Tuesday, July 9, 2019

"Origins" - By Damián Preciado, Executive Director



It was a rude awakening. The results of November 9th, 2016 were not something most of us were expecting. It didn't help that I got a frantic call in the middle of the night from my then employer asking us all to come in early due to the election results. I had for the past 6 months been actively engaged for the first time in politics. I didn't like the direction things were going and wanted to do my part. I was still learning the ropes, getting to know how the process worked within the parties and becoming active with my legislative district.

It was a whirlwind of information that shattered many of my previous assumptions about how politics worked. One of my first realizations was that everyone was a volunteer and that the little paid staff there was worked for the County and State boards. My second realization was that being a registered Democrat and voting wasn’t the end of it; it was just the beginning of our political engagement. I learned that the parties were made up of members known as precinct committee people or PCs. That they are either elected or appointed and have varying roles within the party structure. As someone who understands systems and people, I started noticing why there were so many gaps and why it was so difficult to fill them. So I took the next step and became a precinct committeeman which gave me a vote in party affairs. Still new to it all, I did my best not to be critical and follow the lead set by more tenured individuals.

That November 9th it all changed. I was angry and afraid that we couldn't keep a man like Trump out of office. I had been contemplating this worst-case scenario and I had a plan. My plan was to strengthen the Democratic Party by recruiting and training as many PCs as possible. My logic being that there is power in numbers and of the ten thousand or more positions available, less than 20% were filled. We were out numbered 3 to 1 against the opposition.

At that time there was a flurry of activity by many people who felt they wanted to do more and their energy manifested itself in many ways. I chose to focus on PC recruitment by forming a grassroots group called White Hat Democrats. I and a handful of others streamlined the process for application to become a PC and held training and information sessions. Over the next couple of years, we recruited hundreds of PCs and did our small part to lend a voice to people who needed that guidance.

While we were proud of our work, over those two years we also grew to understand more and more of the complexities of the political ecosystem. In particular, we learned how conservative organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council and Goldwater Institute among others were using intellectual capital to poison the state legislatures with their agendas. How they chipped away piece by piece at our democratic institutions, masquerading as “freedom” when in reality it was just about lining their pockets.

We looked around and found that Arizona was missing a progressive policy group and at that point, we made the decision to take the fight to them. We formalized our nonprofit status and began to operate as the White Hat Research & Policy Group. It was a tremendous transition and we are glad to have made it. We have since then worked as Arizona’s progressive think tank. The antithesis of organizations like ALEC and Goldwater. We’ve made much progress, with more to come. Our first paper is complete. We’re building new partnerships. And we’ve established a fellowship program to help us craft our papers and train others on this important work. I am very proud of the talented individuals who dedicate their time and resources to this new mission and vision. We’re ready to keep fighting for our shared values with more purpose than ever before.

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