How A Progressive Virginia Group Is Trying To Win Locally

Activate Virginia is crisscrossing the state to get more progressive Virginians on the ballot this year

Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Mar 31, 2017 at 6:00 AM ET

The state of Virginia has a Democratic governor and voted for Hillary Clinton last November, but both chambers of its state government are dominated by Republicans. A new grassroots political group, however, is trying to change that, by sending an influx of young progressive candidates into local races.

Activate Virginia is hopeful that it can flip Virginia’s lower house, the House of Delegates, to a Democratic majority for the first time since since 1998 in its elections this year.

The man behind it is named Josh Stanfield. The 30-year-old Virginia resident was shocked both by the result of the 2016 presidential election, and also when he realized the near total lack of competition in many of his state’s local races.

He and two colleagues created Activate Virginia, a state political action committee and non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the state’s potential Democratic candidates and getting more progressive voters involved on the state level. According to Activate Virginia’s website, 71 out of the 100 seats up for election in 2015 went uncontested, a number that the PAC has already managed to significantly shrink. As of this writing, only 20 are unopposed.

Stanfield told Vocativ how he and his colleagues are working to change the moribund political culture of Virginia. “I’ve been traveling the state lecturing on basic civics, Virginia races, and helping at candidate trainings,” he said. “A lot of our research and attempts to educate the people on the electoral histories, the money trails, and consolidated info about who’s running this year… is online. The internet is critical to this whole project, simply by eliminating geographic barriers that previously kept Democrats in Virginia relatively siloed.”

The PAC shares a constatnly updating Google spreadsheet showing which candidates are running in which district, and how Democrats fared in those districts in the last several elections. Other online activities include trying to crowdsource opposition research, and enlightening Virginia residents to the importance of cybersecurity.

There still remains several unfilled candidacies, but Stanfield and his colleagues are cautiously optimistic about their odds. He maintains that his PAC, and its partner organizations, have done the majority of recruiting for this year’s elections, surprisingly without much help from the state’s Democratic leadership.

Activate Virginia is just one part of a “national network of Bernie delegates who are preparing for this kind of activity in their own states,” according to Stanfield. He himself was a delegate for Bernie Sanders at last year’s Democratic National Convention, though the state ultimately went for Clinton.