What I learned from losing a local election

It started as a joke, but my run at an unpaid political position was anything but
By Kristina Wong    Published on 01/24/2019 at 11:35 AM EDT
Running for office—even an unpaid position—is no joke. Tom Fowler

I am one of the thousands of women who decided to run for elected office following the 2016 presidential election. Did I run to make a grassroots difference in my community and shake up the system from the inside– rah rah rah?

Actually, I agreed to run after my neighbor Angie gave me a really potent marijuana edible.

Here’s the story. I went to Angie’s house after being avalanched by hate messages after InfoWars wrote a “news story” on my social justice kids web series Radical Cram School. I was stressed out from spending the day deleting hundreds of death and rape threats off my YouTube channel. I needed live human company, so I sought out Angie, who gave me something to “calm me down.” When I woke up on Angie’s couch after an OMG, am I permanently brain damaged? psychedelic trip, I learned that at some point during that mind-blowing high, I had agreed to run with her to be one of the 14 elected Assembly District Election Meeting delegates in California Assembly District 53.

I guess it’s slightly better than waking up in a bathtub of ice missing my kidney?

Every year, California Democrats elect seven men and seven women in each of California’s 80 Assembly Districts, for a total of 1120 ADEM delegates to represent the party at the Democratic State Convention. If you find this all very confusing and still don’t understand what an ADEM delegate is, you aren’t alone. I campaigned, ran and lost in this obscure election and still don’t get what the heck this UNPAID elected office was. In layman’s terms, we were campaigning to become the crazy people screaming on the floor of a convention center, covered in pins, waving a foam finger and (sorta) drunk with power.

How hard could running in a local election be? If a former reality television star could become President, surely I could become an unpaid delegate in my assembly district?  

Blind with motivation (and probably still high from that edible) I spent the next month campaigning with a “slate” (a team, essentially) consisting of like-minded neighbors in my assembly district (who incidentally, were not drugged when they agreed to run). As a slate, we would pool our potential voters together and combine efforts to get them to vote for all of us. I pushed all my paid projects to the back burner, so I could go to community meetings and organize potential voters.

It became clear to me really quickly why politicians take bribes—campaigning is expensive. Just the shared campaign expenses with my slate for this unpaid position cost me around $1,000 and also two weeks of unpaid labor. This is nothing compared to Los Angeles ballot elections where candidates raise as much as $100,000 to run.  

Intra-party ADEM elections are nothing like Official Tuesday elections. Our election was Saturday, Jan. 12, and only lasted two hours. All voting is in person. This means that most of the challenge for candidates is just trying to find eligible voters willing to come out on a Saturday morning.

Once you find voters, you must get them to the polling location. The parking at our location (a housing project at the edge of Boyle Heights, near downtown L.A.) was so prohibitive, that we had to rent vans to transport our voters and lure them with the promise of free breakfast and tamales.

Once you get voters to the site, you have to remind them of the extremely lengthy rules of this election: You can vote for any 14 candidates, but you can only pick seven women and seven men. And while you can pick any 14 candidates across multiple slates, we would like if you pick just the 14 on OUR slate. Got it?

Every detail of this local election reeked of voter suppression from the non-announcement that this election existed, to lack of parking at the polling area, to the English-only ballots in our trilingual Assembly District.  These ADEM elections have traditionally been sleepy events with low voter turnout, with very little competition, meant to reward the establishment candidates running. That’s changed since 2016, as a record number of 44 candidates and three slates were vying for 14 positions in the district.

There are candidate speeches, so that voters can “decide” who to vote for. It’s really a formality because most voters have already agreed to vote for the candidate who dragged them there. In fact, most of the candidates don’t give speeches because half the candidates aren’t even present. And the speeches that are given echo throughout the basketball court and fall on distracted ears.

Except mine. I rocked it.

We had tamales and the other slates offered tacos. I had charm, passion, and a hardworking slate I was running with. The other slate ultimately had more Korean seniors they could bus in to vote for them and the political machine. And when the vote count happened, it was devastating that all those weeks, all that money, all that time, all the friends I coaxed to come out in the rain would not be realized into the bragging rights of saying that I was an elected ADEM delegate (whatever the heck that is) of California Assembly District 53.

As a vocal woman with a decent social media presence, I’ve been bearing the brunt of white supremacists emboldened under Trump since his election. Unfortunately, the blatant racism and misogyny I have received from complete strangers online has only gotten worse. And my loss has given the trolls more fuel to torch me with. Running for elected office—even this tiny unpaid one, was totally terrifying but felt like a proactive way to combat these crazy times, by reclaiming the political stage when it feels like our country’s narrative is unravelling out of control.

That’s why it’s only been a week since my election lost, and I’ve already filed to run for my Neighborhood Council election in April! And what’s even better, I was totally sober when I filled out the application.

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