general, when I used to see people from my town — they wouldn’t shun me, necessarily — but they wouldn’t say hello,” Herbst tells NationSwell. “Now they do. After talking to me and getting to know me, there’s no less or more discussion around social issues.”
Since coming out as transgender, Herbst has been active in showing local support for trans issues, such as lobbying and protesting against Texas’ anti-trans bathroom bills, which have twice been voted down in the state.
But Herbst says that even in her own community, simply being visible has changed the way people view trans issues. She recounts a story about a close friend who had distanced himself after she announced her transition. He’s since become an important advocate for Herbst and the causes she supports.

As transgender visibility increases in local communities, so does support around LGBTQ issues such as nondiscrimination legislation.


Though the situation is anecdotal, what happened in Herbst’s small conservative town — where nearly 55 percent of voters in the county voted for Trump last November — is emblematic of what can happen when legislators are introduced to people outside of their demographic.
Research has backed this up. A 2015 study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that countries with more transgender representatives had a dramatically higher track record of providing civil rights to gay people. And in a 2016 study, published in the journal Science, research showed that a single 10-minute conversation between a neighborhood canvasser and self-professed transphobic voters actually reversed perspectives to be more inclusive of the trans community.
It’s a premise that former Missouri state Sen. Jolie Justus, a Democrat and a lesbian, has seen in action. In 2013, she persuaded enough Republicans to pass a nondiscrimination bill. Nearly all of them — nine in total — happened to be seated around Justus in the senate chamber as she spoke.
As MetroWeekly, an LGBTQ publication based in Washington, D.C., put it, “To vote against protections for an abstract community was one thing, but it was much more difficult voting against discrimination protections for Jolie and her wife, Shonda.”
One of the biggest hurdles for transgender and gay politicians is keeping social issues from seeping into the debate on other topics, such as the economy, education and infrastructure.
The tactic taken by Danica Roem, a transgender woman who won her district primary for Virginia’s House of Delegates this past June, was to put economic issues on the table first and address social ones later, according to people familiar with her campaign. (Roem’s campaign manager would not comment on the details of her campaign for this story.)
“[Roem is] a historic candidate, but when she knocks on doors she talks to people about jobs and economic issues. When you’re working with a conflicted voter who’s perhaps not vehemently anti-LGBTQ, but isn’t quite 100 percent on board with LGBTQ concerns, those are the people that these trans candidates need to reach,” says Imse. “Meeting people on the issues at a human level, [like Danica did], just allows people to shine and break through.”
Victory Fund, where Imse works, has been leading the effort since 1991 to get more LGBTQ candidates elected, providing campaign, fundraising and communications support. The organization primarily focuses on local and state elections to help combat anti-equality measures.
“We’re really seeing this political backlash against trans people, and trans folk won’t stand for it,” Imse says. “The reality is that trans people are deciding to step up and make lasting change.”

What Are ‘Political Entrepreneurs?’ This Guy Believes They’re the Heroes Who Will Disrupt Washington’s Gridlock

“Political entrepreneur” is a phrase NationSwell Council member Kahlil Byrd uses to describe nonprofit leaders and techies who are tackling America’s biggest problems “in a completely innovative, nontraditional, and entrepreneurial way.” And without a dose of partisanship.  

“Their bias is to create a tool, an idea or a process that will cut through the challenge,” Byrd wrote earlier this year in Forbes.

Byrd, a Republican, has been dedicated to cross-partisan policy reform for more than a decade. He’s worked with Massachusetts’ former governor Deval Patrick and Michelle Rhee, both Democrats. And during the 2012 presidential primary he ran Americans Elect, a startup that worked to get a bipartisan presidential ticket on all 50 state ballots. More recently, in the wake of the 2016 election, he’s noticed a new league of people across the political spectrum determined to reform American policy.

As he wrote in a December 2016 LinkedIn post, political entrepreneurs are “tackling the biggest issues that directly affect citizens’ lives [and] they refuse to accept the failure, division, and deadlock that dominates our politics.”

But as an investor with deep ties to the nonprofit and tech sectors, he knows firsthand the challenges his beloved “political entrepreneurs” face in getting the financing they need to transform their civic innovations into nonpartisan policies.  

“Even the best ideas — making it easier to vote, using data to connect citizens to Congress or deploying new talent into undervalued sectors like child welfare — have profound trouble finding the capital needed to scale,” the New York City–based Byrd says.

Taking action, Byrd co-founded the Invest America Fund, an advisory firm and seed fund that supports political entrepreneurs and matches them to what he says are “the business leaders, philanthropists and others who have already succeeded and want to spend their time and capital.”

Byrd and his co-founder, Kellen Arno, believe they are among the few investors focused on creating a financing pipeline for these types of policy innovators.

One organization they back is Foster America, a startup devoted to child welfare reform founded by Sherry Lachman, a foster child herself who later went on to serve as a policy adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden. The nonprofit’s fellowship program recruits talent from the business, education, technology and health fields, and supports them in their efforts to transform child welfare policy.

Early success has led Foster America to double its impact, expanding from eight fellows in 2016 to 16 this year. By 2020, Foster America plans to have 50 fellows working with 25 child welfare agencies nationwide.

“We are trying to bring together two groups on opposite ends of the success curve: Political entrepreneurs on one end, and on the other, successful and creative funders who can provide growth financing,” says Byrd. “Entrepreneurs are still trying to prove worth — both their own and of their ideas. Funders have sustained success and know how to build value from the ground up. Both care deeply about the country.

Kahlil Byrd is a NationSwell Council member and the founder of Invest America Fund, which provides seed money to entrepreneurs working on bipartisan policy reform.

America’s Youngest Mayor

During the 20th century, Stockton was a commercial hub between Sacramento and San Francisco. It had military installations and was regularly used as a Hollywood set. But when Michael Tubbs grew up there in the 1990s, gunshots whizzed in the streets and more than half of the city’s high schoolers dropped out before graduation.  
Tubbs was raised by his mother, who had him at 16. In a high-school essay, Tubbs describes meeting his father for the first time at the age of 12. He was in chains and dressed in an orange jumpsuit at the Kern County Prison. “Why are you here,” Tubbs recalls asking.
His dad responded: “Prison is your destiny. From birth you are set up to fail. …You’re a black man in America, and it’s either prison or death.”
His father’s words have never left him. They settled in his core and drive his ambition.
In less than two decades he’s graduated from Stanford, captured Oprah Winfrey’s attention and worked at Google. Once a White House intern, he’s also famously set his sights on the presidency. In 2008, during Barack Obama’s first presidential bid, Tubbs met the then Illinois senator and recalls: “I looked at him, shook his hand and told him, ‘I’m next.’” Obama reportedly said, “Okay.”
But for now, Tubbs is focused on his Californian city. The goals he’s set for himself as mayor are lofty: Lowering unemployment (8.3 percent in February 2017), raising graduation rates (82.6 percent in 2015), lowering violent crime (25 instances of murder between January and June 2016) and attracting a major philanthropic investment, like the $816 million Detroit received from the Ford Foundation and other donors to save its art museum.
“I’m tired of talking about where we’ve been. I’m more interested in talking about where we’re going,” Tubbs said at his victory party, “We have to mature as a community and start demanding solutions.”
But finding them will require deft political skill. The average Stockton resident earns $19,900 annually, yet the city has little ability to provide revitalizing social services, considering it’s still recovering after declaring bankruptcy in 2012.
Tubbs’s approach to government taps an innovation-based strategy much like the tech campuses in nearby Silicon Valley. He pilots small projects and relentlessly studies the data to determine what’s most effective for the lowest cost. He’s also investing in long-term fixes — rather than short-term patches that drained city coffers — so that the kids born today will have more opportunity than he did.
“I would say I’m solution-oriented. I don’t want to know how this can’t happen. Tell me how it can,” Tubbs says.
Some of his earliest efforts — ones he helped initiate as a Stockton city council member — have established Tubbs reputation as so-called “doer.” He closed liquor stores in South Stockton, opened a health clinic and worked with young people on community cleanup projects.
As mayor, however, he faces inherent challenges that come with the implementation of his early projects. For example, as a council member, Tubbs was a key advocate for distributing body cameras to Stockton’s police officers as a way of raising accountability. In August 2016 (prior to Tubbs’s mayoral election), a 30-year-old man named Colby Friday was killed in an officer-involved shooting. An officer’s body camera failed to capture the incident because it was not activated. A nearby security camera did record the event, and the district attorney has agreed to share that footage with Friday’s family.
In another incident, when Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted a city council meeting in February, Tubbs announced a five-minute break and abruptly left the podium, angering his one-time supporters. A month later, he tells NationSwell his number-one rule about politics: “It takes thick skin.”

Mayor Michael Tubbs with Stockton school students. He wants the city’s young people to have more opportunity than he did growing up there.

During his 2016 run for mayor, Tubbs built his campaign around the idea of creating opportunities and stability for the people of Stockton. And it worked. He beat his opponent, Republican Anthony Silva, by almost 40 points.
Tubbs credits the young interns who canvassed and phoned banked for him with drumming up civic engagement in the city. In contrast to many of Tubbs’s childhood peers, these teens are some of the loudest voices in the ears of Stockton’s elected officials.
“My phone does not stop ringing, because the young people we’ve trained expect more from their elected officials,” says Lange Luntao, a Stockton school board member.
Michael Tubbs and his friends grew up believing they needed to leave Stockton to find opportunity and a better life. Once gone, few ever felt the need to return. Already, Tubbs is inspiring more of his young constituents to stay. With time, perhaps others from his own generation will return.
Editors’ note: A previous version of this article stated that the Colby Friday incident was reportedly captured on a police officer body camera. NationSwell apologizes for the error.

This Is What It’s Like to Run for Public Office

Frustrated by the feeling that his community wasn’t represented, Craig Caruana ran for City Council in New York City under the slogan, “Neighborhood First.” He failed to unseat his incumbent opponent, but that didn’t deter his focus on community affairs. Today, as the director of veterans programs at America Works, a for-profit venture that pioneered a “pay for performance” model in social services, Caruana helps lift veterans out of homelessness through employment.
As part of NationSwell’s weeklong focus on local governance, Caruana, a NationSwell Council member, shares how he knew that local office was a position worth pursuing.
How do you know you’re the right person to run for local office?
I remember people coming up to me and saying that I should run for City Council. That’s a really powerful thing that can go to your head quickly. If that happens enough and you can look at yourself objectively and say, “There’s a real widespread concern. Can I do this? Can I do it successfully?” then you should go ahead. But if you’re just someone who’s watching TV and getting angry and you say, “I’m going to run for office,” that might not be the best path. There’s got to be more to it than that.
A candidate should reflect the population’s wishes. A candidate can’t impose his will on people or explain why they’re is wrong. If you’re considering running for office, you should be asking, “What are people saying needs to happen, but isn’t?” That’s a really difficult question to answer. It’s one thing if someone in your neighborhood is saying something, but on the other side of the community, they’re saying something different. You want to make sure that it is a concern that’s large enough to warrant you running for office.
Some say that you shouldn’t run for office if you haven’t been part of the fabric of your community. How did you first get involved in community organizations?
Civic organizations are the basis of the democratic process. They’re organized, they’re not political, and they’re looking after your community. If you want to get involved and make your neighborhood better, joining one is the best way to do it. If you’re someone who wants to get involved or looking to volunteer, join your local Kiwanis club, which I was a member of. I was also a member of the Juniper Park Civic Organization, whose main mission was keeping the park clean and enforcing park rules.
MORE: Want to Run for Local Office? 6 Things to Know
What was cause for worry when you ran for local office?
There’s a ton to worry about when you run. You have to know the logistics of how to run. One of the main reasons why people don’t win their election is because they never get on the ballot. Understanding the political process is very, very important. You have to know how you’re going to get on the ballot, who can be a support network and help you run a successful campaign, how much money you’re going to need and how you’re going to raise it, and campaign finance laws. You also have to understand that there’s a lot you can’t control. There’s going to be a lot of noise going on around you, and you have to make sure you don’t get distracted by it.
Why was that not enough to dissuade you from running?
Most of us who run for office really are in it for the right reasons. You have to be a true believer — in yourself and in the message you’re selling. You have to believe that if you get elected, you’re going to make a difference and the difference is going to be so great that you have to be in the elected position and not your opponent.
To learn more about the NationSwell Council, click here.

Want to Run for Local Office? 6 Things to Know

Whether inspired or angered by the recent presidential election, people who never before considered running for mayor, their town’s council or the local school board are putting their names on the ballot for the first time.
Thinking about running yourself? NationSwell recently spoke with several candidates to learn more about the process.

1. Mentors are really, really important.

Running for office is particularly daunting for first-time candidates. One mistake can sink your candidacy before you ever get your name on the ballot. “There are forms you have to fill out by particular dates. There are signatures that have to be collected and mailed in and postmarked by a certain date,” says Emily Peterson, a candidate for town council in Parsippany, N.J.
Lean on others who know what they’re doing — former candidates, your local political party, campaign managers or others familiar with the process. “People jump in and work as hard as you [do] to get you elected, even if they just met you a week earlier,” says Chance Mullen, a candidate for the village board of trustees in Pelham, N.Y.

2. Money makes the political world go ’round.

A record breaking $7 billion was spent on the 2016 presidential and congressional elections. While you need significantly less to run for local office, raising money is essential. New Politics founder Emily Cherniack says that candidates vying for a position on town council or school board will need anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000, excluding races in California and Texas. In those states, local politics is big business, and candidates might need considerably more (think: $1 million or even more).
“Your ability to fundraise is a catalyst for many organizations supporting you and endorsing you,” says Pierre Gooding, a democrat running for city council in Harlem, N.Y. “How much money you have in your coffers drives how much money you can get from organizations moving forward — it’s very important to show financial viability.”
You’ll also want to hire a treasurer to manage your campaign’s finances and determine budgets. Doing so could cost you a couple hundred dollars a month, but it will free up valuable time and keep you from blowing your entire budget on campaign buttons and yard signs. A candidate should exert her energy talking to constituents at meet-and-greets, not on opening a bank account, obtaining an EIN number or navigating state campaign-finance laws.

3. Reach out and text someone.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are all low-cost platforms you can use to engage and educate your constituency. Use your personal accounts as a springboard to launch your campaign page.
Go beyond traditional posting, though, and think about how you can leverage technology to boost your campaign. Los Angeles school board candidate Nick Melvoin is using Venmo to collect small dollar contributions from like-minded millennials; in New Jersey, Peterson is doing the same via GoFundMe and is drawing donations from people who live outside her town.
Digital startups such as Hustle, Crowdpac, NationBuilder and RunforSomething can also help fuel and educate your political campaign.

4. Walk the walk. And talk the talk.

We may live in a tech-driven world, but all the candidates NationSwell interviewed say that old-school campaigning methods are still effective: hold meetings, engage in conversations with community members, go door-to-door, have meetups at local cafes.
When out on the trail, don’t let complaints, chitchat or stories “about the way things used to be” dominate the conversation. “Listen to their concerns, but be able to talk to them so they can get a better feel of where you’re going with your position and what you want to see accomplished,” says Forty Fort, Penn., borough council candidate Amy Craig, a republican.  

5. Rehearse, but be prepared to go off script.

Practice what you want to say. Make sure your ideas translate clearly into goals. “Constituents are looking for a leader and looking for a voice, so be that voice,” says Gooding.
At the same time, however, be flexible and able to articulate why you’re taking a given position. “Your own thinking is most likely going to be the most persuasive,” explains Mullen.

6. Rise above.

In local elections, it’s particularly important to maintain a sense of respect at all times. (After all, your next-door neighbor might be your opponent.) “We’re all benefiting from the same community services,” says Peterson. “Trash collection, policing and the crosswalk being painted…that is the stuff that shouldn’t be partisan.”
The best way to remain above the fray? Keep your rhetoric community-centric and have town pride in mind at all times.

Meet the Women Who Blasted into a Male-Dominated Industry, a Smarter Way to Fight Prejudice and More

Onward and Upward, Vogue
In this stunning photo essay, take a look at the women who power NASA and learn about how far they’ve come since the time period depicted in “Hidden Figures.” With job titles ranging from research biologist to mission integration manager, the significance of their hard-found positions within the aeronautics industry is not lost on them. It won’t be on you, either.
In Response to Rising Biased Rhetoric, Muslims Run for Office, NPR
With hate crimes on the rise, some members of the American Muslim community are confronting the problem in a bold way: by running for office. Campaigning inevitably puts them in the spotlight and often brings about further vitriol, but many see it as the only way to move the conversation forward.
Surgeons Were Told to Stop Prescribing So Many Painkillers. The Results Were Remarkable. The Washington Post
The opioid epidemic in the U.S. has killed tens of thousands during the last decade, and the overprescription of drugs is largely to blame. A small trial in New Hampshire uncovered a simple, data-driven solution that could lead to a huge cutback in prescriptions and ultimately, addictions.