Tillamook Campaign School Trains Potential Local Candidates

With the May school board elections fast approaching, human dignity leaders around the state are working to identify, recruit, and work with local candidates who will advocate for human dignity and build safe and welcoming communities for all. In 2021, organizers in Tillamook County launched the Tillamook Campaign School to focus their efforts on local elections. This spring marks the third round of the hugely successful program. Read on to learn how the Campaign School came to be and some of the key lessons the organizers learned about effective outreach! 

We have seen local offices and services from county commissions, public schools, and libraries, to health and wellness, and media outlets, come under increasing attack by the far Right. They aren’t trying to change these institutions, they are trying to break them entirely. What do we need to do as a state to not only defend these democratic community pillars more effectively but also build them up stronger than ever? The Tillamook Campaign School is a great example! Reach out to your friendly ROP organizer or reach out to Sidra at sidra@rop.org to let us know how you’re organizing locally!

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Getting Started: How the Campaign School Came to Be

When Bev Stein, a local human dignity group leader, moved to Tillamook County six years ago and received her first ballot in the mail, she saw the race for soil and water conservation district. As hard as she tried, Bev couldn’t find any information about the candidates in the race and was at a loss about how to vote. That’s when she first had the idea for the Tillamook Campaign School.

Bev got together with other organizers in the Tillamook Democracy Project, their local human dignity group, and made a plan. Eventually, the county democrats agreed to collaborate with them on local, nonpartisan races. In the May 2021 election, the campaign school focused on special district races and the school board.

The project was so well received that they ran the school again in November 2022 for city council races! The Tillamook Campaign School has become an ongoing project that identifies local open positions, recruits and encourages potential candidates, shares skills and resources for running effective campaigns, and makes sure community members can find information to understand candidates’ values. 

Now, the school is working with a third cohort, this time focusing on school board races across the county. Each election, the campaign school organizers research the important issues and voting history in their county’s districts, maintain a spreadsheet to keep track of where candidates have filed, and reach out to other local community groups and organizations to seek potential candidates. Once they have recruited folks that they have identified as good potential candidates, they hold a three-part orientation about what it takes to launch a campaign. Then they offer support to potential candidates including trainings, guidance on how to effectively use social media, access to lists for phone and text banking, and sending postcards from the Tillamook Democracy Project in support. 

Lessons Learned: How to Effectively Recruit Candidates and Increase Community Engagement

Several campaign school organizers recently gave a presentation to a group of local leaders with Consolidated Oregon Indivisible Network (COIN) about lessons learned from running the school. 

A leadership team that oversees the big picture and coordinates early, one-on-one outreach to potential candidates has been essential. The group always starts with a brainstorming session and then plans their outreach to potential candidates. 

Organizers learned that personal connections and conversations about why people would make good candidates are far more effective than broad requests like group emails. They’ve realized it’s really about cultivating relationships and they know a lot of people in the community.

The trick is to start early making direct asks to anyone who seems like a good fit! Bev shared that whenever she calls someone, they talk through what it takes to run for office and what kind of support the campaign school can offer. 

Tillamook Campaign School organizers have made it easier for community members to make well-informed decisions based on their core values! Small communities typically don’t have city council candidates in the voters’ guide, so it’s often challenging to learn who the candidates are, why they’re running, and what their values and positions are. For the November 2022 elections, the campaign school convinced the local paper, the Headlight Herald, to run a voters guide with information about all of the city council candidates! You can read the full story of the Tillamook Democracy Project creating local voter pamphlets in this ROPnet from last year.

In the third round of the project, organizers are seeing another exciting outcome of the Campaign School. An ever-growing cohort of community members have participated in the school and learned skills and strategies that have built up their capacity for other organizing and campaigning!

Interested in learning more about the Tillamook Campaign School and maybe starting something similar in your community? You can reach out to one of the organizers, Bev, at steinbeverly@gmail.com. What’s your human dignity group doing to organize around upcoming school board elections? Reach out to us by emailing Sidra at sidra@rop.org! We’d love to hear what you’re thinking about!  

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