While votes are still being counted, there is a clear takeaway from the 2018 midterm elections: Voters elected new voices to their policymaking table.
In district and state races around the country, voters selected candidates from underrepresented populations to serve in federal, state and local executive and legislative bodies in record-breaking numbers. Here are some of the trailblazers (so far), as reported by Buzzfeed:
- First Muslim women elected to Congress: Rashida Tlaib (MI) and Ilhan Omar (MN)
- First Native American women elected to Congress: Deb Haaland (NM) and Sharice Davids (KS)
- First openly LGBT woman of color elected to Congress and to represent Kansas: Sharice Davids (KS)
- Youngest women elected to Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) and Abby Finkenauer (IA)
- First openly gay man elected as governor in the U.S.: Jared Polis (CO)
- First female governor of Guam: Lou Leon Guerrero
- First female governor of South Dakota: Kristi Noem
- First female governor of Maine: Janet Mills
- First woman elected by Tennessee to the U.S. Senate: Marsha Blackburn
- First black congresswoman elected to represent Massachusetts: Ayanna Pressley
- First Latina congresswomen elected to represent Texas: Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia
- First black congresswoman elected to represent Connecticut: Jahana Hayes
- First Korean-American woman elected to Congress: Young Kim (CA)
- First openly lesbian mother elected to Congress: Angie Craig (MN)
New voices mean new opportunities. Advocates can look for ways to connect with policymakers as allies for raising awareness about critical issues and creating action in communities, at the state level, and even in Congress and at the White House. But where should advocates begin?
- Conduct Research: Learn more about the winning candidates by exploring their campaign platforms and personal experiences, and identify opportunities where their interests and plans align with your advocacy goals. Follow media coverage of them, as well as their own social media channels, to stay informed about their positions and progress. This is also how you can identify whether an elected official would prove to be a strong ally or might be more of a risk to advancing your cause.
- Start Talking: Once the candidate is sworn into office, make connections with the staff at their local, state or federal offices to learn who will be the best contact for the issue you want to discuss. Building relationships with the team that supports the elected official is critical for gaining a new ally.
- Share Resources: When someone starts a new job, they usually have an orientation process. This is also the case for new legislators. To inform a policymaker about your issue and why you think it’s a good fit for their agenda, create and share background fact sheets and other easy-to-follow materials with their staff to improve understanding and reinforce why their involvement as an ally would be valuable.
- Send Invitations: When you hold events or activities related to your cause, invite these elected officials and their staff to join. Due to job demands, the official may not be able to attend; however, if there is a relationship, he or she may be willing to send a statement, issue a proclamation, or support your event or cause in another way. Being connected to constituents is an important part of the official’s daily schedule, and staffers often look for opportunities to bring a policymaker together with like-minded community members.
- Include the Opposition: Despite the current polarized political climate, reaching across party and demographic lines can create more opportunities for communicators and advocates to find unlikely, yet effective, allies who may share a commitment to or interest in your social issue despite their other policy positions. Do not collaborate with an elected official as an ally if they uphold a policy or legislation that conflicts with or undermines your organization’s goals, audiences or messages. However, if an ally can fully support your social cause position without conflict, they can help you reach audiences that might otherwise be out of reach.
More voices. More seats at the table. The midterm election results are an encouraging indicator that American voters care about including more diverse perspectives and interests in our national, state and local policy debates. For social change communicators, this progress offers a chance to make new friends for our causes and invite them to join us at our own tables to create social change.