Voices

A Former Hillary For America Staffer on Lessons Learned from the 2016 Election

How the fallout from last year's controversial election will rely on local activism and action to restore faith in our democracy.
November 9, 2017, 7:00pm

This is an opinion piece by Malia Fisher, Co-Founder and President of Defiant Network , a new organization working to lift up young people who are doing big things for our democracy.

For many, each of the past 365 days were filled with anxiety and uncertainty. Our elected leaders on both sides seem unable to get anything done. Although Republicans control both houses of Congress, they're utterly failing to pass their agenda, while Democrats are still struggling to agree on a message. The Trump “resistance” brought a stampede of new progressive organizations, PACs and energy, but until this week’s Democratic victories, it wasn’t clear how much it mattered.

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This week’s wins are sure to shape our thinking over the coming year, just as Trump’s victory shaped our reflections on the last. But we would be foolish to forget the bitter pill of the 2016 election and the lessons it was meant to teach us. In 2017, we’re still deeply disconnected from our political leaders, and we’ll need a deeper reckoning if we want to restore faith in our democracy. With new winds in anti-Trump sails, we must continue to ask ourselves, “What’s next?”

"For many of us, the past year confirmed our worst suspicions about politics."

For a long 18 months, I worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta—UFO enthusiast and former White House Chief-of-Staff, who’s now best known for his risotto recipes, courtesy of Wikileaks. You guessed it, my emails were leaked too. Although the Russian hack was personal to me, I still don’t think they’re solely responsible for Trump’s presidency. Make no mistake, I saw firsthand how John, Hillary, and everyone on our campaign worked as if their lives depended on it. We barely slept for months, drinking coffee like water and eating pizza for breakfast. We gave it our all. Yet, just like the vast majority of American political experts, pollsters and pundits, we made a lot of mistakes.

For many of us, the past year confirmed our worst suspicions about politics. Our system of government has devolved into an ugly, distorted gameshow of money, media and American elites. In many ways, President Obama was a band aid of decency and compromise on a rotten Washington culture that was festering underneath. We were elitist, crony-ist, and worst of all, complacent. We focused our attention on politicians and personalities at the expense of issues, a failure that newly elected Democrats should take care not to repeat.

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In January, I was ready to give up. Just quit. Join an industry with better benefits and guaranteed weekends. But then I read Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Changes Everything , by veteran organizers Becky Bond and Zack Exley, and it changed the way I think about politics. They argue that only by trusting regular people—not just paid staffers—to take on leadership roles in our political movements will we be able to achieve radical, lasting change. Once all of us start doing big things for our country, the big changes will come.


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I eventually realized that most important lessons from the 2016 election had very little to do with Trump or Hillary, and a lot to do with us. It doesn’t matter how much we might disagree with our political parties or if Congress is old and out of touch. Well, it matters, but even if we ignore them completely, there is still a huge amount that we can do to take on injustice in our society. As with most things, the golden rule applies: what we give out, we get back. Our democracy is no different.

"We were elitist, crony-ist, and worst of all, complacent."

When it comes to getting involved, we shouldn’t overthink it. Look around. If we want to have an impact, our cities, towns and communities are the best place to start. Do you care about the future of education? Run for school board. Want bike lanes? You’d look great on city council. Now, running for office is great, but it’s not for everybody and it’s certainly not the only way to get involved. Maybe you’re worried about climate change? Pressure you public pension fund to divest from fossil fuels. Do you agree that mass incarceration should be eradicated? Support a public campaign to close your local jail.

You may not realize it, but you probably already have the skills you need to contribute to politics and civic life. Got Insta game? A local nonprofit could probably use your help. Can you edit videos? People need that. Know how to code? Make a website or work with students.

You’d be surprised: you don’t need an Ivy League diploma or years in a fancy consulting firm to become a transformational leader or win an election. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that having political experience doesn’t mean having all the answers.

"If we want to have an impact, our cities, towns and communities are the best place to start."

Ritchie Torres, one of many examples, is New York’s youngest City Council Member and yet, he’s a college dropout. He ran for office because he felt called to be the voice of low-income residents in his community and to fight so future generations wouldn’t go through the same struggles.

When I think about that night of November 8, 2016, I still feel sick. But I don’t dwell on things, and our generation doesn’t either. But instead of giving up, I’m doubling down—doing my small part to create a better future. You can too.

Years from now, when I look back on all of the progress we’ll have made, I want to remember it as the anniversary of the day I took the first of countless small acts. I firmly believe we get the future we deserve. Let’s see what we can come up with next.